The Literator; INSIDE PUBLISHING

God - or to be more accurate, the Bible - has competition: the blockbuster author Sidney Sheldon was last week inducted in to The Guinness Book of World Records as the world's most translated author. Fortunately, HarperCollins publish both, as its chief executive, Eddie Bell, pointed out over champagne and canapes at the Dorchester, where the music was provided by a string quartet with dodgy intonation and, later, a Paraguayan trio - a form of music for which Sheldon and his wife, Alexandra, have a particular penchant.

Sheldon - a winner of an Oscar, a Tony and an Edgar (the latter from the Mystery Writers of America) - began his writing career in the screen trade, working first at Universal for $17 a week. After doing his patriotic duty in the USAF, he quit Hollywood for New York, where, aged 25, he had three musicals playing simultaneously and gave Kirk Douglas his break in Alice in Arms. Back on the Coast, he wrote 25 films, including Easter Parade, Annie Get Your Gun and Anything Goes, before joining the fledgling television industry.

Books didn't beckon until the 1970s, and despite his multimedia successes five publishers turned down his debut novel, The Naked Face, later named by the New York Times as the year's best first mystery. Each of his 13 subsequent novels has been a bestseller and it's estimated that Sheldon has sold 275 million books in 180 countries in 56 languages, including Russian, Turkish, Korean, Greek, Hebrew and Indonesian. Eat your heart out, Jeffrey Archer.

Is Marcella Bernstein setting an unwelcome - unwelcome for publishers, that is - precedent? The author of Body and Soul, published by Mandarin, is suing Reed for alleged "lost" royalties. She claims that Reed, which owned Mandarin (and a host of other imprints) until earlier this year, when they sold to Random House, failed to promote the television tie-in of the book "well enough". Reed denies the charge, which could lead to an interesting court case hinging on the issue of what constitutes "well enough". Since publishers rarely bother to sell any book "well enough", a win for Bernstein would see the courts jammed for years.

my attention is drawn to two forthcoming forums hosted by the Society of Authors. On 1 July, a rerun of a discussion that was a sell-out last year. The subject? "The Incompetence of Publishers." At the Royal Society on 16 September, another thorny question: "How much of your soul should you sell?" The discussion is followed by a "fork buffet". What - no knives?

Gone With the Wind, Rebecca, Dr Zhivago, The Forsyte Saga, Pride and Prejudice, Emma ... all have spawned sequels, with Scarlet, the sequel to Margaret Mitchell's classic, itself spawning a sequel and Emma prompting two rather different sequels.

Now news that Michael Walsh, a Time contributor and author of several music books, including a biography of Lord Lloyd-Webber, is at work on a sequel to Casablanca, the 1942 film classic based on a Murray Burnett/Joan Alison play, Everybody Comes to Rick's. The Walsh opus has been commissioned by Warner Books in New York, part of the Time-Warner media giant, which made it nice and easy for publisher Maureen Egen to acquire rights in a sequel from the studio. Indeed, the novel is likely to become the basis for another Warner Bros movie, or at least a TV mini-series. No word yet on a British publisher, but As Time Goes By, as it will be titled, is scheduled in the US for next year. Play it again, Sam.

Bookish surfers of the Internet might like to check out two new Websites. Poems on the Underground, one of the decade's most successful "brands" - the Cassell anthology has sold more than 200,000 copies and is in its sixth edition - now has its own site at www.netpoems.com.

And doughty independent publisher Serpent's Tail, whose list includes Bill Clinton's favourite crime writer, Walter Mosley, has launched a "Lonely Heads" page. Just answer a few simple questions and Serpent's Tail will match you up with your ideal bedtime partner ... a book. Among the features: literary gossip, a book of the month feature, prize draws and a catalogue database. "Reading - it's the new sex" the publisher claims. Try it and see on www.Serpentstail.comn

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