A year ago, I did a guest lecture gig at my alma matter, Columbia College in Chicago, for a graduate writing class.
One of the students, a guy named Marcus Sakey, offered to buy me a beer after class. We went to a nearby watering hole and began to talk shop.
Marcus wrote lit fiction, and was pursuing his Masters in the hope that one day he'd be able to write and sell a book.
I gave him my opinion--an MFA won't sell a book. Only a good book will sell a book. School and study is something you do INSTEAD of write.
I also told him that the market for lit fiction isn't very large, and asked if there were any genres he liked to read.
Marcus liked Dennis Lehane, who writes crime fiction.
"Then you need to drop out of school and write a crime novel," I said.
He picked up the check, and I promptly forgot about him. Until he showed up at an event of mine a few weeks later.
"I did it," he told me.
"Did what?" I asked. I couldn't remember who he was.
"I did what you suggested."
"I dropped out of school, stopped writing lit fiction, and am working on a thriller."
"Oh. Uh... that's great."
I'd hear from Marcus occasionally, and every so often our paths would cross. We'd talk about writing, and the publishing business, and the importance of self-promotion, and more often than not Marcus would pick up the check.
I began to like this guy a lot, not just because he kept buying me beer. He was smart, funny, and really dedicated to making it in this business. I soon considered him a friend.
Two months ago, my friend finished his first novel, called THE BLADE ITSELF.
It was good. Damn good.
Marcus queried some agents, and got two big ones interested. He signed with a great agency, who went out with his book a few weeks ago.
A few days ago, Marcus called, saying he'd gotten a modest offer.
The next day, he'd gotten a counter-offer, which was considerably better.
The day after that, he had a two book deal and was earning more money than I am.
I couldn't have been happier than if it had happened to me.
Are you a new writer, unable to break into the publishing world? Take heart. It is possible. Marcus is proof. Within a year, he went from college student to earning a living as a writer.
Look for THE BLADE ITSELF to be released by St. Martin's in January 2007.
Look for Marcus at a writing convention near you. Offer to buy him a beer, and then pick his brain about the publishing business. But don't be surprised if he tries to talk you out of getting that MFA...