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ESQUIVEL’S NOVEL IDEA IS A CHALLENGE FOR PUBLISHER

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If Bill Gates can do it, why not Laura Esquivel?

For her latest work, "The Law of Love," the Mexican novelist insisted that a compact disk accompany the book. Her recording, however, will not feature her opinions about future computing technology as does the one with Gates' book, "The Road Ahead."Instead, it will play Puccini arias and other music that goes with her story, which will also be told through 48 color illustrations in the book.

Nice idea. But it's a costly publishing proposition.

Consequently, when Esquivel took her idea to Doubleday, which published her best-selling novel, "Like Water For Chocolate," the house said it couldn't produce the package at a reasonable price, some publishing executives and Thomas Colchie, one of her agents, said.

"We came to a standstill about what to do," Colchie said. "But in the end, Laura did not want to compromise her esthetic vision for production matters."

Not to worry. Best-selling authors are rarely without eager suitors in the wings, no matter the price.

So Crown Publishers, possessing only a reader's report on the Spanish-language book and 80 pages translated into English, has jumped at the novel, which Colchie describes as a "Mexican `Midsummer Night's Dream' set in the 23rd century."

Whether Crown will have to forgo some profit is unclear. Production costs have not yet been set, said Andrew Martin, a Crown spokesman. But the publisher expects to give the book a first printing of 500,000 copies and a retail price of between $25 and $27.

The book, which was recently published in Mexico, Spain and Latin America, is already a best seller.

A statement issued by Esquivel said, "I am just delighted to come to a publishing house that is so clearly excited by and receptive to my efforts to extend the artistic boundaries of the novel in ways which, I believe, will enhance the pleasure of my readers."