Scandal in the YA Community: Handbook for Mortals

Oh yes. I’m going to talk about it. Let’s get to it.

I’m a little late on the scandal. In the world of scandals, this is old news. But to be fair, I’ve only been back in the book blogging world for a few days so cut me a little slack. That being said, I have a lot to say.

The story originally unfolded on Twitter and then was broken down with details on Pajiba, which you can read here. Long story short, here’s what happened. The New York Times Bestseller list was released, as per normal, except there was a little hiccup there. The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas, which had been number one for over twenty weeks, had suddenly been bumped down to number two. Now, who could have possibly done this? Plenty of incredible YA authors are putting out news this fall season but no, it was not a name that anyone – and I really do mean anyone – in the book community recognized. An indie published author named Lani Sarem’s book, Handbook for Mortals, first novel published by the side publishing business of the website GeekNation, was suddenly in the top spot.

Now here’s my thing. Becoming a bestseller is hard. As many articles have already pointed out, it takes roughly about 5,000 copies of this book to get on the list. In a week. That’s intense – and really goes to show you the kind of book that The Hate U Give is. I’m not saying that an indie novel couldn’t do that. I honestly believe that it could. I do not think a major publishing contact automatically equals bestseller status. But I will say this, I have been in this industry as a blogger and author for five and a half years now. You can’t do that without a lot of extremely hard work and publicity.

And like I said above, no one had ever heard of this book. There had been no publicity. No buzz or hype. I had not seen anyone promote this book in the slightest and I follow so many book blogs, bookstagrams and so forth that there’s no way I would have missed it. There were no blog tours, ARC distributions. The book is unavailable to purchase on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can’t even purchase the book. There were roughly five reviews on GoodReads (this has since changed since the story came to light – the book has a solid one star rating with over 200 votes.) and hardly anyone had it marked as “to read”. Nothing. Not one. No one knows what this book is or even who Lani Sarem is.

I will cut in here: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I don’t believe that you have to be a “name” in order to be published in the YA industry, or to even have success in the YA industry.

BUT, to suddenly knock out the author that’s been in the number one spot for roughly six months…? Forgive me if I find that incredibly suspicious. Diving into the article written on Pajiba, where the drama is unfolded, it comes to light that they bought their way onto the list, with the idea, it is suspected, to promote the movie adaptation of the novel. According to IMDB, Sarem is slated to play the main character.

Obviously, people were very upset about this. It’s not that this is the first time that this has happened. However, usually there is a helpful little asterisk to let the readers of the list know that this is something that happened. There was definitely no asterisk next to Handbook for Mortals. Also, it was found that mass orders for the book were placed at independent book stores that are known for reporting their numbers to the list. Lastly, we have already remarked that its hard enough to read 5000 sales in a week, and the number for Handbook for Mortals was up near 18,000, with no publicity, no blog tour, no way to even purchase the book.

After everything was said and done, the NYT Bestseller List printed a retraction, replaced Handbook for Mortals with The Hate U Give. The drama unfolded more as Sarem came forward, calling out the YA community for punishing her for not being well known and for taking her off the list when the “numbers were there”.

Here’s where I stand with all of this: I am an indie published author, as well as a reader and a blogger and I’m deeply involved in this community. I know that I lack what a lot of bigger authors have. I don’t have the reach to major publications to promote my books, I don’t have movie or tv deals, I don’t have the ability to advertise everything and so on. Majority of my publicity is done by myself and sometimes that’s very little because I have very little money to do that. I understand that its hard to compete. I do. But that being said, I don’t agree with cheating my way to the top and I don’t agree that the scandal was about pushing down a lesser known author.

Yes, her being unknown is what started the investigation. Angie Thomas has sat at that top spot for quite some time so naturally people are going to be curious about the book that took it from her. I don’t think this started as a “there’s no way this person could have earned this” but it definitely ended up there. When the book in the top spot was from an author that no one recognized immediately, I’m sure they looked up the author, then the book and that’s probably where the suspicion started and more pieces of the puzzle fell into place as the story unfolded.

I most likely will never be on that bestseller list, and I know that. I’m okay with that, honestly. If The Awakened never gets that kind of attention, that’s okay. Would a movie adaptation be cool? Hell yeah, it would be. But the idea of buying a TON of copies to get it on the list, and get attention? It genuinely makes me sick to my stomach. I don’t think I could live with myself. I don’t think I could look at the “New York Times Bestselling Author” printed on my cover without thinking, I didn’t earn that. No amount of money or fame is worth that kind of guilt. It genuinely feels like cheating. I may not have sold a million copies, I may not be super well known, but I’ve had people read my book and enjoy it and honestly, that’s all I really need.

The idea that the scandal came to light because the community has it out for indie authors is, excuse my language, total bullshit. Now, there have been instances where I’ve felt like…I don’t quite fit in but I’ve never felt like I wasn’t given the same chance of success as a big published author was. Sure, they have more resources and that’s usually what gets them to the top but we’re both on the same page, and I 100% believe that. Plus I’ve seen authors like Jennifer L Armentrout go from a small publisher like Entangled Teen and get signed by huge publishers, and she’s a definite known name in this community.

I have always been treated with the utmost respect as an indie author. I have many author friends who ask me about what I’m working on or will lament with me on plotting or world building. I have been on panels with authors published by major publishing houses. I have sat at the same tables at them and as felt like their equal, because at the end of the day, we’re all doing the same job. I will probably never reach the bestseller list because I am an indie author and I don’t have the same resources but I am not resentful nor do I ever feel like this is something that authors have ever held over me.

I’ll say this: in a community that already has to fight to prove they’re legitimate and worthy of the rest of the book community, it sucks to have this kind of scandal happen. I respect authors that are published with major publishing companies, those published with indies like me, those that self publish and those still typing up those novels on wattpad, nanowrimo or just those laptops sitting at home. Everyone who works hard and puts out their best work is a writer to me and deserves and earns my respect.

Lani Sarem does not. Whether she knew or not (I’m of the mind that she did), it was wrong. It’s wrong to focus on the numbers and not the actual job of writing. It was hard to push out a well deserving book from the top spot in order to secure hype and money for a movie adaptation. It was especially wrong to do this for a book that frankly is written very, very badly, so badly that people thought for a moment Sarem was the infamous author of the worst fanfiction ever written, My Immortal (this has since been debunked, but that’s a whole different story that you can read here.). I’ve read the first chapter and let me tell you, it is incredibly painful. I’ve read some pretty bad stuff and this is…well its bad.

At the end of this…I’m glad that people called this out. Cheating is never okay, especially when the facts are there, the story is there and you can’t even own up to it. The YA community deserves better than that and it deserves books at the top spot that earned it. Whether we’ll see more from Lani Sarem in the future is unknown but something tells me that this is definitely not the last we’ve heard from her.

One thought on “Scandal in the YA Community: Handbook for Mortals

  1. S. L. says:

    Glad you’re back to blogging! I remember reading about the scandal a few weeks ago and thinking how absurd and horrible it was. The fact the author would star in the movie adaptation just makes it even more ridiculous lol. So strange.

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