Suspend Your Disbelief

Shop Talk |

How far can book promotions go?


My friends who are literary agents have told me about the many ways authors try to catch their attention: packages of cookies sent with their manuscripts; queries tucked into oven mitts shaped like sunflowers (of all things). But this might be the ultimate guerrilla book promotion: faking a kidnapping to promote your book.

Yes. Mark Davis, a thriller writer, did just that. Reports the News Advance of Lynchburg, Virginia:

His main character, Perno Morris, is a failed novelist who has grown weary (and, perhaps, been pushed over the edge of sanity) by a discouraging series of rejections by publishers. So he finds an uber-successful agent, kidnaps her daughter, and gives her 90 days to get his latest novel in print. […]

“I went on as many Internet writers’ boards and chat rooms as I could, as Perno Morris, and vented about how unfair the publishing business was,” [Davis] said. “Then I told them I had a plan, and started a countdown to when I would reveal it. That sent a lot of traffic to my website (, where I had posted the first three chapters of the novel.”

But that was just the beginning. Davis staged and filmed a kidnapping (“I checked with a lawyer first to make sure I wouldn’t get in trouble”) to post on the website, then sent an e-mail to a wide variety of agents. It began: “By the time you receive this, I will have already kidnapped your child.”

“The first phone call I received the next day was at 7:30 in the morning, from an agent,” Davis recalled. “She was yelling at me, saying, ‘Are you crazy?’”

We talked for a little while, though, and I told her: “The most important thing for any novelist these days is to stand out, to attract attention. Based on the fact that you’re calling me this early, I’m assuming I’ve accomplished that goal.”

Is this a brilliant idea—or a cruel one? As a parent, I can only imagine how traumatized I’d be if I got an email claiming my child was kidnapped, even in jest. (Maybe even especially if it were in jest—or in the service of a promotion.)

And here’s the thing: the scheme worked. Davis landed a book deal. I’m not surprised.

But I wish he hadn’t.

Literary Partners