A "Working" Lunch

I had the great fortune to have lunch with Marcus Sakey the other day. In case you don't know, he's a talented and successful crime writer who lives right here in Chicago. He also just launched a television show. And Ben Affleck bought the rights to one of his books. And Tobey Maguire is going to star in another one. The guy is busy. A friend of a friend put me in touch with him and, really, I don't know how he found time to squeeze in a chat with an up-and-coming writer like me.

Marcus Sakey

But, man, am I glad he did. We had a nice long chat, over some delicious spicy food and BYO beers at Belly Shack. It was fascinating to hear some of the inner workings of publishing and how someone who is shooting up on a successful trajectory sees the current state of publishing. While I don't want to go into too many details, here's one thing he said (paraphrased):

If we were meeting two years ago, he'd have all sorts of advice for me and my publishing career. Now, though... the industry is in the midst of a storm.

Everyone on every level of writing and publishing knows something of that storm--bookstore struggles, publishers operating under what suddenly seem like old-fashioned models, e-readers, amazon.com changing everything. It's not news (except that it's changing almost day-to-day, which I guess means it is news). What was new for me was hearing something of it from the point-of-view of a successful insider. I mean, this guy has award-winning, great-selling books, a publishing deal, movie options, even a TV show (that he writes himself). He's the definition of writing success. You'd think he'd shrug off this upheaval in publishing. Well, maybe not shrug it off, since obviously he's got some serious vested interest, but, you know, you'd think he'd be comfortable with it, or have some kind of steady mantra, a set and settled black-and-white opinion on the state of things.

Judging from his books and his show, though, he's obviously comfortable in gray areas, so it shouldn't surprise me that he's still watching the storm, waiting, riding it out. (At least that's what it seemed to me.)

Everyone who tries to tell me exactly where publishing is heading sounds like a lobbyist. And, really, give me a smart person's not-wholly-formed thoughts on a subject over an on-message canned speech any day.

We also talked a bit about what a writer can control. Good stories, good quality writing, good editing. The work has to be excellent. That's what you shoot for.

And with a little luck a good writer finds an audience. I'll work on being a good writer and, if you're reading this, you can help with the audience part by pointing a friend to Comet Jack.

Here's to luck, striving for excellence, and 2-hour lunches with beer on a Wednesday afternoon! Thanks a bunch, Marcus.