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Cover Story; or, How My Book Got Featured in U.S. News and World Report

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I first got the feeling that
something odd was happening with my historical novel, <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Rashi’s Daughters: Book
One—Joheved
, on Monday, March 6, 2006, when I checked my
Web site and saw that the number of hits was twice the usual amount. And the
visitors weren’t from an area where I’d spoken recently, but from all over the
country. Intrigued, I logged onto Amazon. Sure enough, my ranking had gotten
significantly higher.

 

The next morning my Web site was
getting hits like never before, and Amazon had my book in the top 1,000 for the
first time ever. What the heck was going on?

 

The answer came a couple of hours
later when I got a phone call from Sharon Goldinger, the consultant who
shepherded me through the publishing maze. This normally unflappable woman was
very excited. Sitting in her car in Borders’ parking lot, she had just opened
the current issue of U.S.
News & World Report
to read the cover story about changes in
book publishing. When she thumbed through to the article, a color photo of <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Rashi’s Daughters

with the caption, “Girl Power: With critical kudos, a little literary novel
from a small house can do quite nicely,” was staring back at her. It took up at
least a third of the article’s first page.

 

I was as astonished as Sharon. I
had no idea how the first book from Banot Press, the publishing company my
husband and I started last year, had managed such a publicity coup. I
remembered that a photographer from <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>U.S. News & World Report
had phoned
me a month earlier, asking for a copy of my book for a possible article about
the book-publishing industry in the wake of the<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> Million Little Pieces
debacle. But she
knew nothing about why Rashi’s
Daughters
had been singled out, only that her boss had given her
my name and phone number. I had overnighted the book to her with no expectations
whatsoever and continued with my life.

 

Tracing the Path to
Publicity

 

By the time the photographer
emailed me, two days after Sharon’s call, to tell me about the issue with my
book’s photo in it, I had bought every copy I could find and told nearly
everyone I knew. And sharing the news is what led to my learning how this
amazing piece of good fortune had occurred. It turned out that Ellen Frankel,
editor-in-chief of the Jewish Publication Society, was friends with the author
of the U.S. News
article. Ellen and I had met years earlier at a Jewish-studies conference, whenRashi’s Daughters
was merely an outline, and she became one of my first supporters. Ellen
insisted that she had never discussed my book with her friend, but she would
ask her to contact me. Between the reporter and photographer, I was able to
piece the backstory together.

 

It all started in the spring of
2005, when I read on the Yahoo! Groups Jewish Book Marketing email list that
the religious-books editor at <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Library Journal
was looking for Jewish
fiction. My publicist, Carol Fass of New York, was just sending out galleys,
and she sent one to that reviewer. The other big-time publications ignored <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Rashi’s Daughters,
a first novel from a small, unknown press, but <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Library Journal
gave it a very nice
review.

 

Since I am also a member of
several other Yahoo! Groups that focus on small-press publishing, fiction
writing, book marketing, and so on, I saw another post from <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Library Journal

later that summer, this time asking for successful first novels. Again I
alerted my publicist, who sent more copies. <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Rashi’s Daughters
was then chosen as one
of LJ’s
Summer–Fall 2005 Best First Novels.

 

The description read: “Good news
for a small press with a terrific title: this account of an 11th-century Jewish
woman who dares to study the Talmud sold out of its first printing of 3000
copies two months before publication, and the second printing is disappearing
fast. No surprise there; LJ’s reviewer declared this book
‘extraordinary.’”

 

The <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>U.S. News
reporter had learned about my
book not from our mutual friend, Ellen, but from that writeup in <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Library Journal.
When the magazine asked her for examples of successful efforts by small presses
as possible illustrations for her article, <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Rashi’s Daughters
was one of 12 books
she suggested.

 

(This splashy coverage for a novel
from the author’s tiny press can be traced back to her response to a post on an
email list).

Now comes a part that has nothing
to do with luck. Back when Banot Press was getting started, we decided never to
skimp on production, and we hired Lightbourne, an award-winning design firm, to
create the cover for Rashi’s
Daughters
. Nearly everyone who sees the book raves about the
cover, which looks fabulous with its bright red splash of color across the
center, yet is easily readable in black and white and when reduced on a
bookseller’s Web site. (I’m amazed at how many book covers fail these last two
tests.)

 

Why did <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Rashi’s Daughters

get chosen out of the 12 books on the reporter’s list? It was because the art
department of U.S.
News
liked its cover best, the photographer told me later.

 

So even though we didn’t win any
awards for cover design (we did win the Benjamin Franklin for Best New
Voice—Fiction), that cover got our book into a national newsmagazine with
more than 2 million readers, which resulted in selling out our fourth printing
and having to go back for a fifth in April.

 

How did I parlay this article in <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>U.S. News

into more sales? By spreading the news everywhere: notifying my distributor and
my publicist (who in turn notified the buyers at the major chains and their
media contacts), the audiences at my speaking engagements, and my friends and
family, and by posting the news and a link to the article on my Web site.

 

And when I told folks at PMA about
my amazing experience, they asked me to write about it for you.

 

Maggie Anton Parkhurst
spent 10 years researching her first novel, <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Rashi’s Daughters: Book One—Joheved
,
which was published in July 2005. She is currently working on the second book
in this trilogy, Book
Two—Miriam
, to be published by Banot Press in early 2007.
For more information, including a link to the <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>U.S. News & World Report
article,
visit www.rashisdaughters.com.

 

 

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