Tag Archives: Sharlene Martin

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.”

News and Notes: Bite-Sized Adventures in Authortastic Awesomeness

Some news and notes from around the Kitsap literary scene:

• Just got a note from the folks at Elandan Gardens in Gorst that a copy of Gnarly Branches, Ancient Trees: The Life and Works of Dan Robinson, Bonsai Pioneer has arrived at the home of the world-class bonsai art collection, even though the book won’t be formally released until October. Robinson, of course, is the world-renowned “Picasso of Bonsai” who makes Elandan his home base when he’s not off trotting the globe teaching others the exquisite tree-design art. At $49.95, the price may give pause, but, if you click on the link and leaf through a sampling of pages, you’ll see the the pictures are indeed exquisite. Ordering information is available there as well.

• I asked Ollala crime author Gregg Olsen about his newest fiction thriller, Closer Than Blood. All he would tell me is that it features Kendall Stark, the Kitsap County sheriff’s detective featured in his most recently published novel, Victim Six. Oh, and that it’s set, like the last one, in Port Orchard. And it has “a serial killer with ties to the South Kitsap High School Class of ’94.” It’ll be out the first week of April, which is when the paperback version of Gregg’s latest true-crime book, A Twisted Faith, comes out.

Gregg also reminded me that the “Dateline: NBC” program spotlighting the Kitsap case behind A Twisted Faith airs again on Friday, Sept. 24. He’ll also be discussing the story at a Nov. 12 fundraiser dinner for the Kitsap Historical Society.

• Bainbridge Island author Anthony Flacco, another crime writer, has been no less busy than Gregg. I’ll have a blog post coming soon on an interesting project he’s immersed at the moment, but he’s also plugging away at his next novel. His fiction work to this point has been historical, but this time he’s trying something new.

Said Anthony: “The new story is a contemporary magical romance set in San Francisco in the world of food shows and reality TV. The plot is moved by an ancient native myth that influences the choices of the principal characters.”

Anthony’s most recent books were The Road Out Of Hell, a well-received historical true-crime tale from the 1920s, and Publish Your Nonfiction Book, a Writer’s Digest book he produced last fall with his longtime partner, literary agent Sharlene Martin.

Speaking of The Road Out Of Hell, Anthony announced not long ago that an Italian publisher had acquired the book’s rights and would be hosting some author appearances when the translation releases in March 2011. Said Anthony on his Facebook page: “What a wonderful way to visit that country, La Dolce Vita! One hundred years after my grandparents arrived at Ellis Island.”

• Somehow, in my post last week catching us up on Debbie Macomber’s oeuvre, I missed that Susan Wiggs, the Bainbridge author of romance and women’s fiction, had the same day re-released The Firebrand, the last in a trilogy of historical romances she originally published about a decade ago based on the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Publisher’s Weekly liked it, in a 2001 review: “She has created a quiet page-turner that will hold readers spellbound as the relationships, characters and story unfold. Fans of historical romances will naturally flock to this skillfully executed trilogy, and general women’s fiction readers should find this story enchanting as well.”

Garth Sundem was nice enough to send me his geektastic new book, Brain Candy: Science, Paradoxes, Puzzles, Logic and Illogic to Nourish Your Neurons, a couple of months ago, and I’m feeling guilty for not having mentioned it yet. The new book by the 1994 Bainbridge High grad, much like his first two, is a trip through the “intersection of science, math and humor.” It’s loaded with hundreds of funky little factoids, puzzles, logic tests and other ways of demonstrating how our malleable, easily tricked but surprisingly resilient brains work and how the science of putting it to work more efficiently has advanced.

Sundem, who now lives in Ojai, Calif., eats up science writing and research with two spoonfuls. As a result, his bite-sized-nuggets of geekery require more thoughtful digestion than a potboiler novel. That explains why I’m just on page 73, and why, if I wait till I’m done to do a proper write-up, we’ll likely have a new president in the White House.

So, to get a taste of what Brain Candy is all about, click here for some samples. Or watch this tremendously entertaining 2007 appearance on Good Morning America, in which Sundem banters with Diane Sawyer and shows how math calculations can determine whether or not couples should get married — or stay married.

• And, speaking of former Bainbridge Islanders, Seattle author Brandon Kyle Rudd just released the latest edition of his Cooper’s Pack children’s travel guides, Cooper’s Pack Travel Guide to Seattle. The 72-page picture tome follows the adventures of Cooper the dog and his pal, Elliott the otter, as they hop a ferry from Bainbridge Island and see the sights around downtown Seattle. The book, priced at $12.95, can come with plush toys and other kid-friendly accessories.

Rudd — whose pen name on the guides is just “Kyle” — made his mark on Bainbridge as a kid in the late ’70s and ’80s, publishing the Winslow Advertiser shopper from his fourth through eighth grades, and later Exhibition, a well-regarded visual and literary arts magazine, through his high-school years. His Bainbridge school years made a lingering impression on him, as the bios of his characters at the end of his books throw shout-outs to some of his favorite teachers: Gary Axling (Blakely Elementary), Dave Layton and Eileen Okada (Commodore Middle School) and Paul See (Bainbridge High).

Cooper’s Pack Travel Guide To Seattle is the third in a series; previous editions spotlighted New York City and London, and next year will see Cooper visit Bangkok. The book — or its interactive edition — can be purchased online or at Seattle tourist attractions like the Space Needle, Ivar’s and Seattle Duck Tours. (Interesting sidelight: The media relations person for Cooper’s Pack Publishing, based in Seattle, is Marta Drevniak — who happens to be Gregg Olsen‘s daughter.)

• OK, one last ex-Bainbridge Islander (I get to do this because I happen to be one). Remember the big kerfuffle alluded to in a previous Reading Kitsap post about The New York Times’ alleged bias in book reviews toward white male authors from New York? Well, I found out that if you’re looking for Exhibit B to prosecute that case (Exhibit A being Jonathan Franzen), look no further than former Bainbridge resident Alan Furst.

The 69-year-old Furst, a native Manhattanite who lived on Bainbridge for a while in the ’80s and ’90s when he worked for the Seattle Arts Commission, has written 11 literary spy thrillers. All have been set in Europe, before and during World War II, and nine of them have been reviewed in the Times (check them out here). The tenth, Spies Of The Balkans, was reviewed in The Times not once but twice. (The second review is less complimentary, dinging Furst for Ph.D-level historical research at the expense of character development.)

And Furst also got a lavish feature in The Times’ Books section a couple of years ago, in which he sat with the reporter in his Sag Harbor home and said, “I’m basically an Upper West Side Jewish writer.” (Gentile non-gentlemen, start your outrage engines.)

But here’s my favorite part of the story:

Mr. Furst wrote what he now calls a “transitional book,” “Shadow Trade,” a contemporary spy thriller, and helped Debbi Fields, the chocolate chip cookie mogul, write her autobiography. There were also three novels he’d just as soon not talk about. They were comic murder mysteries set in the world of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. “It never occurred to me that people didn’t want to read about sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll,” he said. “Or that there might be other things you’d want to do with sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll.”

Awesome, that. Also:

At a writer’s conference in the late ’80s, Mr. Furst went on to say, he ran into Peter Davison, then the poetry editor at The Atlantic Monthly and also an editor at the Atlantic Monthly Press. Mr. Davison said to him, “We looked at your manuscripts,” Mr. Furst recalled. “Do you want to know why we turned them down?” When he said yes, Mr. Davison said they were the most smart-alecky things he had ever seen.

Even more awesome.

• OK. but nothing’s quite as awesome as this. Jamie Ford, the South Kitsap High grad who’s coming Oct. 16 to Poulsbo to speak as part of the Kitsap Regional Library‘s “One Book One Community” program, shared a funny story on his blog about a fanboy writer crush he’s long had on legendary science-fiction author Harlan Ellison.

Seems that the acclaimed author of Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet wanted to honor Ellison’s legacy of performance-theater writing — Ellison used to type short stories in a storefront window and give them away to those who watched — when he takes the stage at Richard Hugo House in Seattle next month for The Novel: Live! fundraising event next month. Facing a two-hour writing turn before a live audience, Ford wrote to Ellison asking the other man — now 76 — if he could wear a T-shirt of his at the event.

Next thing Ford knew, he received a call at his Montana home from the man himself.

Wrote Ford in his blog about the call: “Picking up the phone and hearing, ‘Hi, Jamie, this is Harlan Ellison,’ was like learning that Santa Claus is real. Except he’s Jewish and drops the f-bomb a bit more.”

As a result, Ford will take his turn on stage at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, wearing a Harlan Ellison T-shirt.

Thus concludes this edition of awesometasticness.

Actually, wait, one more thing: Ford has agreed to do a Q&A with me in advance of his visit.

Flippin’ awesome.