It's no secret that self-published authors are the Rodney Dangerfields of book publishing. It's even harder for a work of self-published first fiction to get any respect. But after novelist Craig Danner appeared at regional trade shows in the Pacific Northwest and Northern California this fall, his self-published book. Himalayan Dhaba, was named a Jan./Feb. Book Sense 76 pick. Then agent David McCormick jumped in, representing Danner in a heated auction at which Dutton won the right to republish the book in hardcover, now slated for September. The book is also rumored to be a top contender for the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award, to be announced in February. "It's the classic case of a good author, plus a well-crafted book, plus appearances at some regional shows and sending reading copies out to stores," said Book Sense's Carl Lennertz. "It's basic, pure stuff. But it still involved working bookseller by bookseller, selling book by book."

The novel, which compellingly blurs fact and fiction, is based on Danner's own experience. Several years ago, he and his physician wife sold all their belongings and moved to a remote village in India to work with a local doctor, only to discover that the doctor had checked out, though not before jotting a note of good luck to the couple. They stayed on for six months, dealing with medical emergencies they never could have imagined, not to mention a huge language and cultural barrier.

In the novel, the main character is a doctor who has just lost her physician husband. Only with knowledge of Danner's real story does it seem predictable that she takes a position in India and arrives to discover a departed doctor.

Originally, Danner tried to publish Himalayan Dhaba with an agent in 1995. Though there were no takers, he took the constructive comments of editors and reworked the book. However, since it had already been shopped around, no agent would take it on. Last summer, Danner and wife Beth Epstein decided to self-publish. "I needed to get it out of my system and onto the next book," he said.

One of Danner's biggest breaks came when he gave a copy of his book to Mark Wiggen, the sales manager for Michigan-based independent wholesaler Partners/West. "I only intended to read a few pages," said Wiggen, who became a cheerleader for the title at his company.

So far, the numbers are not huge. A first printing of 2,000 copies is sold out and the book won't be available until Dutton republishes. While Danner has been touring extensively since September, Partners reports minimal returns. "Truly, it's the bestselling work of independently published fiction that we've ever carried," said general manager Gloria Genee. "If all books were as good as Himalayan Dhaba, I wouldn't mind a bit."