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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