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Tour Of Duty

July 31, 1994

Alice Hoffman's entertaining rumination on the frozen evolution of fictional characters from her latest novel ("While We Waltz Off on Book Tour," June 19) was no doubt intended to provide an insight into the creative process. But it casts false light on the lives of most authors.

At the risk of discouraging aspiring writers (but in the interest of correcting false impressions with the book-buying public), let me set the record straight: While Hoffman claims that "everyone tours, illustrious authors and first-time novelists, egomaniacs and homebodies," the facts are otherwise. Upward of 50,000 titles are published annually in this country, but no more than a few hundred authors, if that, are sent by publishers on book promotion tours. Of those who do tour, few are treated quite so luxuriously as Hoffman, with rooms in "terrific" hotels and knowledgeable, competent escorts to make everything seem effortless.

My first book tour went more like this: The publisher agreed to reimburse me for the cheapest possible air fare and necessary local transportation in and between New York, Boston and Washington, D.C. I was expected to take care of everything else. Since I was a typical first-time author, I had expended my life savings to finish writing the book. So I spent nights on living room sofas of friends and acquaintances and subsisted on charity, fast food or supermarket fruit. I made over 20 media appearances, including some on network television, but none in bookstores. The publisher somehow neglected to get any copies of my book into these establishments, so people could hear me on radio, see me on TV or read about me in the newspaper--but they couldn't actually buy my book in a store.

None of the publishers of my seven subsequent books saw fit to arrange an out-of-town tour of any kind. Whatever publicity these books generated was largely due to my own efforts. And of course, it was at my own expense.

MARVIN J. WOLF, LOS ANGELES

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