After 26 years of publishing primarily fiction, Permanent Press is poised for a major breakout with a racy memoir, Callgirl. The author is novelist Jeannette Angell, who supported herself as a lecturer at M.I.T. and Boston University, where she got her Ph.D. in anthropology, until her "rat bastard boyfriend" emptied her bank account. Desperate, she answered a Boston Phoenix ad and became a hooker earning $200 an hour. Three years later, her two worlds collided when she began teaching a course on the sociology of prostitution by day, while working as a callgirl at night, and nearly got arrested.

Press co-founder Martin Shepard anticipates that Callgirl will be the house's all-time bestseller, based on early media response, including a taping for Oprah, which may air as early as next week or later in the fall during sweeps week, and bookings on nationally syndicated radio programs like The Bob and Sheri Show. Before its publication in August, the book went back to press for 2,500 copies, bringing the in-print total to 5,000. "Then, depending on how Oprah goes, we'll print 50,000 to 200,000 copies," says Martin, who is keenly aware of the potential pitfalls. "This one could bankroll things for a long time—or could bankrupt them."

Because Permanent Press distributes its own books without a sales force, it's difficult to gauge the overall level of retail support for the book. However, Book Sense chose it as the #6 pick for August, and the press has backed the selection with counter displays. "I've put a pile out there," said Bernie Flynn, owner of Trident Booksellers and Cafe on Newbury Street in Boston's Back Bay section, where Angell plied her trade. At Powell's Books in Portland, Ore., public relations/marketing spokesperson Steve Fidel said, "We took preorders. People like things like this."

For Permanent Press, rights sales are often a better gauge of a book's potential. Many of the house's most successful works keep on selling, like Harriet Scott Chessman's Book Sense bestseller Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper (2001),which was recently optioned for film, and Ugo DiFonte's The Foodtaster (2002),which recently sold to Hungarian and U.K. publishers, following 11 previous foreign sales. Callgirl has already racked up more rights proceeds than both those titles: $100,000 to date.

After turning down the memoir when it was initially submitted, HarperCollins bought the paperback rights to Callgirl, along with those for Madam, a sequel about the head of the escort service where Angell worked, due from the Permanent Press in 2005. In addition to being excerpted in Boston magazine in August, Callgirl is also an alternate selection of five BookSpan clubs: QPB, Literary Guild, Book-of-the-Month, Venus and Insight/Out. And 10 overseas publishers have bought translation rights.