Monday, November 29, 2010

What do editors do at conferences?

As readers of this blog will know, I go to a lot of conferences. Some are writer's conferences (usually SCBWI), others are trade conferences. I was considering posting about my time at NCTE, but thought it might be a little more helpful if I talked about trade conferences in general, what they mean to publishers and editors, and what my role is.

Most publishers go to six main conferences a year. Two American Library Association (ALA) conferences: Midwinter and Annual--the former is generally in January, the latter in June or July; the International Reader Association (IRA), generally in May; BookExpo America (BEA), generally  in June; The Texas Library Association (TLA), usually in April; and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) conference, followed by the Assembly of Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) workshop, always the weekend before Thanksgiving in November. There are a few other regional or smaller conferences that we might attend as a company, but these are the biggies.

Our school and library marketing department (a department of two!) coordinates all of the above conferences except for BEA, which is handled mainly by our publicity department. A ton of preparation goes into each conference: it's a lot of event planning--researching and choosing venues for various breakfast, lunch, and dinner parties, booking hotels, making travel arrangements for staff and the authors and illustrators we host, coordinating the booth: designing the banner, the set-up, signage, scheduling and ordering materials for giveaways, etc. Thankfully, I have basically zero involvement in any of this. All I have to do is find out when I'm needed to arrive and stay through, book my flight, familiarize myself with my schedule (and fill in any gaps if wanted), and that's it in terms of preparation.

Most of the conferences have two main aspects: the convention floor, and programming. Publishers have booths that highlight their upcoming and recent books, have giveaways, and generally have author signings throughout the conference. There are also panels and talks by industry professionals going on elsewhere in the convention center, and depending on the criteria of the conference, we'll try to get our authors on the program in some way.

My main duty while at conferences is author care. I'll usher authors from place to place so that they don't have to worry about anything logistically-speaking, and generally make sure they're happy. For example, on my schedule it will say, "Meet Bryan Collier and Andrea Pinkney in the lobby of the hotel. Bring them to the convention center, room B, then after the program bring the to the booth for their signing" or whatever. I sometimes have to bring authors from booth to booth to booth if they have signings at different publishers. Depending on the city and the convention center, there can be a lot of taking cabs from venue to venue, or making sure I orient myself and know where I'm going beforehand if walking.

When I was a junior editor, I was always eager to attend the conferences, not really knowing what to expect. My first conference was IRA in San Francisco (back in 2001 or 2002), and I had a BLAST. Attending these conferences is a great way to connect with other publishing professionals, authors, agents, illustrators, editors, publicists, etc. It's also a great way to get to know librarians, teachers, reading specialists, booksellers, etc. And yes, I was pretty happy to be getting a trip to San Francisco on the company dime!

We generally try to send at least one junior editor to each conference to help with set-up and break down of the booth, and do booth duty. Working the booth means a lot of opening of boxes, stacking of ARCs (sometimes in pretty swirls), making sure everything looks neat, appealing, and presentable. It can mean fetching bottles of water and snacks to have in the booth. If an author is signing, it can mean selling books, keeping the line in order, handling Post-Its for personalized books, or making sure each book is opened to the right page for the author to sign (generally the title page). But what booth duty mainly entails is speaking to the teachers/librarians/booksellers, answering any questions they may have (usually something like, "What's the age range of this book?" or "Do you have any historical fiction?" etc.), and basically just book talking all of our books. It's usually pretty fun (although being on your feet all day can be tough--reminds me of my days as a bookseller!), and I love familiarizing myself with all of our books, not just the ones I've read or edited.

As a more senior editor, I'm usually assigned to fairly light booth duty (depending on need), and given time to attend the programming or walk the floor scoping out the competition when I'm not doing "author care."

We also host various events at these conferences. These will generally be lunches or dinners (sometimes breakfast), and are  an opportunity to introduce some of our authors to the conference attendees, to help the books make a greater impact on these often influential professionals in the hopes that they may eventually buy the book for their school/library/bookstore. My role at these events is to get to know the attendees, talk about our books, and make sure the attendees all get an opportunity to talk to our authors and illustrators. Oh, and we always choose a lovely venue with delectable cuisine--how could I not mention the food?!

Once I know I'm attending a conference, I might also reach out the others I know may be attending: agents who aren't based in NY, for example, editor friends at Chronicle or Charlesbridge or Candlewick, author or illustrator friends from out of town, etc. There isn't always that much free time, but generally we can find time in our schedules to meet up. I also like meeting authors I've worked with, sometimes for the first time. For example, I met author J.S. Lewis (co-author of The Grey Griffins: The Clockwork Chronicles #1, The Brimstone Key) for the first time in person at ALAN, and it was great to be able to sit down to dinner and get to know each other better.

These conferences are exhausting, especially if they occur during a workday and I'm also keeping an eye on my work email, but I love going to them. I generally attend 3-5 of the conferences each year (on top of 2-3 writer's conferences annually). I consider conferences to be one of the perks of my job. I love traveling, I love meeting new people, getting to know people better, eating great food, and talking about books.

Of course, playing catch-up afterward is no fun at all. I got back from Orlando last Tuesday evening, came in to the office for the half-day before the Thanksgiving break to catch up (and ended up staying all day, of course), and still have a ton awaiting my attention this week. Can I please have another day off?

For some wrap-ups of past conferences, go here, here, here, here, and here.


Tom Lichtenheld said...

Thanks for the overview, it's helpful even for those of us who have been in the business for awhile. My favorite term in the posting is "author care." One question; why don't other state library association conferences get as much attention at the TLA?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Lincoln fondly remembers the wonderful "author care" he received from Little, Brown.

yamster said...

TLA is a big conference because Texas is a big state. If Texas librarians push a book, it makes a significant difference in sales. I think other publishers also focus on CLA (California) for the same reason.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting on topics like this. Like the first commenter said, even if you work in the industry it is really helpful to hear about the nuts and bolts of all these different aspects and what other people do. Again, thank you.