Can authors and publishers fake how popular a book is?

Short answer: Yes. Yes they can. And they do, quite frequently.

I’m writing this post in the fall out of the Handbook for Mortals scandal that had rocked YA twitter and bookstagram in the last couple of weeks. I’ve actually been taking a bit of a break, but you can imagine my surprise today when I logged back on and saw a tidal wave of tweets about this one book.

To simplify matters- Handbook for Mortals by Lani Salem is a book no one had ever heard of, from a publisher no one had ever heard of that jumped to the top of the NY times YA bestseller’s list last month. And I mean JUMPED, it came in a massive 12,000 sales over the second best seller at 18,000 copies sold.

But unfortunately for Lani the sales seem to have been faked, or at least manipulated*. The way the NYT Bestsellers List (the most respected published list of popular books) works is by complying a list from certain bookshops which report to the NYT how many copies they’ve sold that week of new books (backlist books don’t count, or else Potter would always come on top).

People have speculated that Lani and her publisher, GeekNation (which had never before published a book before), had found out the bookshops that do report and bulk brought copies from them. Other people have even said the numbers are fakes entirely as only 3,000 copies were ever printed (pure speculation, but seeing as hardly anyone has seen one of these books in person, it’s not impossible to believe).

Either way, the NYT has retracted Lani’s position on the list, confirming that some kind of foul play was at fault here, though Lani still denies any wrong doing and blames YA twitter and bloggers for the retraction.

It seems unlikely that something on this scale has ever been done before- after all you’d need a LOT of money lying around to decide to buy up 18,000 copies of your own book (which rumor has it Lani is now reselling, at a mark up. Hope that works out for her, otherwise it was a pretty stupid investment (obviously this is still speculation)). But lying about how popular your book is is a pretty common occurrence.

I’ve been blogging about YA books, on numerous blogs now, for 5 years and believe me, I know about a lot of books. I’m not saying I know ALL books, but I keep a strong eye on all upcoming releases from publishers and gossip from fellow bloggers and bookstagrammers so I always have an idea whats going on- but sometimes things seem to slip through the cracks.

Have you ever seen a Facebook advert for a book series, advertised to you because you’ve liked Harry Potter, the Hunger games or Twilight which boldly declares it has more then 5,000 five star reviews? I’ve been seeing these adverts more and more, and for more and more cheaply written, badly edited trash (sorry, not sorry) with the worst plots I’ve ever read.

All of these books are books I’ve never heard of. The majority of them (and I’m not saying this to blast self published books or authors, because you guys are amazing and there are so many books I love which are self published) are only available as an ebook, and yet they have a ridiculous amount of reviews.

I definitely believe the majority of these reviews have been paid for.

When you are looking for your next book, take a look at the NYT list (which is normally reliable) and at the people who are leaving reviews on amazon and on twitter. Look for book reviewers, the majority of good books will have reviews from people with blog titles in their names, and if things don’t add up with anything- be careful, it could be fake.

Also a reminder that you can return an ebook within three days on amazon if you realise it’s actually just 75 pages of hogswash. You’re welcome.


*speculation.

I am not being sued today, no sirree.

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