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The Book Inside You: The Business Of Selling It

BOSTON (CBS) -  There is inherent passion in the written word, but there is also the business of selling it.

Enter Esmond Harmsworth, a founding partner of Zachary Shuster Harmsworth Literary Agency, which has offices in Boston and New York. He says every agency has a common ingredient - "You have to insanely love books."

Harmsworth reads at least one full-length book a week, and the first 20 pages of another ten. He generally makes a quick decision.

"Sometimes it's from the very first paragraph and then I start to think that I absolutely have to represent this, this is fantastic," he told WBZ NewsRadio 1030.

But he also calls literary agents flawed gatekeepers. "So much depends on what we can spot and what we like," Harmsworth said.

Read More: "The Book Inside You" Series

Helene Atwan, the director of Beacon Press, laughingly begs to differ.

"We think we are very objective and we think we are right all the time," she counters.

Helene Atwan
Helene Atwan, Beacon Press Director. (Photo credit: Mary Blake - WBZ NewsRadio 1030)

Beacon Press was founded in 1854 by the Unitarian movement. Atwan has been in the publishing business for 40 years. She thinks the industry has become much, much faster with the advent of digital and audio books, but in other ways, it hasn't changed at all.

"It's still about great writing, great books being delivered to readers," she told WBZ.

Atwan calls publishers and editors "curators" who carefully select the very best. Sometimes the choices are controversial. Beacon Press published the Pentagon Papers in 1971, after 35 other publishers had turned it down.

"It was a scary proposition both because the government was very unhappy about it and because it was so costly. You had to publish a lot, a lot of pages," she recalled.

Atwan says Beacon Press never regretted the decision, despite a personal call from then-President Richard Nixon and a subsequent IRS investigation.

She derives a lot of satisfaction from her work. "Finding new books, new writers, bringing them out, having people love them, that is the best part of the job," she said.

Stona Fitch looks at his profession from both sides of the coin. He writes and publishes. His literary thriller "Senseless" has been called a cult classic.

In 2008, he tried an experiment that took off. He founded Concord Free Press, which prints and distributes hard cover books for free.

"All we ask people to do in exchange for getting the book for free is to give money to someone who needs it, or to make a donation to a non-profit that they believe in," Fitch told WBZ.

Over the past eight years, Concord Free Press has generated more than $527,000 in the global gift economy and has given away more than 40,000 original paperbacks.

In part five of "The Book Inside You," a look at authors who have withstood the test of time.

Listen to Part Four Of "The Book Inside You"

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