August 21, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

Musicians have it easy. They cut a record, tantalize the masses with a hot single on the radio, and everyone races out and buys the CD. So how does one entice that same gotta-try-it-before-I-buy-it public to run to a bookstore and spend $30 on an item that will be read once and shelved for eternity?

Ballantine’s multicultural imprint, One World, may have the answer. To launch debut novelist Colin Channer’s lyrical love story, Waiting in Vain, One World created a kind of ”single” of Channer’s work — the first two chapters of the novel, printed and bound with sexy cover art. Lacking the equivalent of free radio airplay, the distribution of the sampler had to be strategic and savvy. Besides sending copies to African-American bookstores and the major book chains located in urban markets, One World sent samplers to 900 beauty parlors across the country. That’s right — beauty parlors! According to Channer, the salon ”is a community grapevine.” Beverly Robinson, director of press relations at One World, explains it’s where ”people talk about the latest movie, so naturally we want them to talk about the latest book.” A recent study commissioned by the American Booksellers Association shows that African Americans are just as likely to buy books in alternative outlets such as beauty salons and churches as at a Barnes & Noble.

So has the strategy paid off? Waiting, released on July 6, has 20,000 copies in print, and a movie deal is in the works. ”We’ve been able to see the book move because of the beauty-shop buzz,” says One World associate publisher Cheryl Woodruff. Anyone care for a perm and a best-seller?

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