Bestselling author Zane is known for keeping a super-low profile -- few interviews or photographs, almost no personal information.

The writer of steamy novels, who lives in Prince George's County, has a following across the border in Charles County, particularly among black readers.

Despite her zeal for privacy, a deal closed this summer seems likely to make Zane an even bigger presence in the publishing world. In June, Simon & Schuster acquired the author's Largo-based publishing operation, Strebor Books International, for an undisclosed sum.

The soft-spoken wife and mother of three insists that her days are filled with laundry, kids and grocery lists. But they are also filled with mogul deals, literary awards, bestseller lists and book signings. She has written nine books.

Simon & Schuster, a division of Viacom, already was the distributor of Zane's titles. Now Strebor will be an imprint of the publishing giant's Atria Books.

"Zane's growth as a bestselling author has been a wonderful success story for all of us," said Judith Curr, executive vice president and publisher of Atria Books.

With her company now part of a large corporation, Zane said she will be able to pursue her larger vision "of giving a voice to more minority writers."

Zane, 38, lives in the Bowie-Largo area -- she won't say exactly where so she can protect her family's privacy. Zane is a pseudonym; she has declined to divulge her real name and only recently began to allow photographs, mostly as a way to foil impersonators (male and female) who were showing up at book signings.

She self-published her first three books after agents and editors asked her to water down her style and subject matter. The experience opened her eyes to the frustrations writers can face before getting published.

"I started writing in November of '97," she said. "I've only been published since May of 2000." Since then, more than 4 million of her books have been sold.

"I've been published in Danish, Greek and Japanese," she said.

When she created the Strebor company in 1999, it was a one-person operation. It has now published works by 35 authors.

Allison Hobbs of Philadelphia, author of the novels "Pandora's Box" and "Insatiable," was discovered by Strebor. Hobbs, like Zane, self-published her first novel.

"I met Zane when I was at the Baltimore book fair, promoting it," Hobbs said. "She came up and bought a book -- and liked it. It took her about three months to get to it. She read it. She offered me a deal, and I grabbed it."

At recent book signings in New York and at the Library of Congress, patient fans stood in long lines to meet Zane, each one clutching her latest novel, "Afterburn." It appeared on the New York Times bestseller list shortly after publication.

At the New York book gathering, Zane's black-rimmed glasses and reserved black business pantsuit camouflaged the identity she has among many readers: the No. 1 author of steamy novels.

Zane, who studied chemical engineering and is the daughter of a preacher and theology professor, started writing her erotic tales as something to do at night after her children went to bed. She said her provocative stories help give a voice to those too timid to speak up for what they want in the bedroom.

"Well, quite honestly, I believe that sex is the area most women feel uncomfortable talking about [or] to be demanding about it in their lives," Zane said. "And I feel like I can liberate women sexually. Once they become more liberated and ask for what they want in the bedroom, that ought to help them career-wise, family-wise and everywhere else. That's what I believe."

"She weaves a story of life," said a fan, KaShamba Williams of Delaware, who was at the New York signing. "In her stories, it's not just the sex, but the psychology of it. And I think that's a good thing for readers, too."

Zane's anthology "Breaking the Cycle" tackled domestic abuse. The collection, published in March, lets her readers know, she said, that they are not alone and that there is help. "In the back of the book, I include a resource section with contact information for every state," Zane said. Her inspiration for the book came about five years ago from an online chat room, she said.

The topic was domestic violence. "It amazed me how many women said that they were staying with their mates because of the children," she said. "I got to thinking about how it must affect the children in those relationships.

"So that's really what 'Breaking the Cycle' is about -- not only domestic violence, but the effect that it has on the children of those relationships, and how it can turn into a vicious cycle [with] those children growing up to become victimized or becoming the abusers themselves."

Zane's latest venture has taken her into literary retailing. Her bookstore, Zane's Endeavors Books and Gifts, is in the Fells Point section of Baltimore.

She is working on a play she hopes to have ready for production next year. She also has been in talks with movie producers about adapting her books. And she and a partner have formed a production company.

"It's going to be Hollywood on the Potomac," she said with a broad smile.

Zane, who lives in Prince George's County and has a following in Charles County, signs copies of "Afterburn" this summer at BookExpo America in New York.