Publishers’ Craziest Schemes to Avoid Book Spoilers


The news that the translators of Dan Brown’s new book Inferno were basically isolated from the world for two months to avoid any chance of them leaking its plot was enough to elicit a collective bewildered shaking of the head at Flavorwire central. Still, it’s not even the batshit craziest thing that publishers have done over the years to avoid details of their precious books leaking before publication — as an industry, publishing has embraced the embargo-based insistence on secrecy so beloved of Hollywood, especially when it comes to books likely to sell in the bazillions (i.e., anything by JK Rowling). Here are some of the craziest schemes concocted to avoid leaks.

Inferno by Dan Brown

The scheme: Incarcerating the translators

So, yes, we live in a world where anticipation for Dan Brown’s new book is so high that its translators had to be locked in a basement while preparing to inflict it on the rest of the world. Dear God. How has it come to this?

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

The scheme: Incarcerating the printers

It’s all very well to keep a book secret until it hits the presses, but it’s unavoidable that it’s going to go through a whole lot of hands once printing starts (a lesson Bloomsbury learned the hard way with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix). An article from 2005 described the crazy secrecy around the printing Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: “Since the contract came in we have all been photographed and have to walk around with these special badges on display at all times,” said a worker. “Two guards are positioned permanently in the space dividing the book-binding department from the printing presses… There is even a guard on the giant shredders that destroy pages that have errors.”

Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris

The scheme: Incarcerating the author

Well, sort of — Harris won’t be doing a book tour in support of the final Sookie Stackhouse novel, which came out today, because “at every event some people would have already read the book, and in answering their questions the ending might be revealed to people who hadn’t read it yet.” Sadly, this hasn’t stopped the ending of the book leaking — a German fan apparently got hold of the last chapter and posted it online. (We won’t spoil it here, but apparently some fans were less than pleased with the conclusion to the saga.)

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

The scheme: Incarcerating the critics

We mention this because of the contrast between the book and the film. The books, it turns out, weren’t embargoed at all. But David Fincher’s film, released after Larsson’s international bestsellers and the Swedish adaptations of the trilogy, was so heavily embargoed that the one critic who broke the embargo — the New Yorker‘s David Denby — was banned from all future screenings of producer Scott Rudin’s films.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling

The scheme: Threats, lawyers, magic spells (possibly)

Also on the Harry Potter front, the series’ publisher, Bloomsbury, generally managed to avoid leaks from reviewers by threatening to withhold future installments from writers and outlets that didn’t play the game. The problem with this strategy was that when the final book came along, the threat of not getting further copies disappeared, and the embargo was duly and gleefully smashed into magical smithereens by various reviewers, despite the threat of the Cruciatus curse £10m worth of guards, GPS tracking, and lawyers.

A Dance With Dragons by George RR Martin

The scheme: “Mounting his head on a spike”

Amazon Germany shipped 180 copies of A Dance With Dragons early. George R.R. Martin was not pleased. (Side note: George R.R. Martin uses LiveJournal. Still. Amazing.)

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

The scheme: A heartfelt appeal from the author

In a similar vein, but somewhat more polite — with the final installment of The Hunger Games trilogy came a statement from Suzanne Collins on the official Hunger Games Facebook page: “I urge you – before or immediately after [release date] August 24th [2010] – to please respect the other Hunger Games fans worldwide and avoid sharing any spoilers, so that the conclusion of Katniss’s story can unfold for each reader the way it was meant to unfold.” The LA Times clearly wasn’t listening.

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

The scheme: Pretending the whole thing didn’t exist

Yes, her again. Predictably enough, J.K. Rowling’s debut non-Harry Potter novel was the subject of much anticipation and, just as predictably, also involved a crazily onerous embargo. Not only were reviewers not allowed to talk about the book, they weren’t even allowed to talk about the embargo that said they couldn’t talk about the book. Understandably, literary editors were less than amused. (Neither was New Yorker writer Ian Parker, who wrote a large profile of Rowling for the venerable magazine, but wasn’t allowed to take notes while in the same room as the book.)

Spoken from the Heart by Laura Bush

The scheme: Sulking

If you’re as big and influential as The New York Times, you can generally afford to either ignore embargos or not sign them in the first place, especially if you happen to know a crooked friendly bookseller who’ll furnish you with a pre-release copy of the book you’re after. In that case, there’s not much for the publisher to do but strop impotently, which is exactly what Simon & Schuster did when the Times published a pre-release excerpt of Laura Bush’s memoir: “It’s a sad commentary that in recent years we’ve devolved to a state where shopping for a book and then quoting its key passages substitutes for the actual hard work of reporting.” Boo. Hoo.

Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer

The scheme: Throwing a tantrum and just not writing the damn book

And finally, when an early draft of Midnight Sun leaked onto the internet in 2008, Meyer stopped working on it: “My first feeling [on hearing of the leak] was that there was no way to continue… I feel too sad about what has happened to continue working on Midnight Sun, and so it is on hold indefinitely.” Five years later, she’s proven true to her word, although you can get the leaked chapters — which basically retell the events of Twilight from Edward Cullen’s point of view — on her website.