Publisher Offers Pig in a Poke

Sirloin? Or puppy?

Do you trust me? I’m holding a bag with meat in it and I’m telling you it’s choice sirloin. But it could be dog. It’s yours for twenty dollars. No, I won’t show it to you until you’ve paid me. I’ve always leveled with you and I’m leveling with you now. So? How about it?

This odd offer is actually the basis for the expression “a pig in a poke.” It’s “a confidence trick originating in the Late Middle Ages, when meat was scarce, but cats and dogs (puppies) were not,” Wikipedia informs us. “The idiom pig in a poke can also simply refer to someone buying a low-quality pig in a bag because he or she did not carefully check what was in the bag.” (“Poke” is related to the French poche, a bag.)

The reason we bring this up is that Little, Brown is offering bookstores the equivalent of a sealed bag, promising “the inside story of life with one of the most controversial figures of our time” but won’t tell whom it’s about or who wrote it.  They want the stores to trust them that it’s prime stuff, but all they will tell you for now is that the title is Untitled and the author is Anonymous.

“In its e-mail the publisher promised a ‘massive media rollout’ with a confirmed ’60 Minutes’ appearance,” writes New York Times book beat reporter Julie Bosman. “Bookstores were instructed to comply with a highly orchestrated release on Nov. 14, with no sales permitted until then, an embargo arrangement typically reserved for splashy debuts of political memoirs or Bob Woodward books.”

Little, Brown is the furthest thing from a fly-by-night bunco operation, and if there is any publisher whose word I would trust it’s they. Which is why I’m happy to fully disclose that I do lots of business with them. But they’re really pushing credence to the limit in asking store buyers to accept a sealed bag containing an object shaped like a blockbuster bestseller but could be a penny dreadful.

Bosman reports that at least one bookstore owner “reluctantly ordered 10 copies of the book after receiving the publisher’s e-mail. ‘I hate these books,’” the proprietor was quoted as saying. “‘But you cannot not buy it.’”

I never thought a day would come when I said it’s a good thing that books are returnable, but in this case stores can take advantage of that option if Untitled turns out to be la viande de chien.

Okay, your turn to guess what’s in the poke. Read A Publisher Plays Coy With Book Release

Richard Curtis

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