Penn Press editor Bill Finan recalls a few highlights from the recent annual meeting of the American Political Science Association. For aspiring authors who see publishing as a black box, Finan offers a few rays of hope.
APSA in the Windy City
The 103rd annual meeting of the American Political Science Association was a huge gathering, spanning two hotels on either side of the Chicago River and flooding both hotels and the area in between with an invigorated crowd of older and younger and middle-aged professors, associate professors, assistant professors, and grad students (some of the last readily identifiable in the pressed shirt and tie or smart blazer and sensible heels outfits in which they had settled uneasily for a job interview).
In a city center where the talk is no doubt centered more often on commodities, the APSA meeting made it possible to settle in at a coffeehouse near the conference and hear conversations like this:
“Declare a priori the stable parameters and if it turns to exponential 1 and that’s not a known and not a time series, then nobody’s paying attention to this.”
“And if that is Pareto, then I’m in trouble.”
“Well, I got no dog in that fight.”
This was my first APSA conference as a book editor. I had attended
before, but as the editor of a journal. The differences in attending in
this new capacity were not huge, but they were striking.
I found that a book exhibit at APSA serves at least three purposes.
First and foremost, it provides a place at which Penn Press can
announce itself and also display and highlight the newest
additions–and some classics–on the press’s list. For the press this
year it was terrorism, ethnic conflict, and political/social American
history. Browsing, evaluating, and, sometimes, buying or deciding on
class usage, were the order of the day.
The second purpose of the exhibit–and one that was entirely
familiar to me–was to provide a place to meet and greet former and
current authors. Many came by to discuss their work or contracts or how
their books were doing and to offer impressions of the conference in
general. What is one of the greatest small pleasures this affords,
however, is the opportunity to put a face on what had once just been a
voice on the phone or someone known only through email messages.
It was the third role that the Penn Press exhibit booth plays that
was new to me. That is the role of the exhibit booth as a spot to pitch an idea for a book because you think the display of
books is within the realm of your own project. Those who came for this
reason included both experienced authors and doctoral students
finishing their dissertations, for whom the entire publishing
process was a black box.
I found this part of the conference especially fulfilling. There is
nothing more invigorating and educating than to engage with someone who
is overflowing with his or her idea for a book. Once the initial social
reticence is overcome, a flood of enthusiasm gushes as the potential
author outlines, sometime with analytical precision, sometimes with a
blast of facts, figures, and still developing ideas, the main elements
of his or her work.
It is this aspect of the publishing process itself–the chance to
engage and help shape and be part of the creation and dissemination of
knowledge–that makes this so worthwhile and also leaves you, after a
long day at the booth, exhilarated and looking forward to the next day.
Bill Finan is a development editor in the Acquisitions Department of
the Press, specializing in books on international relations and public
policy. For 15 years he was the editor of Current History.