Did a YA book buy its way to the top of the New York Times bestseller list?


For a few hours, a debut author shone at the top of the N.Y. Times bestseller list Thursday. But after online commenters questioned how the book got there, the paper removed “Handbook for Mortals” by Lani Sarem. What happened?

Author Phil Stamper thought it was strange when “Handbook for Mortals” was climbing and poised to knocked “The Hate U Give” off the No. 1 spot on the Young Adult Hardcover bestseller list.

“The Hate U Give” is the debut novel from author Angie Thomas. It came out in February to widespread critical acclaim, including glowing reviews from prominent book bloggers who had read advance copies. It’s been optioned for a film, and has spent 25 weeks on the New York Times’ bestseller list.


In contrast, “Handbook for Mortals” was announced only last month, as the first offering from website GeekNation’s new publishing venture.

The most recent New York Times YA hardcover bestseller list was released on Wednesday. Stamper, the author of YA ebook “Crowded,” said in a direct message on Twitter that “pretty much everyone I knew was stumped” to see “Handbook for Mortals” at the top of the list.

“I couldn’t find one person who had ever heard of this author, this title, or the publisher,” he continued. “This book had zero publicity.” (His findings were first reported by the website Pajiba.)

People who worked at bookstores began reaching out to Stamper and writer Jeremy West privately, saying they’d received bulk orders for “Handbook for Mortals” but weren’t carrying any copies in stores.


An article in The Hollywood Reporter announcing “Handbook’s” publication noted that a film franchise was also in the works. It already had a website. According to IMDBPro, the author, Lani Sarem, is set to star. She’ll play “Zade,” a “free-spirited twenty-something girl who comes from a long dynasty of tarot card readers who practice magick.”

No one knows exactly how many books you sell to reach national bestseller lists, but estimates are in the low thousands. Sometimes, authors or publishers bulk-purchase copies in hopes of making the list. Typically, the New York Times denotes books that have received bulk orders, though this was not the case for “Handbook.”

Nielsen BookScan, which compiles book sales data, indicated that more than 18,000 copies of “Handbook” had been ordered. Stamper theorized that the publisher was behind the bulk orders, in conjunction with the planned movie release.


Angie Thomas, the author of “The Hate U Give,” posted a screen shot Thursday afternoon that showed “Handbook” had been removed from the list.

“Handbook” briefly reappeared on the list again Thursday evening but was later removed again. The amateur sleuthing has already inspired fan art and is a Twitter moment in its own right.

Follow me on Twitter @jessica_roy.