Anatomy of an International Literary Hit

Winner of a BRONZE MEDAL in the Independent Publisher (IPPY) Book Awards in the Historical Fiction category.

"[D]ebut author Griffin has written a powerful story of friendship, courage, loyalty, and faith.... Historical fantasy at its best.”—Library Journal

"Fiercely entertaining"—Midwest Book Review

Britannic Princess Ursula hatches a bold scheme when the men of her country go to defend the crumbling Roman Empire—that an army of women can defend their island home! She and her friends Pinnosa, Brittola, Cordula, Martha and Saula, create an all-female force who successfully defend their homeland from the Picts, Hibernians and Saxons.

When the Britannic men don’t return from the Continent because they are embroiled in the disaster that becomes the fall of Rome, Ursula comes up with an even more audacious plan—the army of women shall go to Germania for a Grand Wedding of the Forces. Alas, her objective quickly goes awry when weather, politics and war keep the armies apart—and thrust Ursula and her 11,000 maiden army directly into battle with the Huns!

Ursula’s Maiden Army will enthrall readers with it’s tale of adventure, bravery and the determination of its heroine. Ursula’s Maiden Army is based on the legend (and scant truth) of Saint Ursula, the fifth century martyr of Cologne, Germany. Published in Germany by Rowohlt Taschenbuch as Das Heer der Jungfrauen in December 2004, Ursula's Maiden Army was a “recommended read” in Die Welt, Germany’s largest circulation daily.


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The IPPY Effect V

How Book Awards Garner Foreign Rights Sales

I am on a lot of publishing discussion lists and often have new publishers (and even some slightly used ones) ask, “Are award contests of any value?” I answer in the affirmative, pointing out how reviewers, the media—and most importantly—your ultimate purchaser/reader, love those awards. People tend to value a product of any kind more highly if it has received some sort of award. The impression created is that the item—in this case, your book—has been evaluated objectively and judged one of the best of its kind.

Even if the award is “small” (say, “Best Book by a Presbyterian”), there is value in it. This is what I elaborated on in my first article for Independent Publisher Online: “Like Riding a Roller Coaster: How an IPPY Award-Winning Author Found Her Literary Path: An IPPY Award Winner Profile.”

I wrote it two years ago, with the author of the multiple award-winning Gudrun’s Tapestry, Joan Schweighardt—who is herself a publisher. We discussed the impact of awards—Gudrun’s Tapestry won a Silver ForeWord Book of the Year Award and an Honorable Mention Independent Publisher Book Award (IPPY)—on sales. We detailed how a book that had gotten a fair amount of critical acclaim sold little...until we won those awards. Then, reviewers who had taken a pass on Gudrun’s Tapestry were suddenly interested. What we didn’t address in that article is an award’s importance in selling foreign (or any other subsidiary) rights. But recent events have highlighted just that impact, and I thought I’d share one such example.

We have a terrific historical novel, written by Philip Griffin, entitled Ursula’s Maiden Army. It’s loosely based on the legend of St. Ursula and the army of 11,000 virgin women she took to battle against the Hun in Cologne, Germany in the Fourth Century. Even before we published the book in this country, we sold German rights to Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag (via Paul & Peter Fritz AG, in Zurich, Switzerland). It was released by Rowohlt before we got the American version to print. Das Heer der Jungfrauen received a fair amount of critical acclaim in Berlin and Frankfurt.

Once the U.S. version of Ursula’s Maiden Army came out, we received many great reviews, such as Library Journal’s “Historical fiction at its best”; and it became an Independent Publisher Highlighted Title. We searched for further foreign rights, but garnered little interest. In May, we were honored to receive a Bronze IPPY Award. Of course, we were thrilled, as was the author (who resides in Kent, U.K.). Immediately, I contacted our rights agent, Whitney Lee of The Fielding Agency, with the news. “Terrific!” she wrote me back. “I will tell everyone who has looked, or is currently looking at the property.”

Whitney has worked with us for the past three years, successfully selling rights for two of our books (How to Love the Job You Hate (Thailand, Taiwan, Russia) and Gudrun’s Tapestry (Italy)). Although busy with many clients—and publishers who have a whole lot more in their catalog than we do—she always gives us prompt attention and does a great job getting our titles notice. Two days after I returned from BEA, Whitney wrote me that we’d had a very nice offer from Arabesque, a new imprint from AST Publishers, in Russia. “The award made up their minds,” she said.

Then, just two weeks later, I got another note from Whitney: “Wow, that award got everyone’s attention! I just got an offer for Italian rights from Mondadori HME!” This is Italy’s largest publisher. Selling translation rights to Ursula’s Maiden Army (both hardcover and paper) to Mondadori is quite a coup for Beagle Bay, Inc. Obviously, we were tickled to bits.

But I was less surprised than the first time we snagged a rights sale due to an award. As mentioned before, we sold the Italian rights to Gudrun’s Tapestry to Edizioni Piemme. That deal was made on the strength of Gudrun’s awards —and happened shortly after the article in I.P. Online came out. We are still working on some other rights sales... even two years after the awards. Those awards have clout even as time passes! For this article, I asked Whitney to give me her take on the importance of awards on rights sales. She said: “As you can imagine, there are hundreds of terrific books submitted to foreign publishers every day and it’s always difficult to show why your book is the one they should publish. It really needs to stand out from the crowd for a foreign publisher to commit to the cost of translating and publishing a book by a non-local (or foreign) author.

Plus, they have so many books—from around the world—to choose from. “When a book wins an award or even garners a rave review in a top trade magazine/newspaper, it helps foreign publishers distinguish it from the competition. This type of endorsement gets their attention and makes them read the book as a priority, which is the first step in making a sale. They, like U.S. publishers, know that a book has a better chance of selling to a trade audience if it has award stickers on the front jacket or blurbs from top-selling authors.

Of course, there is always that foreign sale that doesn’t follow the rules—and those are the best—but an award makes a big difference.” The first thing Whitney asks me when I hand her a book is “what kind of reviews or awards do you have for me?” Then she will check back with me once a quarter to make sure I have given her all the latest award and review news. This allows her to pitch the book more effectively.

Because of the importance of awards to reviews and rights sales, I admit, I’ve become something of an award-junkie. Of course, I always check to make sure the folks who run the contest are legit (there are some who aren’t) and weigh the entry-fee against the marketing exposure I think I can get from the award. Always make sure that the award and your marketing plan are in sync. So, for those of you who are fence-sitting about whether to enter your new titles in an upcoming award contest, I urge you to do so. It will help your review visibility, possibly garner you foreign rights sales, and impress the folks you want to the most—your customers!

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Jacqueline Church Simonds is the co-owner of Beagle Bay, Inc, a publisher, distributor and book packaging company.