Zane has pulled off a nifty trick in publishing: She's a black woman who's made frequent appearances on the New York Times best-seller list -- with no help from Oprah. The pseudonymous author has sold more than 2 million copies of raunchy, toe-curling romance novels like ''Addicted'' and ''Shame on it All'' -- and won some influential endorsements along the way. At June's BookExpo, Al Gore's campaign manager, Donna Brazile, told a crowd: ''I read one [Zane book] last summer that just had my mouth watering like I've never had it before.''
For her ninth book, ''Afterburn,'' the thirtysomething Maryland native and mother of three is doing something she's never done before: showing her face. Though she still declines to reveal her given name, Zane is boarding the Zane Love Bus for her first-ever tour. ''I have had people masquerading as me,'' says Zane, noting that at least one of the impostors was a man. ''I was online one day and saw someone say, 'I'm going to Zane's book signing today in Atlanta.' And I was in [Washington] D.C. Then I found out 'I' had three signings in Atlanta that day.''
This summer's seven-city tour -- yes, Atlanta is one of the stops -- is a far cry from her beginnings in publishing, when she went online to sell 50-page Xerox copies of her own stories for $10 each (the eventual result was her 2000 novel ''The Sex Chronicles''). Since then, she's become her own cottage industry. Five years ago, she launched a Simon & Schuster imprint, Strebor Books, which now boasts 28 authors on its list. In addition, she plans to open a bookstore in Baltimore this fall and to launch a new Simon & Schuster line specifically aimed at teens, for whom Zane's NC-17 passages may be too steamy. ''I don't really agree with...a lot of children, younger people reading my books,'' Zane says. Even so, she manages to attract many youthful fans. ''I have a childlike imagination. I just add sex to it.''
That she does. A lot of sex. Not mere Harlequin bodice ripping, but sweaty, grab-the-back-of-his-head-and-make-him-scream sex. ''Women come up to me and say, 'You've made me open up myself,''' she reports. ''They experiment now and they do things they normally would not have done because they've read my books.'' Fellas, no need to thank her.