November 7, 2007
This is the week before IVP Academic editors take off for a week of annual academic conventioneering at the Evangelical Theological Society, Institute for Biblical Research and Society of Biblical Literature/American Academy of Religion (in that order). By any consistent measure, next Wednesday through Tuesday will rank as the busiest week of our editorial year.
It’s the biggest splash for promoting and selling our academic books, the biggest event for meeting our academic authors, the best time of the year for catching up with academic and publishing friends, the most expectant time of the year for discovering new authors, book ideas and proposals. It’s the most intense intellectual-intake season of the year, plus an opportunity to figure out and compare notes on “what’s happening” in the various fields that make up theological and religious studies. It is also the most calorie-intensive, diet-wrecking time of the year, with two or three restaurant meals per day—notwithstanding early morning runs with friends. And then too we have our annual IVP Academic reception, this year featuring a panel discussion of The Legacy of John Paul II, edited by Tim Perry. And finally, it is for me (and many others) the most intensive book-buying time of the year, for many publishers sell at substantial discounts (which calls for a substantial response). I will return home exhausted on the 20th. Initially recover on the 21st. Then enjoy a long Thanksgiving weekend.
For several weeks now I’ve been setting up appointments with authors old and new, and I still have a few to go. The conferences are a time to discuss books forthcoming, books in progress, books stalled in progress and books no more than a glint in their authors’ eyes. Authors have a tendency to send their editors manuscripts in the weeks leading up to this event, in the hope that their editor will be pacified. Mostly the stratagem works, cleverly shifting the load of guilt to the editor, who might try valiantly to read them all before the conventions. Other authors send advance portions of manuscripts, rather like Jacob to Esau on his way back to the Land of Promise. This whole thing works for the editor too though, because reminders of past-due literary debts sown in August or September might reap a literary harvest by early November.
As an editor, I select the sessions I’ll attend by personal interest but also with the intent of finding out what issues are beginning to surface, what’s on the boil and who are the up-and-coming scholars doing good work. And then there are the sessions in which a book by one of “my” authors is under discussion. As the week progresses though, I find myself with less and less energy to devote to attending sessions! So conversations, comparing notes and picking up conference scuttlebutt are welcome fillers between appointments.
But the pièce de résistance of this whole affair is the book buying. Yes, editors/publishers buy books too. At least mentally, I’ve got my convention shopping list, which includes a couple volumes of Barth’s CD (I’m reading them at the snail-crawl pace of 5 pages/day), a volume or two by John Webster, various items from Eerdies, Baker, Oxford, WJK and maybe one from Big Z. Plus whatever volumes I can bum off of publishing friends. While my training and primary interest lies in biblical studies, the longer I’m in this business the more diverse my interests have become.
This leads me to a quandary shared by many academic types married to nonacademic spouses: how to get the books in the front door. Since I believe that publishers could increase their sales by at least fifteen percent if they were to address this problem, I will dedicate my next blog to “Top Ten Things to Say on Returning Home with Conference Book Plunder.” With years of experience, I feel well qualified to undertake this service.