NEW YORK — A novel called "Handbook for Mortals" had a very brief reign at the top of a New York Times best-seller list.
The paper confirmed Friday that it had pulled Lani Sarem's book from its young adult hardcover list for Sept. 3 because of "inconsistencies" in the reporting of sales. The announcement came after online complaints that "Handbook for Mortals" had benefitted from so-called "bulk sales," when hundreds or thousands of copies are ordered by a single buyer. On Twitter, young adult author Phil Stamper and others had questioned how a book they knew little about could reach No. 1 on the Times list.
"After investigating the inconsistencies in the most recent reporting cycle, we decided that the sales for 'Handbook for Mortals' did not meet our criteria for inclusion," the Times said in a statement issued through communications director Jordan Cohen. "We've issued an updated 'Young Adult Hardcover' list for September 3, 2017, which does not include that title." Cohen told The Associated Press that it was a "very rare occurrence" for a book to be removed from the paper's best-seller listings.
Sarem told the AP on Friday that she was unaware of any efforts to manipulate sales and that thousands of copies had sold through pre-orders at gatherings such as Wizard World Comic Con, in Chicago, where she is currently promoting "Handbook for Mortals."
"We've been doing this all year," she said during a telephone interview. Among those who have been publicizing the book — "American Pie" actor Thomas Ian Nicholas, who is also at Wizard World and in June told radio station WMMR in Philadelphia that he was hoping to produce and star in a film adaptation.
Published Aug. 15, "Handbook for Mortals" is billed as the first of a fantasy series about a young woman with supernatural powers. It's also billed as the first release through the publishing arm of a Los Angeles-based web site, geeknation.com, which calls itself "an online entertainment destination serving up a fresh, daily dose of news, opinion, lifestyle and community."
The novel's popularity seems highly selective. It ranked No. 34,765 on Amazon.com as of Friday afternoon, but recorded enough sales at independent stores to reach No. 2 on the American Booksellers Association's young adult list. Spokesman Dan Cullen of the ABA, a trade group representing thousands of independent sellers, said the association was reviewing the book's rankings.
Numerous works selling through "bulk" purchases have appeared on a Times best-seller list, a highly desired achievement in the industry. "The Big Lie," by conservative author Dinesh D'Souza, is currently No. 7 among hardcover nonfiction best-sellers. A small dagger symbol appears on its listing, indicating that "that some retailers report receiving bulk orders," according to the Times. An "About the Bestsellers" note on the paper's web site 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."