While I was away on my fabulous vacation and only receiving internet contact from the outside world sporadically, shit. blew. up. Which is how it always happens. Stuff I want to be snarky and sassy about always seems to take place when I’m incommunicado, while the scary, serious shit goes down when I can’t escape it. But late last week, when I heard about Handbook for Mortals: Book 1 of the series (actual title), the literal overnight success that swept up to the very top of the New York Times Young Adult bestseller list to unseat the reigning YA phenomenon, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, I had to get the scoop. Because I, like pretty much everyone who watched the scandal unfold over a few dozen hours, knew in the very bottom of my heart that there was absolutely no way that a book no one had ever heard of, from an author no one had ever heard of, released by a publisher no one had ever heard of, had managed to knock a new American classic out of the #1 slot by playing fair. As the sordid details unraveled, I was glued to my phone.
Unfortunately, I had to do some extreme shit to get a signal.
But it was all worth it. Because there’s nothing I hate more than seeing someone game the system to get ahead of other authors who work far harder and deserve it so much more, and on this one, shining, rare occasion, that someone was exposed for their lazy, obvious fraud.
Writer Kayleigh Donaldson did an amazing job of reporting the story, which was broken by author and publisher Phil Stamper, who investigated the details with bookseller Jeremy West. You can read the whole sordid tale here, and I really hope that you do because it’s epic and so full of absurd twists and turns that it could have been a screenplay about a con gone wrong written by Danny DeVito. The basic run down is, bulk orders for Handbook for Mortals: Book 1 of the series started rolling in exclusively at bookstores that report to the NYT list. The book wasn’t available in any physical form at any bookstore, anywhere, and it was listed as out of stock and ranked lower than #100,000 on Amazon, but the bulk order stats boosted the title to the top of the NYT chart. The resulting scandal involved a veritable who’s who of late ’90s, early ’00s people you go, “Who?” about. Like…Blues Traveler is somehow involved, and the chick who played Glorificus on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and culminated in the New York Times revising and printing a corrected list which returned The Hate U Give to its rightful place.
But that’s not all, friends. That is not all. Lani Sarem, clearly aware that a cute white author with quirky hair can usually get away with anything short of murder and win the support of racist garbage people, just so long as whatever the hell it is they’re doing can knock an author of color down a peg or two, decided she was going to play the “poor, attacked” author card. From The Hollywood Reporter:
She believes The Times caved to social media pressure. “My personal opinion: I’m a first time author; I did some great numbers,” Sarem says. “They 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.’ ”
That’s right, everyone. The people who objected to lazy, transparent manipulation of the system in an attempted shortcut to literary fame and fortune are just, dare I say it, jealous haters?
“The last book that caused a lot of controversy was Fifty Shades of Grey,” Sarem points out. “And it was caused by the book community because it was nothing like what they’ve put out. Whether you like the book or hate it, you have to acknowledge it outsold everything.” She continues, “I remember seeing an article where someone in publishing said we had to stand up and look at this because there were people out there that wanted to read this and we would never have put it out. That’s what people forget. There’s a world out there of people that read books; they just don’t exist in this little pocket, in this niche.”
Lani. Honey. Sugar. Baby doll. You did not need to make this so easy for Mother Trout.
So, here we are, at the start of another Jealous Hater’s Book Club, skewering yet another con-artist author touting herself as the Lewis and Clarke of an entire genre. Because Handbook for Mortals isn’t just another badly written wish-fulfillment urban fantasy that makes the legendary My Immortal read like Tolstoy in comparison– Oh, wait, I’m sorry. That was a typo. It should have read, Handbook for Mortals is just another badly written wish-fulfillment urban fantasy that makes the legendary My Immortal read like Tolstoy in comparison. In fact, it started out on Wattpad, a site known for fanfic (although it does feature original works), so it has common internet roots with both My Immortal and Fifty Shades of Grey. At least this isn’t a blatant rip-off of someone else’s work, though.
Without further ado, let’s get into Handbook for Mortals!