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Some new verve in an old method of book publicity

You are invited to a party to celebrate the publishing of a new book.

For those who respond to such an invitation, a publisher often serves hors d'oeuvres in an elegant restaurant to selected members of the press and friends of the author. It has become a fixture in the publishing business.

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The publishing party, says William Cole, a free-lance columnist and author, ''is designed to honor the author and make him happy.'' From most parties, says Mr. Cole, who attends a considerable number of them, publishers don't get much publicity. And not all authors get parties. Mr. Cole has written some 60 books and never had a publisher throw a party for him.

John Baker, editor in chief at Publishers Weekly, the journal of the book industry, agrees, noting that most parties are designed ''to cheer up the authors.'' Unless the party is held in an offbeat setting, however, ''they don't normally garner much publicity.''

One publisher in particular, Workman Publishing, has turned parties into an art form while generating a much publicity. Workman parties, says Donna Gould, former head of publicity for the publisher, ''are nothing if not original and very creative.'' Props are brought in, personalities courted, and original locations picked for the parties.

Workman, a small but growing publishing house in New York, made the publishing party into an event with its party for ''The Preppy Handbook.'' It invited 250 people to get dressed like preppies and come to a ''tailgating'' party at a Lincoln-Ford showroom on the West Side of Manhattan. Six hundred people showed up, dressed in pink and green. The party attracted a write-up in the ''Life Style'' section of Newsweek and a story in the New York Times and prompted other New York media channels to notice the book. ''Preppy'' became an instant success.

The preppy party was followed by a party held at the New York Yacht Club for ''Sailing,'' a humorous dictionary of nautical terms. This was followed by another party at the Ford dealership for ''The Genuine Texas Handbook.'' At this one, New Yorkers dressed as Texans (as well as some Texans who came north just for the bash) danced the ''Cotton-eye Joe'' and ate tortilla chips, barbecue fare, and moonpies. Miss Texas, the state's beauty queen, showed up, along with newsmen from CBS and NBC.

Since then, Workman has held other parties, including one for the ''The Silver Palate Cookbook'' at Saks Fifth Avenue. At the cookbook party, some 500 guests nibbled their way through the Saks crystal and gift department, where the authors, Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins, had provided samples from their recipes. Ms. Rosso recalls that the party generated lots of press, which helped to boost the book's sales. This success prompted a second party for the book, where guests munched on salmon mousse, sour cream and caviar dip, and steak tartare.

Not everyone believes this is the best way to get publicity. Mr. Baker, of Publishers Weekly, notes some publishers hold small meetings between their authors and the press which allow for more substantial conversations. ''There is no bumping and shoving like there is at big parties, and the press who is interested gets a chance to meet the author.''

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