On Thursday, Book Twitter — the part of Twitter where publishers, authors, readers, and journalists discuss the industry and its literature — inspired the New York Times to revise its upcoming best-seller list. If you didn’t happen to be following along all day, you were probably confused, especially since each new fact that emerged was more astounding than the last. Here’s what happened.
When the Times released its young-adult best-seller list for the week of Sep. 3, it came as a huge surprise. Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, a story about a young black girl whose friend is killed by the police, had been on the list for 25 weeks — but was knocked out of the top spot by a newcomer: Handbook for Mortals, by Lani Sarem. The problem, as Pajiba first reported, was that no one had ever heard of this book.
YA author Phil Stamper was one of the first to point out on Twitter that the placement would mean a book that’s out of stock on Amazon had somehow sold about 5,000 copies in its first week (authors agree that’s about the number a book needs to sell to crack the list). On top of that, Handbook for Mortals was the debut novel from both its author and its publisher, GeekNation. Originally established as a pop culture website in 2012, GeekNation only launched its book publishing arm in July. Something smelled fishy, and it only got weirder from there.
(GeekNation and Sarem could not be reached for immediate comment.)
It didn’t take long before multiple obscure celebrities from the early-2000s were linked to the mystery. Sarem is apparently the cousin of former ’N Sync member J.C. Chasez, who tweeted his encouragement when Handbook was published earlier this month. When another Book Twitter detective uncovered that Sarem was once a music manager who worked with bands like Blues Traveler, the official Blues Traveler account weighed in, claiming, “yes this is weird but not surprising…We fired her for these kind of stunts. Her sense of denial is staggering!” The tweet has since been deleted.
On top of that, GeekNation was co-founded by Clare Kramer, who portrayed Glory on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Actor Thomas Ian Nicholas (American Pie, Rookie of the Year) was also involved — he’s planning to star in an eventual movie adaptation. Stamper shared a direct message from someone claiming to be an independent bookstore employee, and the person said that someone called their store, asked if they reported to the New York Times, and immediately placed a bulk order of Handbook for Mortals, claiming they were making a film adaptation. Writer Jeremy West said he received similar information.
Speaking of the planned movie, the weirdest connection to early-2000s pop culture came from writer Preeti Chhibber, who speculated that Sarem might be the same author behind “My Immortal,” an infamous piece of Harry Potter fan fiction from 2006 that has since become known as the worst fan fiction story ever — it’s essentially the fan fiction equivalent of The Room. Chhibber placed an excerpt from Handbook for Mortals beside a passage from “My Immortal,” and they do share certain similarities — both protagonists obsess about their appearance and have multicolored hair.
While that mystery remains unsolved for now, Book Twitter’s sleuthing was not for nothing. By the end of the day, the New York Times had released a revised list that excluded Handbook for Mortals and returned The Hate U Give to its rightful place in the top spot.