Preparations for the release of “The Casual Vacancy,” “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling’s first book for adults, have been far from casual: Several publications have described ironclad non-disclosure agreements and security procedures more befitting of the crown jewels than a 512-page manuscript.
So what does it take to get your hands on an advance copy of the year’s hottest book? An army of lawyers and the willingness to sign your rights away, according to a few publications that have leaked details of their acquisition of the novel.
Both the New Yorker and the Guardian have described the circumstances that put a copy of “The Casual Vacancy” in their respective reviewers’ hands. The Guardian’s first-person account of reading the book is positively cinematic, and halfway through the paragraph, you almost hope that it will turn into the plot of a madcap heist movie. Writes Decca Aitkenhead:
I am required to sign more legal documents than would typically be involved in buying a house before I am allowed to read “The Casual Vacancy,” under tight security in the London offices of Little, Brown. Even the publishers have been forbidden to read it, and they relinquish the manuscript gingerly, reverently, as though handling a priceless Ming vase. Afterwards, I am instructed never to disclose the address of Rowling’s Edinburgh office where the interview will take place. The mere fact of the interview is deemed so newsworthy that Le Monde dispatches a reporter to investigate how it was secured. Its prospect begins to assume the mystique of an audience with Her Majesty — except, of course, that Rowling is famously much, much richer than the Queen.
The New Yorker’s Ian Parker read the book under similarly tight security in the offices of Little, Brown, Rowling’s publisher, who initially prohibited him from taking notes.
On the other hand, the Huffington Post’s books section was under much less scrutiny. It received its copy on Sept. 22, in a hand-delivered envelope, and boasted on Twitter:
“Because of legal agreements signed, that’s all we can say,” was the next tweet — and though it remains on the Pottermore Web site, it appears to have been deleted from HuffPo’s Twitter feed.
Not everyone has been willing to play according to Rowling’s rules. The Independent was able to offer the clearest picture of what a contract with Little, Brown entails, because it refused to sign it. Wrote Matthew Bell, “[Editor Katy] Guest found a clause stating that even the existence of the agreement could not be mentioned. A sort of publishing superinjunction. Despite an extensive email exchange with the publisher Little, Brown’s lawyers, asking why this was necessary, no comprehensible explanation came. So Guest did the sensible thing and tossed the contract into the recycling, unsigned.”
As for the fans, many of whom have already pre-ordered the book: Stringent guidelines from the publisher have ensured that there will be few midnight release parties, as there were for the “Potter” books. Because the official release date and time for “The Casual Vacancy” is Thursday, Sept. 27, at 8 a.m. GMT, that’s 3 a.m. on the East Coast, where fans will have to wait until stores open in the morning, and midnight on the West Coast.
Booksellers and delivery trucks will be kept busy in the wee hours of the night this week — when “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” was released, 9,000 FedEx trucks were exclusively deployed to deliver the books, according to Entertainment Weekly. They’re also likely being kept mum, just as the critics are: The Hartford Courant writes that booksellers, too, have been asked to sign affidavits that they would not release the books early, or read it themselves. Rowling fans can take comfort in the fact that very, very few people have gotten a head start on the book that is likely to be their favorite, regardless of the lukewarm first review.
Check back here on Thursday for The Post’s review of “The Casual Vacancy.”