Letting your fingers do the walking through the Yellow Pages is getting mighty cumbersome.

The mountain of pages in the Washington area's three traditional yellow books, published by Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co., will soon be matched by new competition. Southwestern Bell Publications, a division of the regional Bell company that serves the South central United States, will release its new Washington metropolitan area Yellow Pages in May. That means at least four bulky volumes that won't fit under your telephone. But it doesn't stop there. Niche directories serving posh neighborhoods from Bethesda to Georgetown have made their entrance together with women's yellow pages, business-to-business yellow pages for minorities, Hispanic yellow pages, and many more.

Some advertisers are pulling their hair, angry at the increase in dollars spent on a growing number of advertising outlets, listening to a cacophany of hard-sell pitches and wondering which book consumers are likely to keep and which book they are likely, in the end, to dump.

"I find it extremely aggravating. You're cursed whether you advertise in the bloody thing or you don't," said Bill Moravek, president of Image Inc., a photographic lab located on Pennsylvania Ave. "Either you advertise and spend more money, or you lose people and throw away some money.

"Either way, it winds up driving up prices -- it has to come out of somewhere," Moravek said.

It upsets Bernie Goldenhorn, too. The president of District Glass Co., a commercial glass dealer, Goldenhorn says it's tough enough to have to advertise in three sets of C&P Yellow Pages and three sets of C&P White Pages. "The ideal situation would be . . . you have one book," he said.

"Now they are coming on with Silver Pages, business-to-business books, Southwestern Bell Publications. And what are we supposed to do? Play a guessing game as to what book the customer is going to use?" he said. "This is the first time in my life I'm so seething."

The situation is another result of the 1984 breakup of the Bell System that launched competition in Yellow Pages. Hundreds of publishers started seeking a piece of the lucrative advertising revenue that has grown from $6.9 billion in 1985 to an estimated $10 billion in just two years.

The competition has spawned no less than about 53 white and yellow directories to choose from in the Washington metropolitan area. Analysts say it is going to end up giving consumers more choices but forcing businesses to spend more on advertising while diluting telephone-company revenue. Yellow pages are the fourth-largest revenue source for local telephone companies and ring up about $600 million a year in revenue for each regional Bell company.

"Because the companies are going outside their regions they are ruining a sure market," said Jerome Lucas, president of TeleStrategies, a McLean telecommunications consulting firm. "An advertiser now has to place two ads to get coverage because consumers don't keep two yellow pages; they throw one away," he said.

As a result, some businesses end up cutting their ad space in one of two books, so "revenue to one company decreases," said Lucas.

But the bottom line is that businesses are spending more overall to blanket all yellow page outlets. "They do it out of fear," said Allan Klaff, president of Ad Advisors, a Kensington yellow page consulting firm to businesses. "The fear is very prevalent for Mr. Businessman because he's not sure who is going to pick one book up."

The National Yellow Pages Service Association, representing publishers and ad placement agencies, praises competition.

"Our publishers are competing by providing a better advertising product in better print, color and cost," said Fred E. Smykla, executive director of the association. For the users of yellow pages, "publishers are providing more sturdy directories, more sources for references, maps, events, coupons . . . household hints, zip codes, historical dates so you retain the book," he said. Ad rates continue to rise but more slowly than they did five years ago, he said.

Regional telephone companies have been quick to see the potential for revenue dollars outside their geographic areas and have been busily foraging in other regional telephone company back yards.

Southwestern Bell has moved into Bell Atlantic territory in the Washington and Baltimore areas. In Baltimore, the Southwestern book covers Baltimore City, Baltimore and Howard counties, and parts of Anne Arundel County in competition with C&P's Baltimore City, Baltimore East, Baltimore West, and business-to-business yellow pages.

The Southwestern Bell Washington book will cover D.C., Montgomery County and parts of Prince George's County, Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax. C&P puts out three books for the District, Northern Virginia and Maryland.

Ameritech is branching out overseas. Nynex acquired United Publishers Corp., a California publisher of 45 yellow page directories. US West has picked up J&J Publications, a directory publisher in Albany, N.Y. BellSouth Corp. has acquired L.M. Berry & Co., the second-largest independent advertising sales agent for U.S. yellow pages directories. Southwestern Bell has acquired Mast Advertising & Publishing Inc., the nation's 12th-largest directory publisher.

Reuben H. Donnelley, the largest independent sales agent and publisher of yellow pages, at one point was selling ads for Bell of Pennsylvania, which along with C&P is a Bell Atlantic company. Now, Donnelley is publishing its own directory there and in several other locations around the country, including New Jersey and Florida. Reuben H. Donnelly remains the ad placement agent for C&P Telephone Cos. for the time being.

Both Bell Atlantic Corp. and Southwestern Bell say their revenue is growing with the new Washington area yellow pages. "A lot of people go with both books, some will choose to drop C&P," said Don Fisher, spokesman for Southwestern Bell Publications.

Southwestern Bell Publications, which is distributing its book to some 818,000 households and businesses, says their one-book approach is cheaper for advertisers and more convenient than the three books offered by C&P. Bell Atlantic is blanketing the District with 1.7 million books, Virginia with 5.7 million and Maryland with 6.4 million. What's new in the 1987 books are "green pages" featuring tear-out coupons, and community interest information in full color, said Ken Pitt of Bell Atlantic. Bell Atlantic will soon publish a separate book called Great Escapes on vacation getaways in the Washington area, he said.

Bell Atlantic still maintains its three-book approach is the best. "If you are taking a large area book, you lose a lot of the people that don't draw from a wide area and draw the car dealers, the high-ticket items," said Pitt. "We care about both and try to determine a balance."

Southwestern Bell, which won't disclose how many businesses it has signed up, hasn't done that well in Washington, according to some who have seen a test book issued around the area. "It's teeny, it's 118 pages of Yellow and 31 pages of white, which is just businesses," said Lora Louise Began of TeleStrategies.

Part of the reason may be that Washington area businesses are loathe to take out large ads until the book's appeal has been tested. Many are taking out one small ad to see what kind of response they get.

"I took out a small ad in Southwestern Bell," said Moravek. "It's like putting a $2 bet on a horse."

Advertisers say the most annoying thing about the situation is the hard sell they get from competing sales forces, and some are turning to consultants or other ad placement agencies to take the task off their hands.

"I avoid it like the bubonic plague," said Stanley Copeland, advertising director for the Door Store, a chain of 55 East Coast furniture stores. "All these people present themselves as the yellow pages."

Copeland has hired Mast Advertising's national yellow page division to advise him on the best use of dollars spent on Yellow Pages. Goldenhorn and Moravek have tried the services of Ad Advisors, which helps them keep down costs by suggesting ad sizes and graphics and which books will help them target the customers they aim to please.

The growing competition has led to lawsuits. Ad Advisors ended up suing Donnelley Directory, the C&P Yellow Pages sales force, for allegedly discouraging business customers from using Ad Advisors' service, which includes placing ads for them, said Klaff. "They refused to come in our office or let us come in theirs," he said. "We sued them for tortiously interfering with our contract with the client and for slander."

Ad Advisors has been awarded damages, but the case is on appeal. "We don't believe anything alleged in the case was proven and that really is why the case is on appeal," said Edward Riehl, associate general counsel for Reuben H. Donnelley.

While the directory giants compete to dominate the entire market, niche publishers are having a field day by offering customers without large advertising budgets a way to target customers who do most of their shopping close to home.

Innovative new tools such as fold-out metro maps, theater seating maps, airport maps and directions, and restaurant guides, can be found in the Telebooks, for example.

So far the tiny, privately owned District company has put out three yellow page guides to Bethesda/Chevy Chase, Georgetown and upper Northwest Washington reaching 148,000 households and businesses.

The company, which won't disclose its profits, has targeted business advertisers who want to capitalize on findings that about 80 percent of consumer spending is done within a three-mile radius of home or by the 22 million visitors to Washington, many of whom stay with friends in the area, said president Clifford Burke.

"We have grown 400 percent in terms of revenue and distribution," said Burke. "We are the little fish in the pond . . . with a very unique product."

Data National of Fairfax is doing the same thing, putting out a total of 27 white and yellow page directories from the McLean area to Potomac, Falls Church, Vienna, Herndon and many other points that go to nearly 1 million addresses.

Minority and women's publications -- such as Directory 495: the Hispanic Yellow Pages, and Business and Professional Minority Directory -- are targeting individual groups in a way that traditional Yellow Pages can't. Audrey Cain, publisher of the Business and Professional Minority Directory, says the 3,200 businesses that advertise in the book are stimulating their own revenue.

"Directory 495," of Falls Church, serves the Hispanic community by providing a directory that includes 64 pages about the new immigration law and information such as metric conversions and conversions from Celsius to Fahrenheit. It also lists churches, airports, hospitals and movie theaters.

Consumers and businesses who use niche publications say they help achieve their goals.

But if Arthur Morrissette has his way, electronic yellow pages will replace the likes of C&P Yellow Pages entirely.

By dialing Morrissette's company, ADS-1001, customers get an operator who has access to a data base of 1,000 Washington area businesses. All they have to do is ask for the nearest butcher, baker or candlestick maker. The four-year-old service is free to consumers and costs businesses $400 a year.

"When you look in yellow pages you can't distinguish whether it's in your neighborhood or not," Morrissette said. In Baltimore, Morrissette has already been joined by Hello Pages, an electronic directory service subsidiary of Real Estate Publications Inc.

"Electronic media is on the way in and print is out," said Morrissette. "People are lazy, they don't want to hunt, they just want to pick up the phone."