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The Acquisition Story: Dear Marcus

A year ago, nearly to the day, I saw a quote from Lorrie Moore about the prevalence of memoirs that made me nod my head in agreement. I clicked through to the full piece, a review in the New York Review of Books of three memoirs. I noticed right away that while two of the books were written by established authors and had gotten wide coverage, the third, a book called Dear Marcus by Jerry McGill, had been self-published. The author, I learned, had been shot in the back by an unknown assailant when he was 13; in an instant, he went from being a precocious young athlete and aspiring dancer to a paraplegic. Dear Marcus was McGill’s story, written in the form of a letter to the unknown man who shot him. Despite the tragic nature of the story, Lorrie Moore described a book that was engaging, cheerful, and inspiring. “There is sorrow and fury, but this is not the Book of Job,” she wrote. Dear Marcus, she said, was “short, sweet, homespun, and inspiring in the very way that he is skeptical of.”

Intrigued, I bought a PDF of Dear Marcus, which I tore through. This book needs to reach a wider audience, I kept thinking as I read. It was a story that I wanted to share with others, one that I felt merited an editorial advocate, a beautiful package, and a broad readership. It was the frankest portrayal of living with a disability that I’d ever read, a provocative look at the culture of violence that, despite his family’s best efforts, had permeated McGill’s childhood on the Lower East Side in the 80s, and a chilling story of a young boy who had been caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. But it was also funny and skillfully crafted and astonishingly candid; McGill had a natural voice that made the book feel like an intimate conversation. To me, more than anything else, it was a book about the moments in life that we can’t prepare for but that present us with an opportunity to find strengths that we wouldn’t otherwise have known we possessed.

The next day at work, I went into stalker mode. I had to find the man who had self-published this perfect gem of a book—and I had to get to him before any other editor did. I started making semi-desperate phone calls, including to a YMCA that the author had once spoken at and to McGill’s former employers. Finally, I reached someone at Mobility International USA, an organization for whom McGill had written several blog posts, who knew Jerry and offered to pass along my information to him. A few hours later, I received a phone call from the delightful and eloquent Jerry McGill, who, thankfully, wasn’t turned off by my rambling effusiveness or by the fact that I’d just called everyone in Oregon who might have ever known him. Less than a week later Jerry had and agent and we made a deal.

I’m so thrilled to be publishing Dear Marcus this week. It’s not just a book that has inspired me and made me think about the world differently—it’s also my first acquisition.

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