The author of Handbook for Mortals, a young adult novel at the center of a publishing scandal this week, has spoken out after her book was removed from The New York Times‘ best-seller list.
During an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Lani Sarem stated that there was no organized attempt — “to [her] knowledge” — to scam her debut effort to the top of the list, despite claims to the contrary.
“I’m super frustrated,” Sarem, an actress and former music manager, said. “There has been no official explanation to what happened other than [The New York Times] reported inconsistencies. Nobody talked to us.”
On Thursday, Sarem’s book raised eyebrows — for the wrong reasons. Handbook for Mortals, a novel many in the YA and book publishing communities claimed to have never heard of, debuted on top of the Times‘ YA best-seller list with little to no previous buzz or coverage, as first reported by Pajiba.
YA author Phil Stamper was one of the first to point out the conundrum. Authors generally agree approximately 5,000 copies must be sold for a book to land on the list, so Stamper pointed out that Handbook for Mortals‘ No. 1 placement would mean the title somehow sold at least that amount in its first week while being “temporarily out of stock” on Amazon. Some also found it fishy that the book was the debut release from publisher GeekNation, originally established as a pop culture website.
Investigating the matter, book sellers and YA authors found evidence that seemed to suggest someone was contacting stores that reported to the Times and ordering copies of the novel in bulk. (Click here to read more about all the brow-raising layers to this story — including how Blues Traveler, a band Sarem used to manage, tweeted about firing her for pulling “these kind[s] of stunts.”)
Upon its own investigation, the Times released a statement, declaring “the sales for Handbook for Mortals did not meet our criteria for inclusion.”
“My personal opinion: I’m a first time author; I did some great numbers,” Sarem told THR in the aftermath. “[The Times] put me on the list. The list is curated. They didn’t have to put me on the list despite how many books I sold. When these people made a big issue, they were like, ‘This is too much effort.’”
Sarem also fired back at “some people in the YA community” who attacked her because they “weren’t aware of” Handbook for Mortals. “It’s disheartening that someone I don’t know decided to attack me today basically because he had never heard of my book,” she said. “I’ve never heard of his book either. It’s probably great, but I’ve never heard of it. Does it mean I would question it, if he had some level of success?”
According to the trade, American Pie actor Thomas Ian Nicholas, who is attached to star in and produce a potential movie version of Handbook for Mortals, explained how he reached out to independent bookstores to purchase copies in bulk ahead of local comic conventions in the fall, though he understood that physical copies wouldn’t be available until later.
Nicholas clarified that he “didn’t instruct anyone” to target stores reporting to the Times or for anyone to intentionally game the system. “Maybe that’s where things got convoluted,” he suggested.
Read more from THR.