(we purloined this image from Fanpop because it’s excellent! It does, however, have nothing to do with book embargoes.)
This is a post about publicity embargoes.
It’s not a post about book embargoes. We don’t really do them, since they’re extremely complicated and difficult to organize. A book embargo is when you forbid retailers from selling a book until the official pub date — think Harry Potter, the later years. But since it’s just about impossible to mail books to bookstores from a single location in the US where all the books arrive at exactly the same time, you then have to do all sorts of crazy things like packaging books in locked boxes! Packaging books in boxes with seals that are like DO NOT OPEN UNTIL MAY 8TH! Sending people around to stores to make sure they’re not selling books early! In short — super-problematic logistically.
Publicity embargoes are when a reviewer gets a book in the mail for review, and in the accompanying letter, there is something that says, DO NOT REVIEW THIS BOOK UNTIL SEPTEMBER 24TH.
Why do this?
There are a number of reasons why it’s helpful for publicists to put an embargo on press coverage like this.
1. A big media announcement is scheduled.
Sometimes, there will be a big media announcement around a book’s publication date — SCOTT MCCLOUD’S COMICS BIOGRAPHY REVEALS HE’S REALLY AN ANDROID!
So that’s cool and exciting news that we didn’t know before! But it turns out that The New York Times wants to a big piece about this and announce it.
At that point, what a publicist may do is to send out review copies to all the other outlets who obviously want to review the Scott McCloud comics biography, but specifically say, ‘hey, you’re not allowed to say anything about this book (ie., reveal that Scott McCloud is an android) until after The New York Times does on February 3rd, the day before the book is published on February 4th.’ That way, the other newspapers and magazines and websites can have their reviews and coverage all lined up (since, you know, it takes time to read a book and write a review or organize an interview or whatever) for the 4th and the 5th and later that week while not pre-empting The Times.
2. Super-early reviews are not ideal.
A lot of books come out every year. That means that if you’re a book reviewer, there are lots of books for you to read. Even if you only review kids books. Or science fiction. Or comics. It’s a lot, a lot of books.
That means that ideally a publicist is going to send out books to reviewers at least a month before the book’s publication date, so the reviewer has time to read the books before the publication date and therefore be able to review them around the publication date. (One of the primary rules of book publicity: it is best to have most of the press coverage for a book occur around the publication date, when people can actually buy and read the book.)
Some publicists may send out books even earlier than a month before the book’s publication date, because reviewers are busy! It’s good to give them a head start.
But if if a publicist sends out books to reviewers three months before the publication date, they still want to arrange things so that the books are reviewed around the publication date — if a book coming out at the end of March gets all its press in January, that’s not ideal. So a publicist may include an embargo that says something like, ‘because this book comes out March 30th, please hold any coverage until the month of March.’
This is a much less strict type of embargo than the media one above — reviewers who receive a note that says something like this can always go back to the publisher and be like, ‘I want to include this book in my ‘Preview of Graphic Novels Coming This Winter’ piece — is that okay?’ etc. and usually get a yes.
So if you’re a reviewer who’s received an embargo note in a book, don’t worry! You can always contact the publicist who sent the book to you and they’ll be able to help you out with any questions you’ve got.