Four years ago, McDonald's executive and attorney Shelby Yastrow was on a plane to Seattle with a fellow Chicago lawyer he had engaged to help in a McDonald's legal matter. The conversation turned to a novel Yastrow had been writing to kill time in hotel rooms, and his companion ended up reading the manuscript that night. When they met for breakfast, Yastrow got his first review: ''You really are good, but you don't know a damn thing about writing fiction.'' That might have seemed insulting if the criticism hadn't come from Scott Turow, the lawyer-writer who had just sold Presumed Innocent, which was destined for best-seller lists. Turow offered some tips, and when Yastrow's Undue Influence was published in October its jacket sported the line '''Thoroughly enjoyable...a suspenseful story.' Scott Turow.'' Early notices have been as kind. Kirkus Reviews said it was ''one of the snappiest courtroom capers yet,'' and Publishers Weekly called it ''hard to put down.'' By mid-November, the book was No. 7 on the Chicago Tribune's national best-seller list three places above Turow's million-selling Burden of Proof.
Still, Yastrow, 55, is expecting more out of the legal thriller that he wrote evenings for seven long years (not including the summer months, when he played golf). ''I come from a long line of retailers and I work at McDonald's, which is one of the finest marketing machines in the world. And I can't understand why my agent and my publisher don't drop everything and sell my book,'' he says. So he has developed his own marketing strategy. He regularly pops into a bookstore near his home, where he greets browsers, recommends his book, offers to sign it, and includes his phone number so buyers can get a $20 refund if they don't like it. ''They could make $5 because they're only paying $15 for it,'' Yastrow says, ''but so far nobody has called.''