How did a book many have never heard of, from both a new author and a new publisher, suddenly dethrone the book that had been at the top of the New York Times best-seller list for young adult fiction? It wasn't thanks to a publicity campaign or a celebrity bringing attention to it, and now, the Consumerist reports, the Times has removed the book from the list after an investigation led to accusations that the answer involves "gaming the system." It all started when the blockbuster YA novel The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, which had been atop the list for 25 weeks, was replaced at the top by Handbook for Mortals by Lani Sarem. Fellow YA writer and publisher Phil Stamper first pointed out how suspicious this was, the Verge reports; for one, he couldn't find a physical copy of the book at any Barnes & Noble in the greater NYC area, and the Consumerist notes you also can't buy it on Amazon.
Some bookstores ultimately revealed they'd gotten odd calls from people asking whether they reported sales to the Times; if the bookseller did, the person would place a bulk order for Handbook for Mortals, claiming the books were for an event, per NPR. Media news site Pajiba started an extensive probe and found the book (available on Kindle, despite physical copies being hard to track down) was the first novel from the GeekNation website's new publishing arm, and a movie based on the book was already listed as "in development" on IMDb. Some wondered whether the author and/or publisher was trying to manipulate sales numbers before the book was physically published to hype an upcoming film version; ultimately, multiple sources confirmed that had indeed been the plan. (Sarem, who denies this, says she's being cyberbullied.) The Times has since removed the book from its list; see Pajiba for more on the plot's intricacies. (Read more bestseller stories.)