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THE STORY ABOUT PUBLISHING

One day last week a person called and told my voice mail that she was writing a book and had some questions to ask. Because we were playing "phone tag," I never got to answer those questions.

But this is by way of saying that I stand ready to try to help after giving certain warnings.

Then on Monday I read about some writers voicing a complaint at a writers' conference. The biggest beef of all came from a woman who said she didn't understand why any publisher would give millions of dollars in advance to Paula Barbieri, the "other woman" in O.J. Simpson's life

Right away I felt the mixed emotions one is supposed to feel only when he sees his mother-in-law go over a cliff in his new Cadillac.

That writer, who is successful in her field, obviously knew little about economics and less about human nature. She didn't realize that in the world of book publishing, one gets the money to publish serious books by giving the masses what they want.

That statement reminded me of a conversation with a local lady who felt a female we both knew and liked was deserving of a book. My statement then was, "She is not a national name and no publisher will touch it, unless it is heavy on sex we don't know about."

Those sentiments bring to mind all the people who at different times have said, "You should write a book." Well. I have written seven books that were published by major publishers, and I received advances before I wrote one word.

No, I didn't have a shtick, that magic something that can transmogrify an ordinary book into a best seller. In most cases I never got a cent in royalties. Maybe that was due to the strange economics of the publishing world and maybe it wasn't. But I dealt only with advance payments.

Anyway, I will wager against anyone who believes, as that writer seems to be saying, that a book on Mother Teresa's saintly works will outsell that of Princess Di.

Any day now that passenger who survived the Princess Di tragedy is going to be cured of his "insomnia" and will need a wheelbarrow to carry all the money a book publisher wishes to give him.

To date, the books on Simpson have ranged all over the lot. So why not one from Barbieri, the Julia Roberts look-alike who was so close to Simpson?

And who would buy such a book? The answer to that can be found by anyone standing by a supermarket checkout where tabloids are sold. Such buyers, and they include some friends, would lead a bayonet charge to get the inside information promised by a book by Barbieri.

Imagine a book about a respected doctor who turns into a murderer after he takes a certain potion. That book involved Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and has been the source of at last three movies.

The last I heard of that book, someone was going to turn it into a musical. And before you cringe at that thought, stand by the supermarket checkout counter.

A friend named Mickey Spillane summed up the current social scene when he said, "These days even the dames write tougher than I ever did."

The mind boggles at the thought of Spillane pitching an outline of one of his books to a publisher. Yet in one survey he had six of the seven best-selling books of all time. The seventh on that list was a number named "Anthony Adverse."

Anyway, the person trying to contact me will be discouraged unless she has a reputable agent (difficult to get without a track record) and the interest of a big-name publisher.

I guarantee you I will cut for the sidelines if she says she has a vanity publisher and "My friends all tell me it should be published."

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