A just released YA debut novel by Lani Sarem called HANDBOOK FOR MORTALS has thrown up some red flags around the publishing world and bestseller lists. Until its release on August 15, 2017, there hadn’t been much press related to the book or the author. It’s the first book published by GeekNation, and it hit #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list in the first week of sales. And while reviews on Goodreads, Twitter followers, and Facebook likes reached a fever, it started to be a little suspicious when each social media site had the same number of followers…all people without previous book reviews or posts.
So, how exactly does an unknown author, published by an unknown publisher, with very little prior advertising, rise to the top spot on the NYT list overnight? No one could quite comprehend it…until they started doing some background checks.
It seems that there were many large pre-orders and first week sales placed for the book at companies like Barnes and Noble, and Amazon. But none of the orders were large enough to raise any suspicions from the booksellers. In fact, it only made them consider ordering more copies for their stores in order to cover the possible demand for the book. Once the book reached number one, however, the New York Times had to stop and look into allegations that something was up.
As it turns out, it was something called “manipulative purchasing”. Geek Nation was behind the mass-purchasing, the reviews, and the social media frenzy. They knew just how many books to order so as not to arouse too much suspicion, and claimed they were only trying to drum up excitement for a book that was actually written as a result of a film already in development, not the other way around. While it is normal for an author to purchase large orders of their own book in preparation for an upcoming book tour or conference, Sarem’s claim that she needed the books for a ComicCon event seemed slightly defensive.
The New York Times eventually pulled the book from its Bestseller list, saying it “did not meet their criterion for inclusion”. After the somewhat devious promotion, the book actually increased in sales, which may eventually make it eligible once again for ranking on the list, but now with a slightly tarnished cap.
Would the book have reached such success on its own? We’ll never know, and it’s sad that the author didn’t really get the chance to try. Here is a summary of the book:
Zade Holder has always been a free-spirited young woman, from a long dynasty of tarot-card readers, fortunetellers, and practitioners of magick. Growing up in a small town and never quite fitting in, Zade is determined to forge her own path. She leaves her home in Tennessee to break free from her overprotective mother Dela, the local resident spellcaster and fortuneteller. Zade travels to Las Vegas and uses supernatural powers to become part of a premiere magic show led by the infamous magician Charles Spellman. Zade fits right in with his troupe of artists and misfits. After all, when everyone is slightly eccentric, appearing “normal” is much less important. Behind the scenes of this multimillion-dollar production, Zade finds herself caught in a love triangle with Mac, the show’s good-looking but rough-around-the-edges technical director and Jackson, the tall, dark, handsome and charming bandleader.
Hopefully fans of YA fantasy will draw their own conclusions.