The publishing industry is again debating the merits of the embargo, the hoary old ploy of keeping a book under wraps until it goes on sale in order to protect its news value. Some consider it a nuisance that has outlived its usefulness; others think it is a reliable marketing strategy. A surprising number think embargo is the French word for snails. In fact, the embargo can be devastatingly effective, when executed properly. But you must be prepared to go all the way.

Take my next book. It's a sizzling exposé filled with smoking guns and whistle-blowers and shocking revelations, and it's going to blow the lid off in a big way. I can't be more specific, but take my word for it: when this book comes out, something is really going to hit the fan—I just can't say what.

You think my publisher and I hesitated for a moment before deciding to embargo it? Fat chance! We're embracing the embargo. In fact, we're taking the concept to a new level by practicing what we call “extreme embargoing.” Here's how it works.

No copies of my book will be available before the street date. No surprise there, that's Embargoing 101. Here's the twist: No copies will be available after the street date either. What better way to ensure the news value of my book in perpetuity?

In order to make certain that the book never goes on sale, the cartons must be clearly marked “Not for sale before.” Of course, we all know this is far from foolproof. Some bookseller somewhere will claim ignorance and put the book out for sale some time prior to the Trumps of Doom. You may have noticed, as I have, that this always seems to happen just when a reporter from the Washington Post is browsing in the store. There is only one effective safeguard against this inevitable breech: the warehouse must ship the cartons empty.

To guarantee that the cartons ship empty, strict security must be observed at the warehouse. Not even a single copy of my book can be allowed to cross the loading dock threshold. And that's on the way in. That's right—the book must never even be delivered to the warehouse. This, in turn, requires a special arrangement with the printer prohibiting them from binding the book. They should have no trouble abiding by these terms, because they're forbidden to actually print the book, too. Fortunately, the publisher is enjoined from sending the book to the printer in the first place, so the printer's off the hook.

At this point, the publisher becomes the weakest link. My contract stipulates that my editor is the only one permitted to read my manuscript—but can she be trusted? Suppose some unscrupulous journalist trying to score an early copy of my book subjects her to waterboarding? Or worse, surfboarding? (That's the same as waterboarding, only with salt water.) No one could withstand that, especially if they're on a low-sodium diet. The answer is obvious—my editor must never see the manuscript.

Which means the only one I can trust is my agent. And how can I trust him? He's an agent! True, he was able to sell the project on the basis of a proposal consisting of seven sheets of blank paper, but still—he's only human. Sooner or later, he'll want to take a peek. To ensure ultimate security, therefore, I must never commit even a single word of my book to paper. That's why I pried all the keys off my keyboard and swallowed them. I can't even trust myself.

So that's extreme embargoing. My book is as safe as if it were in Fort Knox. Not that it's actually a book, though—more like an idea for a book. Or a concept on its way to becoming an idea. But believe me, it's a humdinger, a real lollapalooza. I just wish I could tell you about it.

Author Information
Laurence Hughes used to work for a big publishing company and now writes the blogs Book Flack at Large ( and Classics Rock! (