It started, as many of these stories do, with an email. In August 2022, Paul Bogaards, the former Knopf executive who launched an eponymous PR firm earlier that year, received a note from a client. The client’s friend, Dann McDorman, had written a novel and needed help finding an agent. Bogaards was happy to advise and asked McDorman to send along his manuscript. It was titled West Heart Kill.
McDorman, currently the executive producer of MSNBC’s The Beat with Ari Melber, had begun writing West Heart Kill “as a lark,” he told PW. In 2021, he decided on a whim to write jacket copy for an imaginary book featuring “buried secrets and breathless twists.” The exercise captured his imagination: six months later, he had a first draft. “In truth, I had little expectation of getting it published, at least in any major way, which gave me the freedom to run amok with the material,” he said.
With his finished manuscript in hand, McDorman did all he could to “get my bearings in the industry,” he said, reaching out to everyone he knew with connections to publishing. He struggled to make inroads until he “stumbled upon what turned out to be the golden ticket”: a friend who was working with Bogaards.
“I started reading,” Bogaards recalled. “The next thing I knew, it was 5 p.m. and I had finished his novel. I picked up the phone and called Dann. I told him, ‘I’m going to do you one better than help you write a letter. I’m going to find you an agent, and we are going to sell your book to a publisher. Your novel is that good.’ ”
That same day, Bogaards sent the manuscript to David Black, president of the David Black Agency. “I read it over the weekend and had the same excited response to the pages as [Bogaards],” Black said. He remembers being “taken by the creative and literary approach Dann employed in constructing the plot.”
Bogaards was surprised by Black’s interest. “David Black is not a fiction guy—his specialty is nonfiction,” he said. “When the nonfiction guy jumps, it’s worth noting.”
Soon, Black and Bogaards set out to submit the manuscript to publishers. “There have been some terrific new mystery writers launched in the last few years,” Black said, “and it was clear to Paul and myself that Dann stands apart as a thinker and stylist.”
They sent the manuscript to several publishers in what Black called a “broad submission” on October 14, the Friday afternoon before last year’s Frankfurt Book Fair. By Sunday evening, Jennifer Barth at Knopf had offered a preempt and a two-book deal. “I’ve been in this business for over three decades, and this was my first weekend preempt,” she said.
Other publishers expressed interest, but Knopf had a clear vision for McDorman and West Heart Kill, Black said. “An agent always looks for an editor and publisher who loves their client’s work, and most important, has a clear view about how to publish them.”
McDorman was overjoyed to see his novel land at Knopf. “Alfred A. Knopf was the first to elevate Dashiell Hammett and publish him in hardcover,” he said. “They have such a rich tradition publishing crime fiction and mysteries and literature that it’s an honor to be welcomed on their list.”
Knopf publisher Reagan Arthur agreed that McDorman would be a good fit with such Knopf authors as John le Carré, James Ellroy, Stieg Larsson, and Jo Nesbø. “We saw West Heart Kill sitting comfortably alongside those estimable forebears,” Arthur said. The novel is a murder mystery set at a genteel private club where three corpses have turned up in four days, with the erratic Det. Adam McAnnis tasked with solving the case.
With the Knopf deal inked, the David Black Agency’s Susan Raihofer took West Heart Kill to Frankfurt, where it was, in her words, “the epitome of a hit.” “We submitted the manuscript along with news of the U.S. deal to coagents an hour before getting on the plane to Frankfurt,” Raihofer said. “When I landed, we already had offers.”
As of this writing, Raihofer has closed on 13 deals, many of them preempts or sold at auction, with more expected.
West Heart Kill will be one of Knopf’s lead fall titles, with a first print run of 150,000 copies. As for McDorman, the book’s warm reception and immediate success have been thrilling—and he’s taking none of it for granted. “I’m 47 years old; I’d given up any dreams of being a published writer many, many years ago,” he said. “Every single step has seemed like a miracle.”