NEW YORK "WE'RE THE NEWEST publishing house in town . . . and the highest," says Thomas Congdon of Congdon & Lattes. "We're on the 79th floor of the Empire State Building and our windows look west, over America. We can see Kansas City and California." In a surprise move, Congdon has left E. P. Dutton, where he was in charge of his own imprint, Thomas Congdon Books, in order to team up with Jean-Claude Lattes, a dynamic young French publisher, who founded his firm in Paris about 10 years ago with a capitalization of $10,000. This year, Lattes expects to gross about $9 million. Lattes and Congdon first met a couple of years ago, and almost immediately the Frenchman made the American a business proposition. Since then, the offer must have been bettered, or disenchantment might have set in at Dutton, or possibly both, because this time around Lattes made an offer Congdon couldn't and didn't refuse. "It was the chance of a lifetime," he told me. Tom expects to publish his first list in September 1980, and on it are three books he particularly favors: a collection of Russell Baker's New York Times pieces, the publication of which will virtually guarantee him Baker's memoirs; The Thornton Instrumental Sextet , a work of nonfiction by Frank Conroy, author of Stop Time ; and Michelle Remembers , by Michelle Smith and Lawrence Pazder, M.D., with Barbara Wyden. "Michelle Remembers is the biggest piece of nonfiction I've ever had. It's about a little girl whose parents gave her to a Satanic church, where she was made part of the rituals. She buried it all in her subconscious and, when she was grown, a psychiatrist pulled it all back out again, bit by tortured bit. It has overtones of Sybil . Gosh, what it feels like to have a great, big trembling piece of commerce on your plate!" You can hear Tom licking his chops over the telephone. What is the capitalization of Congdon & Lattes? Tom won't say, although it is obviously many times the $10,000 Lattes went into business with. But he does project that the operating expenses for his first half-year will be a quarter of a million, and he anticipates net sales -- after book store discount -- of $735,000 in 1980, and over a million in 1981. Meanwhile Tom, his executive editor Gretchen Salisbury, and his publicity director Celia Gittelson are off to their first sales conference, to be held in a private chateau on the Loire. Maybe there are advantages after all to teaming up with the French. NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND SO YOU'RE A PUBLISHER with this hot book coming out, and naturally you want to get as much publicity for the author as you can -- author tour, television appearances, bookstore autographing parties -- the usual drill. But in this case your author is Abbie Hoffman, and if he sticks his nose up into daylight the feds will be on him faster than a cat on a cockroach. Abbie, a Yippie leader in the radical 1960s and one of the original Chicago Eight a decade ago, has been underground for five years, fleeing from a cocaine-dealing rap. Now he has written what his publisher calls "the classic autobiography of the '60s." Fred Jordan, who has his own imprint with Grosset & Dunlap will publish Soon To Be a Major Motion Picture in the spring and, true to title, it has been bought for the movies by Universal. But how do you promote Hoffman and where is Abbie now? "Don't ever tell me where you are," said Jordan to Hoffman when they first signed the book together. "I don't want ever to be in the position of being able to tell another person." What does Abbie look like these days? "I can't tell you anything about his appearance," Fred states solemnly. "It has changed from what we remember. He's had cosmetic surgery, and he took it under local, not under general anesthesia, so he would be awake at every minute and reveal nothing by inadvertence. If I tell you what he looks like, the FBI may pick him up." Well, what happens in the spring when the book comes out? What about the press who'll want to interview him? "Obviously, I can't take his life in my hands. That's up to Abbie and he's much better at it. He's a master of doing this kind of thing." One remembers that Abbie has popped up here and there in the last few years, even giving a recent interview on Italian television. "That's up to Abbie," says Fred once more. "Maybe we could arrange interviews like they took people to meet Castro when he was a guerrilla leader, blindfolded and moved from car to car." I make a mental note to be out of town in April of 1980. What do you think will happen when Abbie's life story is published? Will there be any long-term gain? "I would hope," says Jordan slowly, "that as a result, Abbie will continue to be recognized as an authentic American patriot. He's always had a love affair with America -- he named his son America. And that he will be acknowledged as a true hero. And I hope the book will help bring back a climate in which Abbie can re-emerge." UPDATE ON TABA HARD ON THE HEELS of The American Book Awards' happy announcement that they have been chosen as the auspices under which to present the National Medal for Literature next spring comes a new wave of disaffection. The members of PEN American Center -- some 1700 poets, playwrights, editors, essayists, novelists and translators -- have voted by a 56 percent majority not to participate in TABA. The American Book Awards were high on the agenda on PEN's first board meeting in early October. When the board of directors -- which includes Bernard Malamud as president and E. L. Doctorow and Frances FitzGerald as vice presidents -- determined that it was unanimously negative to TABA, they decided that as a question that touched the quick of its membership, it ought to be the subject of a nationwide membership poll. When the results were in, only 9 percent of the PEN's membership supported the awards, while 35 percent voted "to participate only if TABA agrees to change their nominating procedure to follow the NBA format" in which excellence was all that mattered, no money changed hands and publishers could only suggest the inclusion of their titles. (A TABA nomination can be had for a $25 fee from a book's publisher.) At the first fall meeting of the National Book Critics Circle, the board of directors decided not to participate in the awards, voicing "deep reservation about TABA's aims, designs and procedures." In the past the National Book Critics Circle, while not involved in the judging, had participated fully in the scheduled activities of National Book Award Week. Now they won't. I don't envy the people over at TABA. The opposition to what they are doing, and especially to how they've chosen to do it, is formidable: first a letter of protest signed by Alison Lurie, William Styron and many other famous literary names; Farrar, Straus and Giroux's refusal to nominate their books, and now the turndowns from PEN and the Book Critics. The TABA people must be feeling somewhat like Sisyphus, with that old rock getting heavier by the minute.