ATG Article of the Week: What to Know When You Approach Book Editors at a Conference

by | Nov 26, 2019 | 0 comments

Rachel Toor offers some valuable advice in her Chronicle of Higher Education post “What to Know When You Approach Book Editors at a Conference.” Ms Toor, a professor of creative writing at Eastern Washington University and a former acquisitions editor at Oxford University Press and Duke University Press, cites a number of her former colleagues as they offer insights into what they are seeking from prospective authors…

“One of the best and most efficient ways to understand the landscape of scholarly publishing is to go to an academic conference and spend some time in the book exhibit. You can learn what’s being published, see which presses are doing work in your field, and even pitch your book to an acquisitions editor. It’s that last bit that terrifies many a writer.

With academic conference season underway, I approached a handful of editors to ask how they feel about being approached and what’s on their minds at these annual meetings. Publishing folk tend to be intellectual magpies — always on the lookout for the next shiny new thing. And they’re almost always happy to talk to prospective writers.

The wrinkle, of course, is that would-be authors are presenting their work to someone who must necessarily say no to most things. “It’s a harrowing interaction, especially as a cold ask in a book exhibit,” acknowledges Greg Britton, editorial director at the Johns Hopkins University Press. “These interactions bring back nightmares of junior high prom. It also can trigger that impostor syndrome that hits nontraditional scholars and those from underrepresented groups especially hard.

Learning how to mask those fears and forge ahead becomes, for many academics, a regular practice throughout their careers. But at conferences, overcoming your impostor syndrome and reaching out can have unforeseen payoffs for both editor and writer. Britton likens his appearance at a book exhibit to a professor holding office hours: It’s “a time when anyone can drop by for advice, say hello, or just brainstorm.”

Most editors tend to greet academics with the same question: What are you working on? …”

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