WE HAD A SUMMER GAME when we were kids, Puss in the Corner. It's played on a city street where the sidewalk is divided itno large squares. Four kids stand in the four corners, the fifth -- who is "it" or Puss -- in the middle, without a corner. The trick for Puss is to leap nimbly into a vacant corner while the other four switch places like lightning.Business is like Puss in the Corner, somebody is always "it," out there without a corner; but this summer was the most restless in recent remembrance.

It's a dog eat Puss world, and if I were to go into all the changes that took place this column would read like the People page of Publishers Weekly. But one change took us all by surprise. Ross Claiborne, who time out of mind lived over at Delacorte/Dell, where he invented the single hard-cover-paperback contract for authors, accepted "a wonderful offer I couldn't turn down" from Warner Books' president, Howard Kaminsky, and will become vice president and publisher of Warner's hardcover division. "Do you believe I'm in my 25th year at Dell?" asked Ross. "I thought I'd finish my days here but I caught the fever and had to move." By "the fever," Claiborne refers to the fact that Dell's editor in chief, Linda Grey, recently moved to Bantam, and Dell's romantic novels editor, Vivian Stevens, is on her way to Harlequin, which has made a fortune and a half on mush. The corridors at Dell must be echoing eerily and emptily.

Will Claiborne go over to Warner empty-handed, or will he bring some or all of his top writers with him? At present, he's not at liberty to say more than the he's "hopeful that they will look kindly on me at Warner," and that nothing has been "set." But his list at Delacorte was powerful and very commercial -- James Clavell, Belva Plain, Rona Jaffe, Irwin Shaw, William Goldman, Adam Kennedy, Irving Wallace, Joseph Wambaugh, Lady Antonia Fraser, Ingrid Bergman. Claiborne sounds as "elated" as he says he is; pulling up 25-year-old roots isn't easy, but it can be exhilarating. And another personnel note: We'd like to be a fly on the wall at the reunion of Ross with Rose Summer, who used to be his secretary at Dell years ago, and who now guards Warner's editor in chief, the elusive Bernie Shir-cliff. Nobody could balance Claiborne's checkbook like good old Rose.

HOW MANY VICE PRESIDENTS can dance on the head of a pin? Let's put it another way. How many vice presidents are there at Simon and Schuster? "I don't know," said vice president Joni Evans. "I don't know," said vice president Susan Kamil. "I don't know, but there's a hell of a lot of them," said a contact at S&S who prefers anonymity. I started to chart them and my notes became as complicated as those family trees of the Plantagenets and Tudors. What inspired all this was the somewhat anticlimactic announcement that Patricia Soliman -- who left her position as president of Coward, McCann in high dudgeon when Donald Braunstein was put in as publisher over her head -- had, as rumored for weeks, joined S&S as a vice president, associate publisher and member of the editorial board of the trade division. At the same time, Alice Mayhew, a vice president, and Kamil were also named associate publishers -- a total of three. S&S once had two associate publishers -- Dan Green, a VP, and Evans. But those two were given their own imprints -- Kenan Press, now defunct, for Dan, and Linden Press for Joni -- and the newly created associate publisher posts fell vacant; now it's stuffed again. Erwin Glikes, a senior VP, was once publisher but he was shifted over to be editor in chief of Touchstone Paperbacks and Dan Green was named publisher. Herman Gollob, who recently joined S&S from the Literary Guild, is a vice president; Michael Korda. S&S's editor in chief, is a vice president and so are senior editors Peter Schwed, Tom Wallace and Fred Hills. James Silberman, who runs Summit Books, and Lawrence Freundlich, who runs Wyndham Books, are not vice presidents, although they run their own divisions. Are you following this? Wait, it gets even more complicated.

A whole bunch of them, including Soliman, used to run their own show -- Tom Wallace at Holt; Fred Hills at McGraw-Hill; Glikes at Basic Books; Gollob at Atheneum and later the Literary Guild. They were presidents, publishers and/or editors in chief. Now they all report to Richard Snyder, president of S&S. I always thought that a vice president was a person who filled in when the president was sick or away on vacation -- sort of an executive understudy -- but who takes precedence among a dozen or more vice presidents?

It's said that Theodore Roosevelt was once caught up in a hotel fire. He started to go back up the staircase to his room and a clerk called after him "where the hell do you think you're going?" "I am the vice president," said Teddy solemnly. "Of what?" "Of the United States." "Then get back down here. You're not the vice president of this hotel."

I WANT to make the distinction here between self-publishing and so-called "vanity" publishing, because there is a difference. Vanity publishing is when your Aunt Louisa takes her poetry and her butter-and-egg money -- usually upwards of a thousand dollars -- to a publisher who is . . . shall we say- . . . out of the mainstream, and has 500 copies printed up so she can call herself a real live author. Almost none of these copies ever sees the light of day, especially not in a bookstore.

Self-publishing is when you cannot get a publisher and decide, the hell with them, I'll do it myself. You write, edit, selecty type, maybe even set type, get it printed and work like a dog to get it distributed. Maybe you'll hit it lucky and people start to mail back your coupon with their checks. Suddenly you're successful. And suddenly the book business sits up and takes another look, coming around cap in hand to say it's sorry and won't you give it another chance?

There have been No. 1 best sellers that wre self-published First. Mary Ellen Pinkham formed her own company, Mary Ellen Enterprises, and published Mary Ellen's Best of Helpful Hints. She sold 500,000 copies before Warner grabbed it and it bacame the No. 1 trade paperback for a year. Robert Ringer couldn't get a publisher for Winning by Intimidation so he published it himself to phenomenal success and then made the book business pay through the nose. Two sisters, Pam Young and Peggy Jones, worked out a method on 3-by-5 file cards to bring order into the chaos of homemaking. They published their own book, Sidetracked Home Executives, and sold 12,000 hardcover copies and 40,000 paperback copies themselves, before it was picked up, again by Warner.

And now Warner has yet another such offering or set of offerings. An independent distributor sent a copy of a self-published paperback, Graffiti in the Big Ten, to Warner's Larry Kirschbaum. Larry thought it was a howl. Marina N. Haan and her life-partner Richard B. Hammerstrom had gone into every bathroom, male and female, in every one of the Big Ten college buildings and had copied down what was written on the walls. Some of it was, no surprise, toilet humor, but some was a gas. "I've been all over this universe, and take my word for it -- Earth makes the best pop-corn." "For those of you who think Lifehs a joke, consider the punch line." Warner liked the book so much that they sent the same couple into bathrooms in other schools -- the Southwest Conference, the Pac Ten, the Ivy League -- for other volumes and is now considering even more. So the age of the individual entrepreneur is not quite over, even though one of the graffiti artists, who wrote, "This wall will soon appear as a Bantam paperback," was wrong