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In which I promise not to tell anyone about your terrific new book

I spent most of yesterday being irritated by the conundrum of review books that come (or don’t) with nondisclosure agreements. Here’s what one looks like:

Date: xx/xx/xx
Publisher XYZ
Re: Title: Book ABC
Author: Author LMNOP
Publication Date: xx/xx/xx
Dear ___________:
In order to induce [Publisher XYZ] to deliver a copy of the manuscript and related pre-publication materials (“the Manuscript”) of the above referenced work (the “Work”), the undersigned media company, library, or bookstore (the “Company”) agrees to comply with the following terms and conditions:
1. The Manuscript will be used solely for the purpose of planning book reviews and promotion for the Work. Such book reviews and/or promotion shall be released no earlier than the Publication Date.
2. The Manuscript will be seen by, and its contents disclosed to, only those employees of the Company directly involved in decisions regarding book reviews and promotion. It is further agreed that those members of the Company who are made privy to this information or material will also be subject to the terms of this letter by virtue of your signature.
3. The Company will ensure that no copies of the Manuscript are made, except as is necessary for the purposes of planning book reviews and/or related promotion, which may be seen only by the employees permitted to see the Manuscript under paragraph 2.
4. If the Company determines not to review the Work, the Company will as soon as possible return all copies of the Manuscript to XYZ. If the Company does review the Work, then upon request of XYZ, it will, as soon as possible return all copies of the Manuscript to XYZ.
5. Until the Publication Date, the Company will treat the contents of the Manuscript and the Work as highly secret and confidential. The Company shall not disclose or otherwise reveal the contents of the Manuscript or the Work to any other person, except, 1) under compulsion of legal process, and/or 2) as expressly provided in Paragraphs 2 and 3.
6. Author shall be third-party beneficiary of this agreement.
7. The Company has been informed that it would be adverse to the financial and other interests of XYZ if there were to be any public revelation of information contained in the Manuscript or the Work prior to the Publication Date. Accordingly, the Company agrees to be responsible for any reasonable loss suffered by XYZ which results from its breach of the confidentiality provision of this letter.
8. This agreement sets for the entire understanding and agreement of the parties with respect to the subject matter hereof and supersedes all other oral or written representations and understandings. The formation, construction, interpretation and performance of this contract shall be governed by the law of the State of QRS . . .

Etc. We didn’t sign this agreement but I verbally agreed not to let review copies out of the office and not to review the book before publication date. Which KILLS me. It means that even though the review is all ready to go, we won’t be able to publish it in print until well after the publication date. According to the terms of the contract above, I can’t even tell you the name of the book or if I liked it. I guess I just don’t see what this gets a publisher. Do you?

I know we could post our review online on the publication date but that makes me feel like a tool. Should we just skip the whole thing entirely? I’m tempted.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. Steffaney Smith says:

    Hmmm, haven’t I seen Newbury forecasters blogging about titles, pre-publication (i.e. “Breadcrumbs”)?? Which means they are relying on the same advance copies you receive. Which sells books — our library attempts to pre-order anticipated bestsellers when possible and can’t do so without the reviews! Proverbial chicken & egg!

  2. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Publishers generally embargo books that they think don’t need reviews to succeed: the recent Eragon sequel for example, didn’t need reviews, and the publisher lost nothing by withholding it from reviewers. (It was offered three days in advance of publication if we signed an NDA, but the supposition that i was going to Drop Everything and Read an Eragon book so offended my aesthetic sensibilities that I lost the NDA somewhere on the way to my fainting couch.)

  3. Beth Redford says:

    4 words: what are they hiding?

  4. It is annoying, isn’t it? And it’s been snarling our schedule all fall. What’s particularly galling is that it’s an effective “right of first review” for the Times, which can always count on sneaking an early copy from someone in New York.

  5. Who suffers if you don’t review the book? The likelihood is that it doesn’t need publicity (if it’s got an NDA then it’s already a bestseller)

    Does the Horn Book get hit by not including it? Do readers expect to see a review/reaction to the publication? Does it hurt relations with a publisher/publicist – should that even matter?

    Despite it being a bestseller – does the book/author deserve a review? (Even the most highfaluting NYT bestsellers still read their reviews – not Franzen apparently – but everyone else)

    Wouldn’t it be more fun to break the rules, release the review early and surprise everyone?

  6. Roger Sutton says:

    If I hadn’t said I *would* respect the terms of the NDA and the publisher sent the review copy anyway, then, sure, David. But by breaking the publisher’s trust I endanger that relationship and potentially their advertising. I am prepared to lose advertising over a negative review or other editorial decision but not because I went back on my word to someone.

    I’m just whining when I say I’m tempted not to review the book in question. I love the book and want other people to love the book, too, so not reviewing it would be self-defeating. But I think for the future I’m not going to accept review copies contingent on a prepub blackout of Horn Book coverage. It’s too frustrating and as Ron says above, completely screws with our publication schedule.

  7. “But I think for the future I’m not going to accept review copies contingent on a prepub blackout of Horn Book coverage. It’s too frustrating and as Ron says above, completely screws with our publication schedule.”

    That makes sense to me. It seems to go hand in hand with this whole “spoilers” thing, which always feels to me like people other than me trying to control how I think and feel about a book, or at least control what they find out about it.

  8. KT Horning says:

    I think it probably means the publisher knows it is not as good as its hype and doesn’t want the rest of the world to know it before the book comes out.

  9. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    KT, I would say not. It’s more a case of the publisher wanting to control the hype or create the hype–I remember being completely befuddled by S&S’s strict embargo on Peter Pan in Scarlet, the “authorized” sequel to Barrie’s classic. I don’t think they kept it under wraps because it was bad (although it was ) but because they thought they could make people think this was actually an Event (although it wasn’t). GraceAnne is right to link the whole business with fear of spoilers, an understandable human impulse that publishers have turned into a marketing tool: the only way to find out “what happens” is to BUY THE BOOK.

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