Saturday, October 20, 2018

pre-pub permissions


I'm writing a murder mystery with a diplomatic angle and an international setting. Here's the thing - my husband is a diplomat and has a top-secret security clearance. I have a secret clearance from a job I held at our last overseas post (the one where my novel is set). The State Department website says that cleared Americans have to vet materials for publication. I am not trying to reveal any secrets, I've fictionalized all details, and I'm fairly certain that this (sometimes years-long) process is more for nonfiction, memoirs, that sort of thing. If my clearance got pulled, it would be fine, but I'd rather not torpedo my husband's career (the Foreign Service is a very small, gossipy world). I'll be querying in a few months. How early should I raise this concern? Also, would an agent be the one to help me with this, or would a publisher (or its lawyer) handle it?

This is something you want to know before you start querying.
You want to know this NOW since you might inadvertently put your foot in it, and the stakes are a bit higher than something you'd just beg forgiveness for, instead of getting permission.

You might check into what other writers in your situation have done.  A google search of "getting clearance from the state department for a novel" returned some interesting info. 

Barry Eisler drew on his covert experiences to write his novels. Valerie Plame writes novels now, and she use to be CIA. You might look around for others.

This kind of thing applies to more than folks in the diplomatic corps or clandestine services. Many people who work in any kind of high-level government capacity are required to clear future publications. If you have any question about whether this applies to you, check your employment contract.



An agent can't help you with this.
And if I knew you had to clear the novel before it could be published, I wouldn't send it on submission until that had happened.


One of my favorite novels, Six Days of the Condor, draws on the reverse of this: the CIA reads novels to get ideas for tradecraft. The novel got made into a relatively terrible movie (although Robert Redford can't ever really be awful!) but the book itself is well worth the read.


9 comments:

Kristin Kisska, Author said...

I heard Tom Clancy speak (Late-80s @ UVA). According to Clancy, after HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER was released, the Pentagon accused him of publishing classified info in the book. Clancy swore that he'd found all his details in public documents (this was pre-internet era), and asked which details were classified so he could prove his sources. The Pentagon declined sharing the specifics since Clancy didn't have clearance. It didn't stop Clancy from writing/publishing more military thrillers.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

What an interesting dilemma. And what a time for it. Good luck, OP. Hope this goes well.

Mister Furkles said...

I believe you can submit the manuscript before you query. In any case, the State Department people who review such pre-published papers and books should be able to fill you in on the details. Plenty of other people with security clearances have published. It includes not just novels, but technical books and journal articles.

CED said...

Pre-pub isn't just a matter of losing your clearance or torpedoing your husband's career; you could go to jail if you inadvertently reveal something you shouldn't. I'd get with the government reviewers early on, and make sure you get the appropriate permissions. I'd also do the work on a machine I don't mind being confiscated, but my level of paranoia might just be a few notches higher than yours.

Wry Girl said...

It isn't just high end positions - I'm a state worker drone, and I have to clear any fiction with Comms before I can query. It's one of the many forms you're required to sign on hire that you have to clear second jobs and sources of income with the state before you can do them.

Jen said...

The short answer:
Absolutely yes have them review it! “Pre-publication review” is a thing anyone who’s held a security clearance should do. Best case scenario: they say you’re fine, go forth and publish. Worst case scenario: they’ll want to review it.

The longer answer:
This isn’t the agent or publisher’s responsibility; it’s yours. While you may have fictionalized the details, they are based on real people, places, and things. You may think it “reveals nothing,” but it’s entirely possible that you will inadvertently let something slip or the aggregate of what you wrote might tip someone off.

Also, there are other penalties for you beyond potentially losing your clearance or potentially hurting your husband’s career (though, those are both considerations). Depending on what the form you signed says, you may have to surrender all advances, monies, and future rights to the book (and any other forms of its publication) if you *don’t* have it reviewed.

Finally, the reviewers are not troglodytes. They don’t want to punish you; they just want to make sure other Foreign Service officers aren’t accidentally put at risk. If you reach out to them early, they may be able to help you along the way. They may say “well, we don’t want to see it until it’s nearly done.” You would have to ask them. BUT ASK THEM!!

TL;DR
I would strongly recommend you reach out to them, the sooner the better. Generally speaking, bureaucracies don’t put out statements that “all cleared Americans have to vet materials for publication” unless they mean it. https://diplopundit.net/tag/prepublication-review/

Steve Stubbs said...

I hate to be disagreeable (I am recovering from a long illness, so that is my excuse) but I would encourage you to re-visit THREE DAYS (not Six Days) OF THE CONDOR. I think your memory is playing tricks on you. The story is terrible, but the movie is the most gripping spy film I have ever seen.

I especially liked the end. Robert Redford's character is walking down the street when he is offered a ride by some CIA operatives. Max von Sydow's character has already warned him that is how a hit team will approach him so he refuses the ride.

Cliff Robertson's character gets out of the car. He and Robert Redford talk. RR says he is not worried about the CIA because he has already told his story to the Grey Lady.

Cliff Robertson says, "You stupid bastard!" Then after a brief silence he says, "You can walk. But HOW FAR if they don't print it?"

Robert Redford: "They'll print it."

Robertson: "But what if they don't."

Love it! If you have a cold wet afternoon and a copy of that movie, I hugely recommend you watch it again.

I did not like THE VERDICT the first time I saw it. I now regard it as the best courtroom drama I have ever seen and the best movie Paul ewman ever appeared in. Our minds do tht to us.

french sojourn said...


I've heard the food in Leavenworth is pedestrian at best. Pass it in for review, it's something that would alleviate stress down the road.

Good luck OP.

Cheers Hank

AJ Blythe said...

As others have said, most definitely get it checked and cleared now. When you do so, it might also be worth asking the question what you can reveal in your query. A bio along the lines of "having spent three years banished to the wilds of Carkoon gives me first-hand experience of kale farming" might be great most of the time, but you don't want to risk anything with this one.