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CREATING A BEST SELLER ONCE REQUIRED SKILL WITH A SKILLET RATHER THAN A PEN

Scarcely a week goes by that an unpublished author doesn't write to me seeking advice on how to create a best seller.

It used to be pretty simple. All you did was write a manuscript, have it published and learn how to cook something. Anything. Because for the next three months, in order to plug your book, you had to go on local and national TV shows across the country . . . and cook.I must have sold a ton of books from a garbanzo bean salad I made on Dinah's show, not to mention a "war" cake on "Hour Magazine" and hash browns on Mike Douglas' show. On rare occasions, a host would ask what my book was about, but if the studio audience responded to a skilletful of sauteed onions, you knew you had a straight shot to the top of the New York Times list.

It's not that easy today. A quiche just won't cut it. Talk shows still don't want to know anything about your book, but they want to know about you - all the good stuff you've never told anyone before. It helps if you have had an abused childhood, an alcoholic mother or are a recent graduate of the Betty Ford clinic. Naming an impressive list of famous lovers from your youth might even get you an alternate selection of The Book-of-the-Month Club.

It also helps if you give the book away for free. For many years it has been traditional for authors to speak at lunches without charge and afterward sell their books. Speaker of the House Jim Wright had a novel approach. Instead of collecting a fee for a speech, he encouraged organizations to buy copies of his book, which were then distributed free of charge to the audience. If the organization didn't want the book, Wright could sell them twice, which means he could sell more books than his publisher printed. Publishers like this.

Another way to create a best seller is the Amway party approach. Say you write a book on corporate management or how to be a leader. Instead of selling it through bookstores, you hold a corporate party and sell it to the entire company. Sales soar. Don't bother inviting your relatives. They wait for a free copy.

There was a time when having your book banned by a morality group ensured stardom. That's nothing. Today, the author has to be banned from the face of the Earth and live out the rest of his life in seclusion. You can do this by putting "Satanic" in your title.

I don't want to talk down to you, but everyone knows if you're going to come out with a biography, for crying out loud have UNAUTHORIZED stamped across the cover in red letters.

There, I've told you all I know about creating best sellers. Of course, if you once saved the lives of Oprah, Phil, Larry King and a couple of hundred major book critics, it couldn't hurt.