Due to an editing error, the position of some of Virginia gubernational candidate Henry E. Howell's advisers on a registration suit he filed Thursday was misinterpreted. Howell's advisers think he may have made a mistake by down-playing his role as a legal activist during his 1973 campaign.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Henry E. Howell "Got a big kick out of it," an aide says.

It made State Democratic Party Chairman Joseph T. Fitzpatrick livid. "Can I sue? Can I sue?" he shouted in anger.

Howell's opponent, former Attorney General Andrew P. Miller, would like to get his hands on a copy of it, but Gov. Mills E. Godwin has yet to touch it, their aides say.

It is "The Shad Treatment," a novel on Virginia politics that is scheduled to go on sale Monday (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 444 pp., $9.95). Although it is supposedly fiction, the book is almost certain to stir memories of the bitter 1973 gubernatorial campaign that matched the independent Howell against the newly christened Republican Godwin.

Despite author Garrett Epps repeated protestations, most Virginians who have obtained advance copies of the book have noticed what they say are uncanny resemblances between Epps' characters and those in the 1973 campaign.

Indeed, a number of Howell's campaign workers in Norfolk have taken to calling him "Tom Jeff," after Thomas Jefferson Shadwell, Epps' heroic figure in the novel. Like Howell did in 1973, Shadwell barnstormed across the state in a Winnebago camper, tacking up his posters in country stores and shouting campaign slogans at passing cars over a loudspeaker.

If Shadwell is the book's hero, then his conservative political opponent, Miles Brock, is clearly Epps' villain. Brock is "the dinosaur . . . the last of the diehard nullifiers, a tough, cagey politican (who) . . . had something of the ageless, implacable malice of a reptile's - a cold, unwinking patience that meant to endure and conquer, not by wit or strength or grace but simply by outlasting the opposition."

That, some of the reviewers have said, is a portrait patterned after Godwin. But Epps, 26, who covered the 1973 campaign for a now defunct Richmond weekly, denies that Godwin or any else is in his book. "None of those people are real . . . They're fictional characters," he insisted the other day in a telephone interview from Frederickburg where he is staying.

The book, he said, "is not about the '73 campaign; it is about a campaign that occurred in my head." Whether or not most readers agree with Epps, he does concede, noentheless, that the campaign did help him write the book. "If there hadn't been a '73 campaign, there wouldn't have been a book," he said.

And the bood, with its sharply contrasting views of the Howell-like Shadwell and the Godwin-like Brock probably will do little to ease the tension that campaign created in a state not known for flamboyant politics. Indeed Fitzpatrick, who served as Howell's 1973 manager, is furious over the name Epps gave to Shadwell's manager, Knocko Cheatham. The last name alone, some Fitzpatrick associates say, is enough to account for his ire.

Howell's current partisans, however, are delighted with the book and its appearance only three months before the June 14 primary between Howell and Miller. No one in either the Howell or Miller camp is suggesting that the book will decide the election, but Howell's supporters believe it will help them reach a segment of the electorate that might not remember Howell's years of fighting the state's Byrd organization.

"Books like this can make a difference," said Paul Goldman, Howell's manager. "It makes people realize how difficult it is to have fought for things like Henry has fought for."

Moreover, the howell supporters say that Epps treatment of Virginia politics and the favorable role assigned Shadwell - one reader compares it to "canonization" - can hardly hurt their candidate. "What the bood does is to show that Henry has for years fought for things that are ultimately coming to Virginia," Goldman said the other day.

Miller, by contrast, does not appear in the bood, although there is a character, painted sympathically by Epps, who some reviewers have said resembles Miller's father, Col. Francis P. Miller, one of the first major politicians in the state to challenge the entrenched organization of Sen. Harry Byrd Sr.

The late Sen. Byrd, whose influence still lingers in the state, appears to be Epps' character, "the apple farmer." His son, Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr., appears as "Junior" a man who has little of the Washington influence his father had, according to reviews.

Although the book is harshly critical of the Byrd regime and his latter-day adherents, Epps maintains that the book, his first, "is not a message book at all." His model, he said was Robert Penn Warrne's 1946 novel "All the King's Men," a book supposedly about the reign of Louisiana's Huey Long.

But if the Warren book was to set the pattern for novels about the gothic style of Southern politics, then Epps book also illustrates how Virginia politics so frequently defies the mold. FOr instance, in no state in the South is family as important as Virginia.

It is a difference that Epps, son of a Richmond "Main Street" lawyer and graduate of what many Virginians call the "tight schools" - St. Christopher's and Richmond and Harvard - fully appreciates. "If you cover Virginia politics, it is one of the first things that hit you - everybody is the son of somebody," Epps said.

"I wanted to write a book about 'family' that had 'politics' in it and you might say I have ended up with a book about 'policis' with 'family' in it," Epps said.

Almost characteristically, Epps dismisses himself and his family from the "Richmond establishment" to which friends say he was born. But the importance of what Richmonders quietly call "breeding and lineage," is clearly apparent in his book.

Epps, for instance, goes to great detail to establish the credentials of Mac Evans, a central figure in the book and a Shadwell worker. Not only does Evans' family have its roots in supplying cannons to the confederacy, but his brother was also once the rising star of the state's Democratic Party. (That is until he dies, as did former Lt. Gov. Sergeant Reynolds, from a brain tumor).

Whether lineage still plays a role in Virginia politics will be apparent after this year's election. Not only is gubernatorial nominee Miller regarded as a well-known son, but Lt. Gov. John N. Dalton is also the adopted son of a well-known Republican politican.

Epps skillfully protrays another Virginia tradition that seems certain to remain a part of state's legislative process, regardless of what happens in the election. That is, of course, "the shad treatment."

As most any freshman member of the Virginia General Assembly will tell you, that is the process under which almost any measure that seems to threaten the existing order is taken under study by a legislative committee. The legislative bill, somewhat like a freshly caught shad fish from Virginia's James River, is then split apart, disemboweled, its head and tail chopped off, bones removed, and baked in an open pit for hours.

The result is finally served up as a rare delicacy. But the finished bill, like baked shad, bears little resemblance to the initial product.

So horrified are some legislators when they see the results of this "shad treatment" on their bills they often prefer to have the bills killed, or as the "Virginia gentlemen" prefer to put it, "passed by indefinitely."

Regardless of what the state's policians think of Epps' political leanings, his book promises to be one that few Virginia politicians will be able to "pass by" in this election year.