‘Best-seller’ Lists Are a Farce

For a little while Thursday, young adult literature had a new reigning New York Times best-seller. In the paper’s list of most popular YA hardcover novels, a new face had toppled Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give from the perch it has occupied nearly half a year. By mid-afternoon, though, the order the YA world had known for weeks was restored.

But what happened to the hours-long ascendancy of Lani Sarem’s Handbook for Mortals? Gather round, everyone — that’s going to take some explaining.

First, a little background: Sarem’s debut novel hit the market earlier this month, the first book put out by novice publisher GeekNation, which has spent the bulk of its life online as a space for pop culture news and commentary. That lack of publishing experience didn’t appear to impede Sarem, an actress and former music manager, or the prospects for her book, which was billed as “the first book in an urban fantasy/paranormal romance series” — and, according to the book’s promotional website, is “already in the works to be made into a motion picture.”

It got a positive writeup from The Hollywood Reporter, a supportive pitch from *NSYNC’s JC Chasez (Sarem’s cousin) and the backing of American Pie star Thomas Ian Nicholas, who has been closely involved with the book’s planned film adaptation. All in all, not a bad start — which, when coupled with the distinction of being a No. 1 best-seller, seemed to destine the novel for big things.

That is, until several members of the extensive YA community on Twitter took note of the new ranking.

Writer Phil Stamper was one of the first to point out he smelled something fishy, pointing out in a series of tweets that he found it strange a website that’s not widely known could catapult a book to such heights. He was soon joined by Jeremy West, manager of a Broadway fansite, who noted its exceptional sales numbers — 18,000 copies in a week, according to West — despite a relative lack of availability at major retailers.

“Pretty much immediately, more people in the publishing industry latched onto that and said, ‘Oh, I had the same thought,’ and also, ‘We were just talking about that last night’ — and on and on, ” Stamper told NPR on Friday.

The allegations picked up steam when Stamper and West started getting notes from several booksellers who claimed to have been contacted by someone asking if they reported their sales to The New York Times. Then, the booksellers said that caller would place a large order for the book — but not large enough to attract notice — without regard for when it would be delivered, despite saying the order was for an upcoming event.

Etc.  Like so much in America, best-seller lists are a farce organized for profit.  Because people in America will buy anything if they think it will help them ‘keep up with the Jones’s’.

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