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Novel Removed from Independent Stores' Best-Seller List 

YA author Phil Stamper helped launch a campaign on Twitter that raised questions over whether "Handbook for Mortals" had benefited from "bulk" sales

Several piles of books at a secondhand bookstore., photo: Wikimedia
4 months ago

NEW YORK – A fantasy novel removed from a New York Times best-seller list because of suspicious sales has been pulled from a chart compiled by the American Booksellers Association.

The association announced Tuesday that Lani Sarem’s “Handbook for Mortals” will not appear on its young adult list for the week ending Aug. 27 and showed up in error the week before, when it reached No. 2. Spokesman Dan Cullen cited “an unusual pattern of purchases.”

“The title should not have made it onto the Indie Bestsellers list, and it isn’t appearing this week,” the association, which represents thousands of independent stores, said in a statement. “We’re always reviewing our procedures to improve them, and, following this, we are refining the way we do things.

Last week, young adult author Phil Stamper and others were alarmed to see a little known book topping the Times’ young adult list that was scheduled to run Sept. 3. Stamper helped launch a campaign on Twitter that raised questions over whether “Handbook for Mortals” had benefited from “bulk” sales, when a single buyer orders hundreds or even thousands of copies. The Times agreed that the novel, published Nov. 15 through the Los Angeles-based website, did not meet the paper’s “criteria for inclusion.”

Placement on a best-seller list, especially a Times list, is highly desired by authors and publishers who value both the status and how the label “best-seller” can lead to further success. “Bulk” sales are not uncommon and some books have appeared on a Times list with a small dagger symbol, indicating “that some retailers report receiving bulk orders.” An “About the Best Sellers” note on the newspaper’s website reads that “Institutional, special interest, group or bulk purchases, if and when they are included, are at the discretion of The New York Times Best-Seller List Desk editors.”

Sarem, who has a background in acting and music management and has hoped to get a movie deal for “Handbook for Mortals,” has denied trying to manipulate sales in order to get her novel on best-seller lists. “American Pie” actor Thomas Ian Nicholas, who has helped publicize the novel and expressed interest in producing and starring in a film version, has also denied any improper actions. But he acknowledged that he contacted bookstores about buying large amounts of copies to sell at Comic Con and other gatherings.

“Maybe that’s where things got convoluted,” he told The Hollywood Reporter last week.

Meanwhile, the booksellers association is looking to revise how it compiles its list. In Tuesday’s statement, the association said it did not rely “on raw numbers, but takes into account the ranking of a title in a store’s weekly sales, which we have done since the list was launched in order to reflect the diversity of stores across the entire network of stores.

“We’re always reviewing our procedures to improve them,” the association announced, “and, following this, we are refining the way we do things.”


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