How Navy SEAL Matt Bissonnette Won the Bin Laden Book Competition

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We may know a little more about why former Navy SEAL author Matt Bisonnette rushed to publish his memoir No Easy Day before receiving Pentagon approval: to get his book out before Mark Bowden published his own big Osama bin Laden raid book. Bowden's book, The Finish, comes out tomorrow, just over a month after Bissonnette's book rocked the publishing world and dominated bestseller lists

Bowden, a national correspondent at The Atlantic, had been trying to get an interview with Bissonnette for months, but had no idea Bissonnette was planning on writing a book of his own. In a move that looks a little sneaky, Bissonnette inquired into the release date of Bowden's book while keeping his publishing plans a secret, according to a Q&A published by The Daily Beast this morning:

Did you know that the book No Easy Day, by former SEAL Team 6 member “Mark Owen,” was being published?

I didn’t, actually ... I was surprised that they put that book out as quickly as they did. Matt called me toward the end of last summer, and he asked me when my book was coming out. And I was still of the mind-set that we were still discussing the possibility of him letting me interview him. So I told him, “Well, as of right now, I think my publisher is trying to get this book out during the election season … 

I thought that was a little cheap. I would have told him if he just asked me [and told me] why he wanted to know.

When Bissonnette's book was published in September it replaced Fifty Shades of Grey on the bestseller list and now has a print run of 1 million copies. It's also not hard to miss that Bissonnette picked a pseudonym Mark Owen that is very close to Mark Bowden. (That's not a bad strategy when you're talking about the author of widely-lauded titles Black Hawk Down and Killing Pablo). Bowden spoke to that during the Q&A:

It was a little cheesy, I think, to name himself “Mark Owen,” which is just two little letters away from “Mark Bowden,” but I figure that’s sort of flattery (laughs).

We reached out to a Penguin spokeswoman who has been speaking for Bissonnette about the allegation that Bissonnette used his source relationship with Bowden to gauge his release date, but haven't heard back.

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Whatever the case may be, no one should begrudge Bissonnette for telling his story in the way he wanted. The timing of Bowden's book, however, does give cause for why Bissonnette and his publisher took on such extensive legal risks to rush the publication of the book without Pentagon approval: to be first to market.

For Bowden's part, though, it looks like he's taking No Easy Day in stride:

I think in the stampede of people to buy his book, some will now accidentally buy my book (laughs) ...  To be honest, I hope he sells a million copies. I honestly think he is an American hero. Here’s a guy who spent ten years fighting these wars, and if anybody deserves to sell a lot of books, it’s him. I wish him well. I’m glad to have had the input [of his book]. I would rather have had it directly myself, but I completely understand why he did it the way he did.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.