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Book Publishing Made Sweeter The Second Time Around

The Wall Street Journal’s Robert Hughes looks at efforts by two publishers – Persephone Books and New York Review Books – to bring back neglected books into print. NYRB Books, an offshoot of the literary magazine, has published more than 200 adult and 30 children’s titles, most of them reprints. Persephone specializes in novels by women. Among the London company’s most popular releases is 1938′s “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day” by Winifred Watson, about a governess sent by an employment agency to the wrong address, where she finds a glamorous nightclub singer and helps her through misadventures. The reprint has sold 22,000 copies — exceeding the sales of many well-received new novels today. And “Miss Pettigrew” has spurred a film adaptation starring Frances McDormand set to come out next year.

Reprint publishers, Hughes writes, aren’t under the same pressure to create instant hits as are publishers of new material, says NYRB publisher Rea Hederman. His books often take a year to gather momentum compared with the month or two that bookstores give a new title before they pull it from shelves. Some independent booksellers embrace NYRB’s list. Nancy Olson, owner of Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh, N.C., says her staff recommends John Williams‘s “Stoner” from 1965, about a farmer who becomes a college professor, and has sold 60 copies so far. “They’re not the kind of titles you’ll see pushed in big commercial bookstores,” she says.

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