Precious success puts publisher in major league

THE runaway success of Alexander McCall Smith’s novels featuring a Botswanan private detective has catapulted their Scottish publisher into the major league.

The Scotsman has learned that Polygon has completed a first print-run of more than 100,000 for the sixth instalment in the series.

In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, featuring Precious Ramotswe, which will hit the shops next week ahead of a publishing date of 26 August, is the first in the series to be printed in hardback and will have an initial run of 101,000, said to be a Scottish record.

It dwarfs the print run of the first in the series The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency - only 1,500 paperback copies were printed when it was published in 1998. It is also considerably higher than the industry norm of about 3,000 for a hardback and 20,000 for a best-seller.

Speaking to The Scotsman ahead of his appearance at the Edinburgh Book Festival, Mr McCall Smith said he was delighted for the Edinburgh-based publisher. "I am very pleased that a Scottish publisher is in a position in which a print run of this size for a hardback would hold its own in the much larger world of North American publishing. It is a wonderful thing for Scottish publishing and I am delighted for Polygon," he said.

With sales topping five million in English, Precious Ramotswe is fast becoming to Mr McCall Smith what Harry Potter is to JK Rowling and Inspector Rebus is to Ian Rankin.

In June, Polygon said that its profits had been boosted by the Ramotswe series in much the same way that Yann Martel’s Booker prize-winner Life of Pi and other big sellers helped fellow Scottish publishers Canongate turn the corner.

The Edinburgh publisher Birlinn bought Polygon two years ago, but it remains a separate publishing imprint. Earlier this year, Hugh Andrew, Birlinn’s managing director, said that turnover had gone from 1.3 million to an estimated 2.3 million this year.

The sixth book sees Ramotswe married to Mr JLB Matekoni, of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors. Her agency is busy, but Ramotswe cannot ignore the plea that is made to her by a woman who comes to her with a tale of misfortune.

Lorraine Fannin, the director of the Scottish Publishers Association, said yesterday: "It’s a terrific affirmation of Sandy’s UK-wide popularity that an independent Scottish publisher can do this."

Polygon will publish 44 Scotland Street, serialised in The Scotsman, in book form next year.