It’s no secret that the state of the bookselling business has long been in peril. Like the film industry, the only thing that tends to draw the attention of agents is something with franchise potential (ergo mass appeal). Accordingly, it makes perfect sense that the “book” responsible for taking the atrocious state of publishing to new heights is a YA “novel” by by Lani Sarem called Handbook For Mortals. Granted, that it apparently only takes five thousand units in sales to make the list (a true testament to just how few people read anywhere outside of New York City)–to actually get to the number one slot–is an entirely different animal. Released via the minuscule, freshly started publishing outlet of the GeekNation website, suspicions around Handbook for Mortals‘ were first raised when another YA author, Phil Stamper, wrote–er, tweeted–“A book that no one has heard of except for two niche blogs that covered the GN press release. Sells ~5,000 in the first week? Ok.”
Except that, no, it’s very much not okay, this phenomenon of content being completely secondary to how much of a financial and media blitzkrieg one can put into a product. Because of just how new this very concept is–of purchasing success through adept marketing (read: marketing someone has spent a mound of money on), it’s still something that can’t necessarily be monitored and checked efficiently. That an anonymous bulk buyer of the book was the primary force behind the high amount of units sold adds further scandal to the cause behind its “prosperity.” If even literature has become classist, something that people can only enjoy success in if they can pay to play, the output over time is guaranteed to be unreadable to anyone with a healthy and well-functioning brain.
To add insult to injury, it appears as though the true motive for GeekNation and Lani Sarem’s, who works at the music marketing agency Amplify, intense push of the book stems from a desire to generate a built-in audience for the movie that Sarem and her “team” (Thomas Ian Nicholas of American Pie, set to produce) are planning to make, with Sarem acting in the lead role. The bizarreness of the plot thickens when also taking into account that Sarem apparently used to manage Blues Traveler, who tweeted before deleting it that the band had fired her for often pulling “these kinds of stunts.” Not, you know, because they haven’t had a song on the radio since “Run-Around.”
But now that the spotlight has been put on both Sarem and Nicholas, it’s only all the more likely that Handbook for Mortals has secured enough notoriety for an interested audience. Mission accomplished. One that only further proves it’s not what you write, but how it gets publicized. And while Nicholas tried to play the innocente by insisting he didn’t ask any of the bookstores to inform the Times of the marked increase in Handbook for Mortals‘ sales (at Nicholas’ own hand), it’s evident the proverbial lady doth protest too much–especially since multiple booksellers came forward to say they received calls specifically asking if they were reporting the sales to NYT. The book has since been removed from its number one slot due to these “inconsistencies,” but the floodgates for rigged selling have already been opened. So aspiring authors, forget attempting to waste money on an MFA when all you really need is a fistful of cash and marketing savvy to finagle your way onto the bestseller list (even if it is for the young adult hardcover genre).