THE YA COMMUNITY’S BATTLE FOR BESTSELLER
Hello, Glass Housers! I know I know, you almost never see ME on the blog, and there’s a good reason for that, but given the things that went down in the publishing industry (and particularly the YA community) this week, I feel like it’s some sort of professional requirement for me to … well, say something about it.
Because you know, what kind of publisher would I be if I didn’t? People might think I wasn’t paying attention.
As I’m sure we aaaaaaaall know already, this past week, the YA community went through a battle for … well, its integrity, if we’re being honest. In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, or on a cruise or something (in which case, why didn’t you invite me????), here’s the skinny: On Thursday, the NYT released their sneak peek at what the bestseller list would look like come September. And everyone was more than somewhat shocked to see there, at the top of the list, not Angie Thomas’ groundbreaking The Hate U Give, which has been earning well-deserved accolades at every turn, but … a book no one had ever heard of. By an author no one knew. From a publisher that hadn’t even been a publisher until July or so. With a, let’s face it, put-upon cover and writing that, when people looked into it, was less than.
So now that you’ve climbed out from under that rock, here’s an article about said situation, because I think that everything that can be said about Handbook for Mortals has already pretty much been said. The writing is atrocious. The cover artwork is stolen. The author actually seems to be pitching the movie based on the book more than the book itself. Said author, it turns out, is also rather a snarky individual, who has lied her butt off trying to cover said butt—and there have been a number of people exposing her across the industry.
And then there’s this: She bought her way onto the NYT bestseller list. Unapologetically. Without even trying to hide it. And sure, this happens all the time. There are companies that specialize in doing this sort of thing for publishers, and that’s a known fact behind the scenes of publishing. And she did it in much the same way: By having anonymous parties call NYT-reporting bookstores and place orders just small enough that they wouldn’t trigger the NYT asterisk. (There’s lots and lots of proof about this if you do a search, so I’m not bothering to screenshot it.)
But here’s the other thing: The publishing industry, for all its smoke and mirrors and lies and tricks and schemes, has still agreed to follow certain rules, and we … well, we take those rules pretty seriously. So books that buy their way onto The List are marked with death-by-asterisk, so everyone knows. BUT they’ve at least walked the walk before that. They’ve gone out for review. They’ve gone to the blogosphere, and to other authors for blurbs, and the authors have made appearances and the publishers have run pre-publication publicity and marketing campaigns, and the books have been … well you know, part of the industry. They’ve been available. They’ve been trying to build buzz, and they’ve included the rest of the industry.
Handbook for Mortals didn’t try to do any of that. It didn’t try to be part of the industry. It didn’t try to be inclusive. It tried to run a coup. And that’s why, when would-be author Lani Sarem does interviews whining about how pretentious and exclusive the industry is, we’re going to thumb our nose at her. Because in releasing the book the way they did, and treating the industry the way they did, she and her publisher were the opposite of inclusive. They were sneaky. And if there’s one thing the publishing industry hates, it’s people sneaking around and toying with our traditions.
Right. So I’m not here to write another expose about Sarem and her schemes, or about how the book has stolen artwork on the cover or spelled Stephanie Meyer’s name wrong in the opening pages. I’m not going to write about how the author’s also been unmasked as someone who once wrote truly horrific Potter fan-fic that scarred everyone for life. I’m also not going to talk about how the author specifically wrote HERSELF into the book so she could play the MC in the movie.
What I do want to write about is the YA community, and how it came together to stop this farce. Because this was detected first by a YA author, Phil Stamper (@stampepk), and from there, the YA community flew with it. People were doing research. People were opening their personal accounts for messages from booksellers, and frantically combing the Internet for anything to do with anything Sarem. People found out who she was—and how she’d done it. And then they unmasked her. This was, to quote someone I saw on Twitter, the ultimate YA mystery, solved by real-life YA-ers.
And the thing I kept thinking, as it was going on, was … holy cats, is it amazing to see the YA community working together like this again. The blogosphere had forgotten that they hated some authors, and readers had forgotten that they wanted to bully this or that blogger, and authors had forgotten their fights with each other, and indie publishers and traditional publishers were standing side by side—everyone saying the same thing: “Not in our house.” And it was glorious. The YA community has, via its role as gatekeeper for what our kids are reading, become a snarky place of late. There are bullies and finger-pointing and really horrific hate campaigns, and I know a lot of people who have left the industry specifically because of the atmosphere that YA has been putting off in the last two years.
But on Thursday, for one day, the community came together again, and fought for our integrity, and doing things the right way. And though there was a lot of drama going on in the background, and maybe these weren’t the best of circumstances, it felt like maybe, just maybe, we remembered how to be a community of people who love the same thing again—rather than a community that’s eating its own.
There’s a very large piece of my heart that hopes we can remember that. And that though Handbook for Mortals might be quickly forgotten and thrown into the heap of things that didn’t matter all that much—it might have a lasting effect by bringing the community together once again.
Aaaaand that’s about all I can do on only two cups of coffee on a Sunday morning. Get out there and read some books, people! Support your local bookstore. Discover a new (valid) author, and share them with us! And above all, keep smiling.
Carrie and the GH gang