Danielle Steel, in English and Spanish

Releasing a novel by a best-selling author simultaneously in both English and Spanish is not a common publishing occurrence in the U.S.

It's unprecedented, as a matter of fact.

And when the author turns out to be no less than Danielle Steel, one would imagine that a frenzy of marketing and strategy would have preceded this groundbreaking event.

As it turns out, not really. Instead, the launching of Steel's newest book, "The Gift"/"El Regalo," which appeared in both languages in bookstores the first week of this month, has been one big experiment.

"We did this very quickly, as something we can learn from," said Dell/Delacorte president Carole Baron. "Danielle and I had been talking about it for a long time . . . and when we thought of doing her next book, we thought of also having a Spanish edition." But, she added, "I'm not looking to make money on it."

Given that Steel has a knack for making it to the top of the bestseller lists nationwide, with a decent marketing plan, making money would seem to be a pretty safe bet.

Publishing in Spanish is a growing trend in this country, due in part to a burgeoning Latino population and to the success of original Spanish titles, such as Laura Esquivel's "Like Water for Chocolate" ("Como agua para chocolate"), a hit in both languages. Publishing Esquivel in Spanish was the author's idea, says Martha Levin, publisher of Anchor Books (a division of Bantam/Doubleday/Dell and so a sister company to Steel's publisher), and the person responsible for "Como agua." "I am hoping there's a market for ('El Regalo'), and I think we may be underestimating the diverse readership out there," says Levin.

Traditionally, Spanish readers in the United States had to wait for the translated version of English titles to be published in other countries and then imported here, at higher prices.

But simultaneously launching the translated version of an English original, and publishing it as a cheaper trade paperback, is taking the trend a step beyond.

"We don't know who our audience is, and the booksellers are not sure about their constituency," Baron said. "We printed a small number of copies, comparatively, for Danielle Steel, and if it takes off, we'll add more money to it."

Steel's popularity in 28 languages around the globe, including Spanish (although there are no sales figures for each country), made her a logical choice to assess the potential for Spanish readership of bestsellers in this country, according to Lisa Seher, who works for the Lipton Communications Group, in charge of targeting Dell's Latino market.

However, says Baron, "I'm not sure that (Dell/Delacorte) really knows how to reach Spanish language readers, which is why we decided not to do it ("El Regalo") in hardcover." As a matter of fact, "we were told the Spanish market would accept the trade paperback better," Baron says.

"El Regalo" was translated by the Spanish publisher Plaza & Janes, which retains the rights to the hardcover edition in Spain. The translation, in Castilian Spanish, has not been tested on readers here, says Evan Boorstyn, senior publicist at Dell.

According to Boorstyn, aside from a Spanish-language print campaign, availability of "El Regalo" will be teased in all advertising for "The Gift." The Spanish version, he says, will be available in all major supermarkets and traditional book venues, including English bookstores with Spanish-language sections. The two largest bookstore chains in the L.A. area, B. Dalton and Crown will be carrying "El Regalo."

If it is a success, no doubt other bestselling authors will also go bilingual . . . but it's still one big experiment.

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