Keeping Secrets in the Publishing Industry

I’m sure everyone who has seen Mean Girls remembers Damian’s famous line about Regina George, the Queen Bee: “That’s why her hair is so big. It’s full of secrets!”

Taken out of context, the line could totally work for anyone involved in publishing! Whether you’re a literary agent, an editor, or an author, you will most likely have to keep a secret at one point in time, for one reason or another.

I’ve had author friends with offers of representation, book deals, and/or movie deals that they weren’t allowed to announce publicly until much later. I’ve had agent friends who signed on amazing writers and editor friends who won heated, multi-house book auctions, but couldn’t share widely just yet.

I myself had to keep my three-book deal with Penguin for FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS a secret for almost five months before we announced. The reason? My editor was hoping to time the announcement just right to increase our chances of getting interest from foreign publishers. It was torturous not to share the happy news, but I told myself that keeping it quiet would make the announcement a much bigger surprise when it did come out. And it did!

Secret-keeping in a business like ours is HARD, particularly if – like many of us – you’ve had to struggle along before you saw any validation in your line of work. Out of curiosity, a couple of months ago, I started this poll on Twitter to gauge how other people deal with keeping secrets:

 

 

I kept seeing, among my acquaintance, publishing folks either:

  1. Telling everyone and sundry. I’ve seen posts on Facebook that began with: “I shouldn’t be telling anyone this, but I have a five-book deal!” Or “I’m not allowed to share this cover for six more months, but here it is! Please keep private!”
  2. Vague-tweeting. This is usually in the form of a sly “I have news that I can’t talk about” or “Something interesting just hit my inbox and WOULDN’T YOU LIKE TO KNOW WHAT IT IS.”
  3. Telling their most trusted friends. I’m part of some close-knit writer groups where people feel free to share good news before it goes public!
  4. Remaining silent, then announcing. This is the technique I used with FOTL, going so far as to straight-up lie to friends who asked me what was going on with the book. I wanted it to be a gigantic surprise!

 

800 people responded to the poll and results were overwhelmingly in favor of telling your inner circle. This makes sense to me: it’s a way to vent your excitement among a small, trusted group of people without announcing at large.

What is very, very important when sharing, however, is to make sure that the people you’re telling can be trusted. You don’t want to get in trouble for releasing news that isn’t supposed to be out yet, because there’s generally a good reason why it must be secret!

What surprised me most was how few people (only 14%) selected vague-tweet, because that’s the method of secret-sharing I see the most on Twitter, Instagram, AND Facebook. Do a cursory scroll of the feed on any of these sites and you’ll most likely see someone hinting slyly about something gorgeous in their inbox, or a title reveal, or movie news, or signing with an agent, etc.

I included that poll in a thread and asked people to share their reasons for vague-tweeting. To me, it’s a fascinating practice because it’s so deeply unsatisfying. Like you have a mosquito bite on your leg and instead of scratching it or putting calamine lotion on it, you’re patting it lightly and making it even more itchy. (Okay, that was a weird analogy, but YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN.)

Vague-tweeters responded by saying that 1) they wanted to drum up anticipation for upcoming news, 2) they wanted to vent their excitement a bit, or 3) they wanted attention and people to know that they had good things going on. All of which are fair and valid reasons, and I’ve actually dipped my toe into the vague-tweet pool a couple of times this fall. I still find it unsatisfying, though, and it makes the actual announcement a lot less of a bombshell because people are already expecting you to share something.

 

What about you? Have you had to keep a publishing secret and how did you do it? What is your preferred way to deal with holding on to an announcement?

2 Responses to Keeping Secrets in the Publishing Industry

  1. Alexia Chantel Dec 12 2018 at 10:10 am #

    I have seen a lot of vague-tweeting as well. And I get it, but I’m with you. When I have big news it’s going to be a close kept secret until I can shout it from the roof tops!

    And congrats to you for keeping your secret for FIVE months! A small eternity!

  2. Mandy Mikulencak Dec 12 2018 at 11:05 am #

    I really dislike vague-tweeting. Either tell me the news or wait to surprise us when appropriate. I don’t feel the vague tweets drum up excitement. I’ve had to keep information secret for months — and yes, it’s excruciating. But, I think authors should accept it is part of being professional in this industry.

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