This book couldn't have been judged by its cover.

The jacket would have pictured the F Street Club setting and last night's elegant list of 50 guests, including publishers from most of the top New York firms, sipping cocktails with Rep. William Clay (D-Mo.), Sen. Edward Zorinsky (D-Neb.) and Postmaster General William F. Bolger.

But the story would have told a somewhat sadder tale, as the guests blamed Reaganomics for the ailing condition of the publishing industry, the decline in consumer spending and the cutbacks in federal spending for education and textbooks.

"We're under a lot of pressure from Reagan's education and trade cuts," said Alexander Burke Jr. of McGraw-Hill. "It will be increasingly difficult for first novelists to be published as the market gets tighter."

Many of the publishers present agreed. "I'm led to believe they President Reagan and Congress don't care," said Martin P. Levin, board member of the Association of American Publishers, which sponsored last night's reception and whose midwinter meeting begins here today.

With rising costs--and prices--"I think everyone in the entertainment/leisure business has noticed a caution about buying books," said Gloria Norris, editor-in-chief of the Book-of-the-Month Club.

Most of the talk, sandwiched between bites of liver, crab, deviled egg and turkey hors d'oeuvres, focused on chapters of the book industry yet to be written. "We're going to take the private initiative and do our own thing," Levin said. "We've raised $75,000 to establish a businessmen's committee to solve the problems of education and literacy."

Most of the publishers were similarly looking for a happy ending. "Any development of the media is something to take advantage of," said Robert Janas of Houghton Mifflin, with a slight grin. "We face the economic issues just like any industry--private or public. After all, publishing has been here a long time."

The epilogue of the evening, however, went to Jeremiah Kaplan of Macmillan: "Without words, none of it works."