"If it doesn't sell it's devastating, because that means that people no longer want to listen to this crap." Thus spoke Donald Trump, touting the second volume of his autobiography, "Surviving at the Top," to the American Booksellers Association convention on June 4.

"Surviving" was supposed to appear in October. Under the theory that publicity -- even the tremendous amount of unfavorable attention generated by Trump's near-default -- sells books, Random House has moved the release date of the closely guarded book to Aug. 15.

For the moment, at least, Trump has staved off the financial collapse that threatened him in June, but his reputation as the man who was the very embodiment of the art of the deal is in tatters. The joke in the publishing world was that the title of the new book would be changed to "Screwing Up at the Top" or "Jumping From the Top." The only reason Random House would go ahead and publish it, wags said, was that Trump couldn't afford to pay back the $2 million-plus advance.

If the huge 500,000-copy first printing sells out by the end of the year, not only will the book be an unqualified triumph but commentators will have to acknowledge that the '80s aren't dead, they were only resting.

Most industry observers, however, think sales will be less impressive than that, although few go as far as to say it will be a failure.

"It's probably the biggest speculation in the book field today," says Robert Haft, president of the Crown Books chain. "A lot of people say it's not going to be successful, but a lot depends on what Trump writes about.

"If it's a rehash of old stories about how he beat Merv Griffin, I think everyone's heard enough. If it's truly new stories, in many arenas he's still a folk hero."

In ordering for his own stores, Haft had to decide without knowing the contents. "We're not sure the book's going to be big, and not sure it's going to be little. We took the middle ground." After the default crisis, he adds, "if anything, {the order} shrunk. ... So much of the story is already out."

Just as the Trump tale has changed over the past few months, so have the book's contents. In the Random House catalogue, prepared this spring, you meet the old Donald, "Trump the deal maker at his most brash and flamboyant."

Forget about brashness, the Random House spin doctors now say; the revised book will show a more introspective Trump, one humanized by his financial troubles. In a snippet Trump read from the manuscript at the convention, the soul-searching seemed to come straight out of another Random House Inc. book, "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten": "Toughness is knowing how to be a gracious winner and rebounding quickly when you lose."

But that gentler approach wasn't much in evidence as Trump's problems mounted during the spring and early summer, when he seemed to be relying more on his advice in "The Art of the Deal": "There are times when the only choice is confrontation." In March, Trump threatened a lawsuit after a Philadelphia securities analyst said crowds at his new Taj Mahal casino would taper off in the colder months. The analyst was fired, and Trump looked like a bully. Then in April, Trump threatened the Wall Street Journal with a libel suit if the paper suggested he was having any problems with his cash flow, which it turned out indeed he was.

With this Trump predominating, the book may have limited appeal. "It's fine to read a book by a winner who is abrasive and self-aggrandizing, but the same qualities in a loser are much less appealing," says one source involved with the book's publication.

Random House executives have expressed extreme confidence in the book. At the convention, Trump said his editor told him that "the second one is going to outsell the first one. See, he knows how to turn me on. Because I want to do that. You know, I want to keep going higher and higher, and then we die, and nobody gives a damn. It is pretty futile when you get right down to it, isn't it, folks?"

It's considered especially futile to imagine the new book will approach anywhere near the 825,000 hardcover sales (according to the Random House catalogue; Trump says it was a million) of the first. "The Art of the Deal" was a phenomenon that no one expected; it is, after Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca's first effort, the biggest-selling business autobiography of the '80s.

That book earned millions for Trump, all of which he said he gave to charities. This time, a spokeswoman says, "I don't think a decision has been made yet" on whether the same thing will happen or whether the suddenly needy Trump will keep the money. Perhaps his bankers will have something to say about this.

One clue to how much money the sequel will generate might lie in the sales of the Warner paperback of "The Art of the Deal." During the first five months of the year, bookstores ordered an average of 20,000 copies a month. That was when the marriage and Ivana were hot topics.

In June, with bankruptcy looming, orders shrank to 15,000 copies. The usual summer slowdown? An inconsequential blip? Or the realization that Trump's claims to financial wizardry were suddenly looking a little hollow?

Laurence Kirshbaum, president of Warner Books, likes a combination of the first two explanations. He believes people are still interested in Trump, and predicts that "Surviving at the Top" will continue on the bestseller list into the new year.

"We now see a new, human dimension to this man, whereas before we saw a gleaming tower with his name on it," declares Kirshbaum. "It's like Mike Tyson -- the fact that he lost one makes him a hell of a lot more interesting than if he had continued to win."

Kirshbaum has a vested interest in the success of the new book, since Warner holds the "floor" for the paperback. Unless there is a bidding war, Warner will be compelled to follow through on its offer of more than $500,000 for softcover rights.

Another publishing executive, Hearst Trade Books Group President Howard Kaminsky, has no connection to "Surviving" but was in charge of Random House when "The Art of the Deal" was acquired. This time around, he's ambivalent. "A lot of the yuppies that bought the first book were looking at Trump as, perish the thought, an icon. Now they probably don't have jobs or can't afford to buy the book."

For the sequel, he predicts, there will be a smaller but not inconsiderable audience of gossip seekers. "No one's going to be looking at it in terms of 'In Search of Excellence.' These days, it's more like 'In Search of Ink.' "

As much as the Trump question may animate the industry, no booksellers are losing sleep over the size of their orders. If it's too little, they can always get more. And if it's too big -- well, the unsold copies can be returned for credit.

Waldenbooks has placed a very big order. President Harry Hoffman says his chain has committed to 60,000 Trumps. "Donald is still Donald, and I think he's going to come out all right," says Hoffman.

At the opposite end of the scale is Sidney Kramer Books, a large I Street shop that specializes in business, government and professional titles. It didn't do particularly well with "The Art of the Deal," and has a mere 24 copies of "Surviving" on order.

"That's a very, very modest quantity of any business title," says President Bill Kramer. "At least for our customer base -- professional people with a rather jaundiced eye toward self-serving financial promoters -- the Trump bubble has burst. He's the emperor's new clothes."

At the ABA convention, Trump recounted the tale of an unidentified businessman who had written an autobiography that was a "major failure." "You know," Trump said he told him, "it must be very humiliating when you write a story about yourself and nobody buys it."

By the end of the year, he'll know whether he has managed to escape joining his colleague in that select group.