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YA novels are still big business in the publishing world, but a large part of the reason for that is the frequency with which many of them get adapted as films. It seems one new book may have tried to game the system specifically to get the movie made.This week a book almost nobody had heard of, and even fewer had read, called Handbook for Mortals, found itself atop the New York Times Best Sellers list. Now, it seems the publisher may have used questionable means to get on the list in order to secure funding for the movie version of the book.
While many of these details are not confirmed, the circumstantial evidence continues to pile up. The first indication that something was amiss came from publisher and writer Phil Stamper who took to Twitter to bring attention to the fact that Handbook for Mortals, the debut novel by Lani Sarem and the first book published by website GeekNation, was already number one on the New York Times Best Sellers List. This was especially odd considering that major booksellers like Amazon and Barnes and Noble did not have it available to sell. Then, people working in book stores began to send Stamper messages claiming that they received calls from people asking if their store reported to the New York Times, and if they were given an affirmative response, large orders for the book were placed, which counted toward being a best seller, even though the store didn't actually have the books to sell in stock. In at least one case, a book store employee was told that the purchaser was making a movie based on the book, which was apparently the reason for the bulk purchases.
It turns out, there may have been a kernel of truth in this last note. According to sources which spoke with Pajiba, the book's author admitted in meetings with potential business partners that the plan was to get Handbook for Mortals on the NYT Best Sellers List by playing the numbers. The end goal was, allegedly, to sign a deal for the film rights to the book, and the movie had apparently been promised funding if the book made the list.
Bulk book purchasing has happened before. Writers or publishers buy large quantities of their own book with the expectation of giving them away in contests or something similar. However, when those purchases impact the Best Sellers List, the NYT always notes that on the list. In this case, it appears that all purchases were made in small enough quantities from each location that it never triggered those alarms.
In the end, this apparent subterfuge has been investigated by the New York Times. The paper has now issued a revised version of the list. Handbook for Mortals is no longer on it.
Needless to say, this story is bonkers. Selling film rights to a book are certainly lucrative for those involved, but these are some pretty extreme measures which, while not illegal, are certainly suspect, if true. The writer and publisher have made no public comments yet and so we don't have their side of the story. It will be interesting to see if there is more going on.