About all an author gets to eat at a book and author luncheon is his words.

The introductions at yesterday's Washington Post Book and Author Luncheon at the Sheraton Washington Hotel hadn't even started when the head table with authors Gore Vidal, Toni Morrison, Robin Cook and Evan Hunter was swarming with fans. Between inscriptions in their best-selling books, few got more than a forkful of spinach salad before the quips and quotes by those introducing them began.

"I would say an unautographed copy of my book ["Creation"] would be the most valuable," conjectured an unusually modest Gore Vidal. He also autographed jackets of his old books, magazine articles, autograph books and a paperback copy of Nietzsche.

Vidal, a native Washingtonian, told the audience of more than 1,000, "I became a historical novelist because I couldn't believe that American history was as boring as I learned it was at St. Alban's. Then I got interested in religion and the 5th century B.C. and the age of Confucius, Buddha and Socrates which led to 'Creation.'"

Evan Hunter, author of "Love, Dad," was handed a letter yesterday from a 14-year-old boy asking him how he became a famous author. Hunter has written about what he calls the "time warp" between parents and children which occurred in the late '60s. When he's asked how he gets the ideas for his books, he likes to tell the Hollywood theory of writing: "A writer leaps up from his bed at 2 a.m., shouts 'Eureka' and runs to his typewriter to whip out a masterpiece."

Robin Cook, who wrote "Brain," says he has always had "a love affair with books. In college I loved buying my books and racing back to my room," says Cook, a Boston ophthalmological surgeon who also wrote the best seller "Coma." "Then I could immediately guess what courses I would like by the format of the books and how they smelled."

Cook says that at medical school, he realized he had something he wanted to say, "but I didn't have the time." He did find the time later when stationed on submarines. Cook, who calls his latest work about human experimentation a mystery-thriller, says, "My original idea was to take significant medical issues and put them into something fun to read."

Toni Morrison, the toast of the town after the success of her novel "Tar Baby" (and the recent Newsweek cover), said she had mixed feelings about coming to D.C. "because of memories I have from when I was a student here and when I worked here and had my first child here." She says she also began to write here. "I wrote the first book I wrote because I really wanted to read it," said Morrison.

Morrison, whose novel is about black-white relationships, doesn't know the Hollywood cliche "No autographs, please," and seemed to love the attention. And when the waiters had almost finished clearing away the tables, Morrison was still surrounded by people and books signing "To Aunt Mildred. . . To Johnny on His Birthday. . . To Ruth Who I Met Once in St. Louis. . ."