There is no “official” movie tie-in edition of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, the 1930s period film starring Amy Adams and Frances McDormand currently in theaters. However, a small English publishing house, Persephone Books, which re-releases forgotten classics by 20th-century (mostly) women writers and has two stores in London, has sold 23,000 copies worldwide of its version of Winifred Watson’s novel. It’s the biggest seller in Persephone’s nine-year history.
Miss Pettigrew is also Persephone’s first book to be distributed in the U.S.; the house signed on with Consortium this year and has hired freelance publicist Janna Rademacher, of St. Paul, Minn., to handle U.S. publicity and marketing. But this isn’t the first time American readers have been able to purchase Persephone books. Nicola Beauman, who founded the company, established it primarily as a mail order business. While her catalog goes out to 10,000 readers, including about 1,500 U.S. residents, the distribution deal will make the books much more widely accessible stateside. “It is a bit of a dream for me that you can now buy Miss Pettigrew in a bookstore in the States,” Beauman said. Persephone will release five more books in the U.S. this fall.
Beauman, author of A Very Great Profession: The Woman’s Novel 1914-39 (Virago), once worked as a publisher’s reader, but otherwise has no publishing experience. She decides which books to publish herself and concentrates mainly on “neglected” fiction and nonfiction by women, for women and about women. She chooses books she thinks will appeal to “busy women who rarely have time to spend in ever-larger bookshops and who would like to have access to a list of books designed to be neither too literary nor too commercial,” says Persephone’s web site. Beauman did not know about the film adaptation of Miss Pettigrew when she decided to publish the novel; she printed 2,000 copies in 2000 and “had no idea we would even reprint once, let alone several times. Or that there would be film interest.”
Persephone’s sales come from mail orders, selected bookstores and its own shops. The first store (59 Lamb’s Conduit Street, London) opened in 2001 and carries only Persephone books, and every book is priced at £10 (about $20 US), regardless of length. Persephone’s second store (109 Kensington Church Street W8, London) opened last week, which carries Persephone books as well as books from other publishers. Beauman shelves the books according to publisher, so there is a New York Review of Books shelf, a Granta shelf, a Yale shelf, and so on. “They’re not particularly, as it were, women’s interest or anything. They’re just excellent.”
Beauman has developed a Persephone “look”: all the books boast creative cover art and endpapers that depict fabrics of the period of the book’s initial publication. There are now 75 books in print and the average print run is between 3,000 and 4,000 copies. Prior to the smash success of Miss Pettigrew, other Persephone hits include The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett and Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski.
Persephone has also released the audio edition of Miss Pettigrew, read by Frances McDormand. It’s the house’s second audiobook, following Cheerful Weather for the Wedding, which is also going to be a film, starring David Tennant and Emily Blunt, though no release date has been announced yet.
Beauman has no plans to eventually publish new books. “I’m very happy as I am,” she explained.