Remember Handbook For Mortals, the urban fantasy novel about magic in Las Vegas that catapulted out of nowhere to take the top spot on the New York Times best-seller list? We thoroughly documented the torrid tale of Lani Sarem’s debut novel, which gamed the system through bulk purchases in order to debut at number 1 on the YA list, knocking off Angie Thomas’s mega-hit The Hate U Give. It had everything - scams, Carrot Top, Blues Traveller, Glory from Buffy, the guy from Rookie of the Year, an in development film adaptation with the author set to play the lead role, art theft, and Jasper from Twilight. It was such a fascinatingly layered scam that even the author of the worst fan-fiction of all time came forward to deny any involvement with it.
The book is no longer on the list, and clearly that’s upset Sarem and her team. While GeekNation, the near abandoned geek news website who published the novel, have been silent on the subject, Sarem has gone into PR overdrive to try and scrape together a semblance of goodwill after angering YA fans, the publishing community and John Popper himself. First, the music manager turned author wrote a piece for Billboard. You know, that bastion of publishing, where she defended her actions. Now she’s over at the Huffington Post doing the same.
Remember, she had originally denied bulk purchasing in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter:
Sarem stresses that “not to my knowledge” did anyone involved with the book engage in an organized strategy to bulk buy at bookstores surveyed by The New York Times to game the best-seller list. Nicholas, who is currently appearing with Sarem at Wizard World Chicago to promote the book, says they had reached out independent bookstores to buy bulk copies of the book in advance of local comic conventions over the fall, understanding that physical copies of the book wouldn’t be available until after Aug. 31.
Now, she’s admitting she lied - although not saying so - in her Huffington Post article, by saying her non-traditional means of selling books through the convention circuit was indeed helped along by organised bulk purchases.
In order to sell books at these events, I had to have books to sell. If I had purchased the books directly from my distributor, Itasca Books, they would not count as sales for purposes of the New York Times list. If they were purchased from booksellers — brick and mortar or online — they would count. While I didn’t limit my purchases to only those booksellers involved in the Times list, I did purchase books in bulk from booksellers to resell them later at events.
Well, well, well…
We already knew Itasca Books were involved in this as we had the BookScan numbers to back that up - 18597 purchases, all in one week. No pre-releases, no pre-orders, no accidental early sales. All one very neatly organised week.
What Sarem doesn’t mention is ResultSource. a 3rd party marketing company who specialise in ‘bestseller campaigns’ and were involved, according to numerous sources, in placing at least one bulk order on behalf of Sarem. Nor does she mention that there are three ResultSource employees named in the acknowledgements of her book ‘for help in other major areas that we needed.’
Sarem is determined to paint this model of sales as an ‘innovative strategy’, which requires us to believe that anyone could sell close to 19,000 copies of a first time author’s book at convention circuits with little to no buzz around such gargantuan sales. Even George RR Martin couldn’t shift that number of books at a con.
Sarem ends her piece - which I recommend you read in full, if only to understand what badly managed PR crisis mode looks like in action - by asking that her book, like many others who have used bulk sales to get on the list, be included with the ‘glyph of a tiny dagger next to the entry, flagging it with a sharp-edged asterisk.’ Essentially, she wants the glory of being a best-seller but with the admittance she gamed the system to get there, because that is what she did. Lani Sarem gamed the system to get onto the New York Times best-seller list. We - myself, Jeremy West and Phil Stamper - have many sources to back this up.
This doesn’t even cover everything we revealed during the investigation. Nowhere does Sarem discuss the artist whose work her cover ripped off - an act of plagiarism she asked the artist to engage in with the false promise that the real artist, Gill del Mace, would be credited. Her agent is very disappointed in that.
As always, we’re still sticking with this story. Believe me, the layers will never end.