The Almanac of American Politics once had three authors; now it has two. It used to have a trade publisher (first Gambit, then Houghton Mifflin, then Dutton) to watch over it; now it takes care of itself. Michael Barone, a senior vice president of Peter D. Hart Research Associates now on leave, and Grant Ujifusa, an editor at Random House, are putting the sixth edition of the Almanac out on their own. Although it's certainly a known quantity and they don't have to generate interest for a book that most offices in Washington consider indispensable, why self-publish?

"We had some dissatisfaction with the performance of the previous publishers, both artistically and distribution- wise," Barone says. "I also wanted to have more control-- better quality paper, larger typeface and other things a commercial publisher might have been loath to go along with, for financial reasons."

But Barone says he doesn't mind the extras because he wants to "nurture the Almanac for the long run," and a first-rate product is part of his plan. He and Ujifusa have also added a "69-page introduction that gives more information than before. We might have had to fight with another publisher over the cost of that too." In addition, Barone claims that there are "fewer typos and glitches" in the 1982 Almanac.

Each previous edition of the book, which premiered in 1972, has sold around 50,000 copies, and that's how many have been printed this time around. A Washington-area firm called O. Positive--two women, Amy Gussack and Roberta Whalen, who've been involved in retail bookselling-- is doing the trade distribution, although Barone himself has done the selling to the big chain bookstores and the major wholesalers. Other than that, he and Ujifusa are relying on direct mail solicitations to get the book to its potential customers.

Oddly, the Almanac--which profiles each senator's, congressman's and governor's background, voting record, etc. --sells only about one quarter of its volume in Washington. It only goes to show you that politician-watching is a national sport.