Tag Archives: Michaele Salahi

The Literary Agent Who Became a Book Publisher

If you want to know how quickly and surprisingly the business of publishing books is changing, look no further than the third floor of Sharlene Martin‘s house on north Bainbridge Island.

There, the offices of the Martin Literary Management are a nearly nonstop buzz of activity. But it’s not buzzing just with the business-as-usual of the literary agency, which represents mostly inspirational memoirs, celebrity biographies, true crime and other commercial nonfiction — three of which were New York Times bestsellers in the past year.

It’s buzzing because Martin and her crew are getting ready to publish their first book.

Wait a minute. A literary agent publishing the work she represents? Is this how the publishing industry is supposed to work?

Not normally, no. But what’s normal these days in book publishing, which is undergoing a seismic shift in how books are developed and distributed?

“Not much,” Martin conceded with a laugh.

A case in point is the book that’s generating the buzz. Cirque Du Salahi: Be Careful Who You Trust is the story of Tareq and Michaele Salahi, who Martin represents along with the author, investigative journalist Diane Dimond.

The Salahis are the high-society Washington D.C. couple who made headlines back in November 2009 when they got past the Secret Service into a White House state dinner. The so-called “White House party-crashers” stirred up a lot of controversy and curiosity — more so the latter of late since Michaele Salahi joined the lineup of the reality TV show, The Real Housewives Of D.C.

It’s that latter fact that drove Martin to make the unusual choice to publish the Salahi story on her own, in cooperation with Amazon.com, because she wanted the book to come out in time to capitalize on the latest rise in profile for the couple. In particular, she wanted a product ready to buy before the TV series ended Oct. 7.

“It’s a decision I consciously made. I did not shop this to traditional New York publishers,” said Martin, a Connecticut native who relocated to Bainbridge a few years ago with her partner, author Anthony Flacco. “There was no way they could accommodate the window of sales opportunity for this book — it would have been obsolete by the time they could have gotten it ready.”

(Generally speaking, it takes about two years from the time a book is sold to a publisher for it to appear on bookshelves.)

So what was Martin’s alternative? 

In her view, to publish it through the CreateSpace program offered by Seattle online book giant Amazon. That took care of preparing and distributing print and electronic versions of the book. 

Everything else fell to Martin and her crew.

“All the decisions a publisher had to make, I made,” she said.

And then some.

First, she had to bring a writer on board, and a natural choice was Dimond, her longtime client. Then came editing, legal vetting, cover and interior designing, promotional strategizing and a zillion other chores big and small. Almost everything a big New York publishing house would do was handled in the lovely home overlooking the island’s Sand Spit. (Flacco, for example, was dragooned into duty as the project’s content editor.)

Another unusual quirk: Everybody involved is taking whatever financial rewards may result on the back end of the book’s release, in lieu of the advance-money arrangements commonly made with traditional book deals.

“We’re calling it a sweat-equity book,” Martin said.

The Kindle as well as trade paperback version of Cirque Du Salahi became available Sept. 15. A promotional blitz, largely centered on the East Coast where interest in the Salahis is strongest, will follow. 

In lieu of a traditional book tour with on-site signings in bookstores, Martin and Co. are arranging for “Virtual Book Chats” in which, at scheduled times, people can log on for a live chat with Dimond and the Salahis and participate in live question-and-answer sessions.

Martin, ever the promoter, says that the book reveals information heretofore unknown about the Salahis, gleaned through Dimond’s exhaustive fact-checking, interviews and research. She calls many of media stories about the couple “urban myth,” and the book’s jacket copy  echoes that thought:

This journalistic autopsy reveals how one event can capture a ravenous media’s attention, become the fodder for bogus political drama, and with razor-sharp and misplaced attention, ruin the reputation of a politically connected couple who did little more than attend a White House function for which they believed they had an invitation.

Later, Martin, a frequent writing-workshop instructor, will try to use her self-publishing experiment as a teaching moment. “We want to set up a program at colleges around the country for journalism students, about how they can do this kind of project themselves,” she said.

It’s a talk that Martin has walked for herself, having taken her first foray into author-dom last November with the release of Publish Your Nonfiction Book, co-written with Flacco and published by Writer’s Digest Books as a how-to guide for preparing would-be authors for publishing success.

Working on an unforgiving deadline for their publisher made Martin feel “like every day, I was taking my SATs,” she said. “I have a whole new respect for how hard authors work.”

It should be noted that Martin’s foray into self-publishing hasn’t burned any of her many bridges with the traditional book-publishing establishment. As usual, she has several projects in play — most recently, she’s been working on a memoir by Hillary Williams, daughter of country music legend Hank Williams Jr. — and many are being published through big New York houses.

But that doesn’t mean that Cirque Du Salahi is a one-shot deal.

“We’ll apply this paradigm in the future,” Martin said, “where it’s appropriate.”

My guess is that she won’t be the only one.

Said Martin: “We’re been playing a new game with old rules. And that has to change, or a lot of people are going to go out of business.”