Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments has been sent out to some readers a week before publication due to “retailer error”, breaking a worldwide embargo.
A number of readers in the US who pre-ordered through Amazon have posted online that they have received their copies ofThe Handmaid's Tale sequel ahead of its international publication date on Tuesday (10th September).
The leaks follow a complicated set of security measures to ensure nothing was leaked ahead of the publication date. The Booker judges alluded to the detailed security measures in the longlisting announcement in July: “Spoiler discretion and a ferocious non-disclosure agreement prevent any description of who, how, why and even where. So this: it’s terrifying and exhilarating.”
Chair of judges and Hay festival director Peter Florence told the Guardian it was an “extraordinarily complicated process” to get copies of the manuscript as TIME journalist Lucy Feldman revealed the book was such as "tightly guarded secret" that she received her copy "labelled with a fake title and author name". Booksellers in the US and UK also signed embargoes with plans to store copies in secure areas to avoid leaks.
But despite the secrecy, around 800 orders were shipped early in the US, according to the Guardian. American teacher Daniel Valentin tweeted a photo of his copy while bookseller Matt Keliher, of indie Subtext Books in Minnesota, publicly lamented the situation, a day after The Testaments was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
Keliher tweeted: “Amazon sent copies of the new Margaret Atwood out a full week before it's scheduled OSD, breaking the most important embargoed title agreement of the year. From what I'm seeing, it absolutely happened. A full week early. Tags all over Twitter and Instagram. @Nan_A_Talese should put out a statement first thing tomorrow… surely on this one they had to sign the same extremely strict affidavit ensuring proper handling and delivery. The Booker judges basically had to read this under lock and key so it didn't get out early.”
Acknowledging the issue Penguin Random House US said: "A very small number of copies of Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments were distributed early due to a retailer error which has now been rectified. We appreciate that readers and booksellers have been waiting patiently for the much-anticipated sequel to the bestselling The Handmaid’s Tale. In order to ensure our readers around the world receive their copies on the same day, our global publication date remains Tuesday, September 10."
When asked if the leak would affect publicity plans - which include a Waterstones midnight opening on Monday (9th September), a spokesperson for PRH UK told The Bookseller: "We're very happy to say all UK plans remain the same and we can’t wait to welcome Margaret to the UK where she will be for publication." The Waterstones website has a timer counting down the seconds until the official publication.
The early release of the book led to newspapers publishing extracts today (Wednesday 4th September) rather than at the weekend. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that its own extract had been pushed forward as major outlets published their reviews.
The New York Times has now published a review of the book, by famed critic Michiko Kakutani. She dubbed the novel "compelling", describing its storyline as "a kind of spy thriller about a mole inside Gilead", saying Atwood's "sheer assurance as a storyteller makes for a fast, immersive narrative that's as propulsive as it is melodramatic." She notes that Atwood focuses less on the viciousness of the Gilead regime, unlike the "increasingly grisly" line taken in the TV series developed from the original story. The Guardian has also reviewed the book with Alex Clark deeming the book "a success that more than justifies her Booker prize shortlisting". The Telegraph dubs the book "lurid and powerful". Both UK papers described the coverage as "first look reviews", suggesting they had not had copies of the book for long.
The Sunday Times literary editor Andrew Holgate was disappointed with how reviewers across the pond responded to the leak. "On the shambles of the early Atwood selling and reviews, there appears to be one rule for US newspapers, who seem to have their reviews already done and on the stocks, and one for British newspapers," he tweeted. "Very, very, very poor.... Absolutely infuriating, in fact."
Vintage imprint Chatto & Windus, which is publishing the Booker-shortlisted title in the UK, stressed only a "very small number of copies" have been sent out early in the US and insisted the global publication date of 10th September stands as it released the same statement as PRH US.
Booksellers in the US, who signed embargoes to ensure no copies were sold ahead of publication day, reacted with anger. Dennis Johnson, co-founder of independent publisher Melville House in the US and UK, tweeted in response to discussion of strict security measures: “there's the big secret of the book industry -- those "affidavits" are completely unenforceable."
American bookseller Lexi Beach tweeted: "Back in May, I signed an embargo agreement on behalf of my bookstore stating that I would "ensure that [#TheTestaments] is stored in a monitored and locked, secured area and not placed on the selling floor prior to the on-sale date."
Beach suggested that there will be "ZERO consequences" for Amazon but that PRH should sanction the retailer because of the breach. "Traditionally, the publisher would then delay shipments of future releases to the offending retailer, preventing them from capturing first day sales," Beach said. "This is the only kind of punishment available, the goal being a level(ish) playing field for all the publisher's customers."
According to Publishers Weekly, a number of indie retailers in theUS sent letters to their PRH reps Wednesday morning complaining of the violation; one letter seen by PW demanded that PRH sanction Amazon for violating the embargo.
In a statement, the American Booksellers Association (ABA) said: "The ABA has been in communication with the novel’s publisher, Penguin Random House, to express our strong disappointment regarding this flagrant violation of the agreed protocol in releasing this book to the public.
"In addition, in recent weeks ABA has communicated with appropriate officials at the US Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission about the negative impact of Amazon’s market dominance in the book industry and US retail overall. Amazon’s latest actions only further underscore how important it is that the appropriate federal agencies thoroughly investigate Amazon’s destructive business practices."
The Bookseller has contacted Amazon for comment.