From Publishers Weekly:
There are few better forms of publicity than landing a spot on the coveted New York Times bestseller list. It’s especially notable when a debut, by a largely unknown author, pulls off such a feat. For Lani Sarem, whose new novel Handbook for Mortals hit #1 on the newspaper’s YA hardcover list, the feat has not been met with plaudits from the publishing world. Instead, a number of members of the YA community have taken to social media claiming the book is only on the list because someone has manipulated its sales.
So-called gaming of the New York Times bestseller list is nothing new; there are even companies that specialize in manipulating sales to help authors hit the list. The effort is fairly simple, but often costly. Because the Times culls its list from point-of-sale data collected by a select (and secret) group of retailers, books with particularly high sales from these outlets have the potential to chart higher on the paper’s list. This, according to some YA authors—as well as a few agents and editors—is what is happening with Handbook for Mortals, which was published on August 15 by a new publishing arm of the pop culture news website, GeekNation.
Phil Stamper, a YA author who has taken to social media to unmask what he believes is a false bestseller, said the book started raising flags among those in the community right away. Calling the informal group “extremely close-knit,” Stamper said he and others “know and support” new books and authors. So, when a title no one had heard of landed at #1 on the Times‘ list, “we were all a little stumped.”
. . . .
Stamper said he and a team of others who have been investigating the book’s rise spoke to a Las Vegas-based bookseller who reported that 29 copies of the title had been ordered at all three of the city Barnes & Noble stores; Stamper noted that if the order had been any bigger “it would have been [considered] corporate sale” by the Times.
One bookseller outside of Las Vegas, who spoke to PW on the condition of anonymity, related a strange order for the book that she had fielded. She said the caller, who was looking to order the book, asked if her store was “a reporting one,” referring to the Times. He said he wanted copies of the book for an upcoming event, and insisted that the order needed to be placed on the day he was calling, which was Saturday. He wound up ordering 87 copies.
PW has also heard from sources that another independent bookstore received an order for 1,200 copies.
. . . .
Jeremy West, a writer and former YA book blogger, has, like Stamper, been investigating the matter. “As soon as I saw the list yesterday, it didn’t make sense to me,” he told PW. “The lack of social media buzz [for the book], the fact that no one in the young adult community was talking about it or had even heard of it… it all sounded fishy.”
West said after he started poking around, he wound up talking to five booksellers who shared similar stories about orders they had taken for the book. “They all said the same thing: someone called and placed a large order or asked about placing a large bulk order ‘for an upcoming event.’ “
. . . .
At press time, the New York Times sent a note to subscribers of its bestseller lists alerting them to a revision to its Young Adult Hardcover list. A spokesperson told PW, “After investigating the inconsistencies in the most recent reporting cycle, we’ve decided that the sales for Handbook for Mortals do not meet our criteria for inclusion. We’ll be issuing an updated Young Adult Hardcover list for September 3 which will not include that title.”
Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly
PG checked what was happening with the book on Amazon. When he checked last night, it had an average of three stars with 23 customer reviews.
When PG checked the reviews, he found about half were five stars with relatively short comments, some of which sounded pretty generic. One of the negative reviews noted that most of the five star reviews were by new readers who had only reviewed this one book.
The other half of the reviews were one-star, often emphatic that the book was terrible and a lot of the favorable reviews were fake.
There is a favorable “Editorial Review” by “Skye Turner, International Bestselling Author”. PG checked Skye’s latest book, published in May, 2017, and discovered its sales rank is #627,532 Paid in Kindle Store.
Here’s the author’s bio:
Lani Sarem basically grew up in the entertainment industry. She began acting at age three and continued to act and perform through her early years. Lani began writing scripts when she was eleven. Over the years she has become a jack-of-all-trades in the entertainment business. She became a rock n’ rolly gypsy at fifteen and started touring with bands and working on festivals. She’s toured with everyone from Ryan Adams to Gnarls Barkley. She also became one of the youngest female managers in the business and managed bands like the Plain White T’s, 100 Monkeys and Blues Traveler. Lani has appeared in films like Mall Cop 2, Jason Bourne, and Trailer Park Shark. Handbook for Mortals is a debut novel of a series of books, which are also being made into feature films.