Amazon Testaments sent early copies of the Handmaid’s Tale sequel.

Margaret Atwood’s sequel to her 1985 classic The Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments, is scheduled to come out in print on September 10. The day was all set to be a heralded unveiling — until Amazon mailed copies to its customers one week early.

Before Amazon sent its early shipments, very little information about The Testaments was available to the public. That was intentional on the part of the publisher, Penguin Random House imprint Nan A. Talese Books, and the secrecy required careful coordination.

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Book critics (including me) had to sign a nondisclosure agreement to get access to early copies of the book. The judging committee for the Man Booker Prize, which put The Testaments on its shortlist earlier this week, was warned that if any judges leaked their watermarked advance copies of the manuscript, they would be personally held liable. And booksellers signed embargo agreements in which they promised not to sell any copies of the book before the release date.

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All this paperwork is fairly standard for a splashy, highly anticipated new release. It’s not a foolproof method of keeping spoilers off the internet, but generally when these strategies fail, it’s due to the work of determined saboteurs, like the people who painstakingly photographed every page of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and posted the photos online just days before the book’s 2007 release. It’s not because the world’s biggest bookseller just decided not to abide by the terms of their embargo.

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