Writers from as far away as Portland congregated at the Mercer Island Community and Event Center for a publishing salon on Sunday afternoon. Some were published authors, but most had works in progress: a memoir of growing up on a farm in Enumclaw, an illustrated children’s book, a biography set in Africa.
They came to learn both tips and tricks of the publishing industry from literary agent Sharlene Martin and editor Anthony Flacco, of Martin Literary Management, based on Mercer Island.
“There is no one doing what we are doing now, which is to tell you the inside track on what’s going on in the publishing world,” said Martin.
Martin, who established Martin Literary Management in 2003 after working in television and film, is all about mainstream commercial publishing: the kind of books you find in the library, the kind of books where you are paid in advance and earn royalties, she said.
The agent is currently representing Gaby Rodriguez, the 17-year-old Toppenish, Wash., student who made headlines in April with her senior project, a social experiment of pretending to be pregnant.
Martin sold the book, “The Pregnancy Test,” to Simon and Schuster as a six-figure deal. It will be released in January of 2012. The story was also sold to the Lifetime Movie Network, and filming will begin in October.
“There’s an example of a young Washington state student whose life has been incredibly changed,” said Martin. “Now, for the first time in her life, she is now really financially independent.”
Martin’s passion is nonfiction. She employs two agents who represent other genres: Bree Ogden, an agent for children’s and young adults’ books, as well as graphic novels, and Kate Folkers, who represents fiction. She also works with 12 ghostwriters.
The majority of Martin’s clients are first-time authors. She has 150 clients in total.
“I knew that I loved working with writers,” she said. “What I wanted to do is combine that to serve my talents and give new and upcoming writers an opportunity.”
“I’m always looking for good writers who have more than one book in them,” she said.
How does an author make money? Martin gave a step-by-step overview of the process, which begins with receiving an advance, then getting paid in three installments at the time of contract, then delivery and acceptance, and finally, on publication.
“So much of what gets published is based on trends and people in the publishing world just connecting with material … Sometimes there’s no rhyme or reason,” said Martin.
The couple stressed the importance of the query letter as the “most important thing you’ll ever do.”
“If you don’t get me at hello,” Martin said, “then I’m not interested in reading on.”
“Learning how to position your work as a product is one of the most important things a writer can do in terms of their publication,” Flacco said.
The couple moved to Mercer Island six months ago. They run their business out of their home. Martin travels to New York every couple of months to meet with editors. She just returned from L.A., where she spends a week each month on business.
Martin and Flacco proposed meeting again next month and making the publishing salon a regular event: the afternoon of every last Sunday, at the community center, if there was enough interest.
There was a show of hands from nearly everyone in the room, expressing their approval.
Do you have any Mercer Island clients?
Not yet. I’d love to have some.
What do you think of Mercer Island?
I love it. My daughter just got married … our son-in-law was born and raised here (they live here). That was one reason why we wanted to come.
Mercer Island is the perfect blend of island living and being close to a big city, and the added bonus of not having to deal with a ferry system. We can’t imagine being anywhere else.
What would you say is your greatest challenge as a literary agent?
I think the challenge really is the changing of the industry — that there are so many changes that are happening now in publishing, a lot of it due to the economy, and a lot of it just because of the Internet, that there are very few rules any more. It’s changing daily … just keeping up with the changing, and making sure my clients are being well served.
What have been some of your greatest successes as an agent?
I love when I’m passionate about a book, and its authors — I love being able to make their dreams come true. What I love about my work, is that every day is filled with possibilities and every day I’m able to think about how I can affect someone’s life, and really change their life in an amazing way. So, you know, seeing an author who after trying for several years gets published, or having someone make a New York Times bestseller list, or adapting their book for TV or a movie.
What books have most inspired you?
“Notes Left Behind,” about Elena Desserich, who at the age of 6 died from a brain tumor. That inspired me tremendously … All the money from sales goes to pediatric cancer research. As a result of the book deal — getting a book deal, (we are closer to) finding a cure for pediatric cancer. I’m really proud of that.
Martin and Flacco are the authors of “Publish Your Nonfiction Book: Strategies for Learning the Industry, Selling Your Book, and Building a Successful Career.” For more, go to www.martinliterarymanagement.com.