A June 6 panel moderated by PW senior religion editor Lynn Garrett drew more than 50 people eager to learn about using a news hook to promote their books. Representatives from Oxford, Princeton, and Baylor university presses described how they were taking advantage of the cultural “Mormon moment”-- public curiosity created by the impending nomination by Republicans of Mitt Romney, the first Mormon to run for president.

Panelists described the challenges of timing publication dates, estimating demand, and planning promotional campaigns. They also noted the differences between university presses and general trade houses when it comes to hurrying books to market in order to hang them on current events. Said Brian Hughes, senior marketing manager for Oxford University Press, noting the lengthy process of peer review academic books must undergo, “In a university press, these things take time,” Hughes said. “And there’s no way we can see around the corner.” Oxford was able to draw on the deep list of titles it has been publishing on Mormonism for the past 20 years, five of them in 2011.

Fred Appel, executive editor at Princeton, noted that he had commissioned three or four years ago a volume on the Book of Mormon, Mormonism’s sacred text, to be part of Princeton’s Lives of Great Books series. Academic presses want to sell books but “don’t want to publish ephemera,” Appel said. “You want books that will have some staying power.”

Carey C. Newman, director of Baylor University Press, said it had acquired LDS in the USA: Mormonism and the Making of American Culture by Lee Trepanier and Lynita Newswander (Feb.) some years back. University presses in particular must steer between “the abyss of pandering versus the ditch of irrelevancy,” Newman said. “Part of the wisdom here is just to publish really good books.”