I’m Going to Say Something Nice About Handbook for Mortals

Well, I guess GeekNation’s going to have change its business model.

Oh, man. I love deliciously scandalous behavior from publishers and authors. I mean I love reading about it because as I was raised by Barnes & Noble, I would never risk my reputation. I have clean paws when it comes to busting my ass to get published. This scandal that broke yesterday has everything. A scam involving the NYT Bestsellers, actors from 1999, a boy band, a fan fiction mystery. A woman who calls herself a “RockanRollGypsy”. BLUES TRAVELER.

I also love it when the claws are out and good old fashioned gumshoe detective work takes down a snake in the grass.


Image result for steel magnolias something nice gif


There are those who have no business in the book industry. Case in point, GeekNation who only became a publisher in July but have what they label as a bestseller (Handbook for Mortals by Lani Sarem) big enough to swiftly hit #1 on the Young Adult New York Times Bestsellers without any following whatsoever and paid(?) five star reviews on Goodreads from ghost accounts that have only reviewed this book.

GeekNation was co-founded by Clare Kramer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame and Lani Serem’s husband, Brian Keathley. Their infancy in the vast universe of books made many people question how they could have a NYT bestseller so quickly considering the work it takes to usually get that much attention and loyal followers. Adding to the simmer was that this unknown Handbook for Mortals, with its horrendous writing and cover art, kicked off reigning #1, beloved and timely novel, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (known in lit circles as THUG) which is about a black girl who witnessed a shooting by cop. I’ll explain why I think there was such backlash, below.

I’ll also go into the boy detectives who uncovered the scam. The big picture is this: GeekNation cheated the system, calling multiple bookstores and ordering mass quantities of books which makes the rating of the book go sky high. It’s something I’ve had to deal with at many bookstores. Read HERE.


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You’re basically paying for your book to become a bestseller and it’s skeezy and wrong but nothing new. It happens a lot. Conservative pundits do it all the time but they don’t get caught. Dianetics is bought by the pound by the Church of Scientology so it looks like it’s a bestseller when really they’re reselling it back to the stores or giving it out as gifts to followers. It’s a brilliant Dr. Evil concept but in a literary world where ghost writers and celebrities have taken over and you can buy good book reviews, readers are not happy about all of this tainting of what was a legitimately classy institution. So their reaction was swift and furious. They tweeted their investigative efforts to the NYT, who booted Handbook for Mortals off the list, and the novel was given its just desserts in the form of honest reviews on Goodreads.

From what is out there in the public…it’s…bad. I’m not Shakespeare by any means but when you start off on “Chapter 0” with a vivid Mary Sue description of your main character’s hair coloring and super awesome body, you’re in trouble. And move over Stephenie Meyer because Lani Sarem is also going to be in the movie version as the heroine, starring alongside Thomas Ian Nicholas (Rookie of the Year). I have a question. Who’s funding this thing??

Zade Holder has always been a free-spirited young woman, from a long dynasty of tarot-card readers, fortunetellers, and practitioners of magick. Growing up in a small town and never quite fitting in, Zade is determined to forge her own path. She leaves her home in Tennessee to break free from her overprotective mother Dela, the local resident spellcaster and fortuneteller.

– Handbook for Mortals, Amazon


I totally had that haircut in 1990.


What is a Mary Sue?

A Mary Sue is a lit term that describes a character who is an obvious reflection of the person who is writing the story. A Mary Sue looks like the author. A Mary Sue is popular and friends with everyone, with powers and intelligence and heroic Matrix-like “Oneness”. We’ve all probably written a character like this before without thinking much about it. But Lani Sarem went above and beyond and flew her flag high by inserting herself as the actress in her book’s movie. Man alive, that takes some balls. Also, narcissism.


The Investigation

I imagine Lani Sarem was in a great mood yesterday morning at Wizard World in Chicago where she was on a panel to talk about film savviness, for unknown reasons. She was there with Thomas Ian Nicholas so maybe someone dropped an American Pie reference.

Online she says that she was once a music manager for acts like Plain White T’s and Blues Traveler and acted in bit parts here and there. Her cousin, boy bander J.C. Chasez tweeted his support for her new release, a new “bestseller” that couldn’t be found in any bookstore and wasn’t available online. The stink started to rise and that’s too bad because book people are really smart.

Then website, Pajiba, partnered up with literary boy wonders, Phil Stamper and Jeremy West, exposing GeekNation and Sarem’s trickery for what it was. Stamper and West started receiving tweets from bookstores all over claiming that someone was calling and asking if they reported to the NYT and if it was a yes, ordered massive bulk quantities of Handbook for Mortals. Once the shenanigans were out there, 90’s band Blues Traveler added my favorite part to this whole mess. A tweet that has been deleted:




When you’re getting served by Blues Traveler, things are not going well.

How could GeekNation and Sarem have avoided being exposed as little cheaters? If they are hell bent on scamming the NYT then all they had to do was order 5,000 copies in a week, not 18,597. I am not promoting this method but getting caught was avoidable. Like 100% avoidable. They got too greedy and their little wings melted under the sun.


“My Immortal” (NSFW)

What interests me the most about all of this is that we may have uncovered the creator of the worst fan fiction ever written thanks to super sleuth, Preeti Chhibber.

“My Immortal” is one of the greatest literary mysteries next to the Voynich Manuscript. It was published as Harry Potter fan fiction in 2006 on and quickly took the world by storm because of its awfulness. Adding vampires to Hogwarts, cliche teen goth references abound. Hot Topic? Check. My Chemical Romance? Check. I’m one of many who believe that this was NOT a parody but a sincere effort on the part of the writer.

Preeti pointed out that there were many similarities between Handbook for Mortals and “My Immortal”.

View image on Twitter


View image on Twitter


If Lani Sarem wrote this fan fic, that would make my day. Here are quotes from “My Immortal” so you can understand what the fuss is about:


BECAUSE…BECAUSE….” Hargid said and he paused in the air dramitaclly, waving his wand in the air. Then swooped he in singing to the tune of a gothic version of a song by 50 Cent. – Chapter 11

He was so sexy that my body went all hot when I saw him kind of like an erection only I’m a girl so I didn’t get one you sicko. – Chapter 5


It was…………………………………………………….Dumblydore! – Chapter 4

And then…………… suddenly just as I Draco kissed me passionately. Draco climbed on top of me and we started to make out keenly against a tree. He took of my top and I took of his clothes. I even took of my bra. Then he put his thingie into my you-know-what and we did it for the first time. – Chapter 4

“Allah Kedavra!” – Chapter 13


Okay, sure, we all had kind of a thing for Draco but his thingie is none of my business. Admit it, though. You totally want to read this right now.


Release the Hounds

I’m going to explain why I believe there was such a fast and furious social media backlash against this group of people.


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Because GeekNation and Sarem have no idea what the book world is about, they are probably flummoxed about the arrows coming at them from all directions. The book world isn’t just about throwing together a crappy book and making sure it gets on the NYT and then a movie. The literary world is a way of life.

We eat, breathe, and live books, books, books. We know who the publishers are and their preferences. We follow every move of our favorite authors. We know all of the good book bloggers. Sometimes when our favorite book is re-released with a new cover, we buy it. Then there are the writers who also live in this world. They claw their ways to the top and every little success is a milestone. Your “gimme, I want it” attitude doesn’t look good on you.

It’s like the movie, Freaks. We can tell you’re not book people. Not one of us. Book people are vicious when it comes to impostors.

The fact that GeekNation didn’t know about the ordering of 5,000 tells me they know nothing about the book space and should probably leave or spend some real time learning about it and its people. Getting the attention you crave at panels is not going to help. You have to cultivate real relationships. Be involved in the YA community, not the book-straight-to-movie community because you want to act so badly. Meet the big dogs in book blogging. Do you know Books with Dylan? Danni Darling? books&thoughts? You should if you’re writing YA. AFTER hiring a new editor, send them free copies for review.

Another reason for the heat was that this poser was knocking off the #1 spot, a genuinely good book. The Hate U Give is well written with a rabid base so there was no way Angie’s fans were going to let this slide.


This? Oh, don’t mind this. It’s just original artwork by Gill Del Mace from a few years ago.


Unfortunately, Lani Sarem is completely ignorant on how readers think. Sarem believes she’s being trolled but I don’t remember ever meeting or hearing of a literary personality or book blogger who was a troll. Not at all. Not the ones with high profiles who were involved in this situation. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Sarem bristled at the backlash saying,

“My personal opinion: I’m a first time author; I did some great numbers. They put me on the list. The list is curated. They didn’t have to put me on the list despite how many books I sold. When these people made a big issue, they were like, ‘This is too much effort.’ ”… “The last book that caused a lot of controversy was Fifty Shades of Grey,” Sarem said. “And it was caused by the book community because it was nothing like what they’ve put out. Whether you like the book or hate it, you have to acknowledge it outsold everything.”…“So to go after the traditional marketing strategy of when your goal is just to have a successful book didn’t make sense to us,” she explains.

You guys understand that you need readers, right? Coming off as arrogant and too lazy to take the years to curate your base doesn’t bode well in the literary world. And P.S., the author of Fifty Shades of Grey, E.L. James, is a sweet woman who came into her success by not scamming the system. It was her fan base that made her controversial book successful. She’s very humble as well.

Let’s call this out for what it is. Handbook for Mortals was written in order to give those involved, movie roles.


Move Over, Hardy Boys

I want to give The Nancy Award (no affiliation to Simon & Schuster properties) to the next Woodward and Bernstein. Phil Stamper and Jeremy West could have just let this go but when someone was trying to fool readers everywhere, they weren’t just going to idly stand by. Kudos for your relentless snooping. Snaps to Pajiba for giving them a place to post the updates of this mystery.

For their hard work and efforts, The Hate U Give is rightfully back to #1 on the NYT list and the world is balanced once again. For now.


Nice Words for Handbook for Mortals

If you get yourself into the #1 slot on the NYT Bestsellers more people will buy the book because they want to know what the fuss is about, leading to a real bestseller. I completely understand why they did it. I do, I get it. As an unknown author, it’s so difficult to break into the industry and get any attention so bravo, you crazy bitch and good for you. All of this embarrassment is going to actually sell copies. Think about it. How many brand new authors, publishers, or books have gotten this much attention in the past year?



And some final words from John Popper of Blues Traveler after they funded books for a classroom in Texas because of this debacle:

“I think it would have been wrong to have taken the best-seller title away from somebody who’d earned it and worked really hard.”


Nicolina Torres
Nicolina Torres

Nikki worked for Barnes & Noble for 15 years, in seven stores. She is the author of This Red Fire, Young Nation, and Girls Who Wear Glasses. She prefers to live in the country and is a new aunt to a potential bookworm.

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