Too bad to be true: How “Handbook for Mortals” fell from the NY Times Bestseller list


Image: Marianna Bacallao

The fiction section of the Mercer Bookstore.

Marianna Bacallao, Photo Editor

“The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas had topped the New York Times Young Adult Bestseller list for six consecutive months, until an unknown author’s debut novel bumped Thomas down to number two. The only problem? No one had even heard of “Handbook for Mortals,” a supernatural romance about a Las Vegas magicians love triangle.

“Handbook for Mortals” is a first for both author Lani Sarem and publishing company GeekNation. It currently has a 1.2 out of 5 on Goodreads and 10 percent on approval rate by Google users while “The Hate U Give,” a politically charged novel about a black teen witnessing a police officer murder her friend, has a 4.6 out of 5, a 94 percent approval rate and a movie deal in the works.  

Young Adult writer and freelance editor Phil Stamper first noted the suspicious circumstance around the book’s ascension on the New York Times’ list.

“I find it… strange that a mediocre website can decide it wants to be a publisher, and one month later hit #1 on the NYT Bestsellers list,” said Stamper on Twitter.  

Stamper also went on to say that several bookstore employees had direct messaged him on Twitter, telling him that people had been calling their stores, claiming that it was being adapted into a movie and ordering large quantities of the book—5,000 copies to be exact—the goal that most books on the New York Times’ Bestsellers list hit.

Sarem used to be a music manager for the band Blues Traveler. Once news of Sarem allegedly fabricating sales broke, their official twitter spoke out about it and then deleted the tweet soon after.

“We fired her for these kind of stunts. Her sense of denial is staggering,” said Blue Traveler’s tweet.

The actual book was compared to excerpts of “My Immortal,” a 2008 Harry Potter fan fiction that gained notoriety for its typos, plot holes and all around terrible writing. There was enough speculation that Lani Sarem wrote “My Immortal,” that it forced the actual author out of hiding.

“Because I’ve received several messages asking this, and predict I may receive more, I’ll answer it here. No, I am not Lani Sarem. Really bad fiction simply tends to read the same,” she posted on her old LiveJournal account.

“Handbook for Mortals” has since been retracted from the New York Time’s Bestseller list.