Thursday, October 04, 2007

Pre-conference planning, A Better Way

If you read the two previous posts, you'll know that I consider a cold approach to an agent or editor at a conference to be the hardest way to meet someone, not the easiest. A simple e-mail at a non-conference time is far more efficient!

But if you do want to make personal acquaintances (which can be powerful if done right), a better way to approach agents or editors at conferences is to make yourself an insider before you arrive at the conference gates. Conference organizers are almost always overwhelmed, and if you volunteer your services several months in advance (for example, handling a mass e-mailing from your office, offering to pick up dignitaries at the airport and escort them, or hosting a reception for a select subset of attendees), you'll become known to the top people quickly. This is triply important if the conference will be in your city or especially on your campus, giving you even more opportunities to assist. By faithfully performing these limited duties in service of the conference, you will stand out in a dramatic way. As a "friend of the conference" (or -- if you can swing it -- one of the organizers who gets your name in the program), you'll enjoy access that the sheep can't muster. You'll get the conference equivalent of the backstage pass, and you'll be able to have conversations with visiting editors in a more casual way before the conference proper begins.

I usually get much more out of the pre-conference setup time and the night-before cocktail events than out of the panels themselves. Conferences -- for me -- are simply grand excuses to meet people in person and bond without the distance of e-mail or "Dear Dr. so-and-so" letters. For example, I go to the Wiley-Blackwell seminar at the National Press Club every year, and I've learned a great deal about journal publishing because of it. But the very best part is always the reception the evening before at the Marriott next door, where I can chat with journal editors in person and find out what's on their minds. They love to tell me about their own particular preferences, their goals, and their dreams for their journals -- which are rather like their children. In a very real sense you could say that at any given conference, my "office" is in the restaurant or the bar.

There are three great tricks that I use to encourage people to open up at these events and talk to me about what they do. I'll discuss them in the next post.

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