No, I Didn't 'Game' The New York Times Bestseller List

I honestly believe the steps I took are well within the rules.
09/11/2017 02:37 pm ET
Barry Brecheisen via Getty Images

My delight and surprise in landing at the top of the New York Times young adult best-seller list a few weeks ago as a first-time author was short-lived. In an instant, I was pummeled on social media, accused of gaming the system, and summarily yanked off the list.

My book made headlines worldwide — but for all the wrong reasons.  

“New York Times pulls YA novel from bestseller list after reports of fake sales,” read a headline in the Guardian. On NPR: “The Brief, Tumultuous Reign of an Erstwhile Best-Seller.”  And on Salon.com: “Author booted from the New York Times Bestseller List lashes out.”

The fact is, I didn’t lash out. I tried to defend myself from false charges that I, a first-time novelist, manipulated the New York Times bestseller list to gain a number-one spot based on bogus, non-existent sales.

That’s just not true. While I am not selling the books through traditional channels established by the book industry, the sales of my book are quite real.  I believe this begs a larger question:  whether it’s time that the rules be modernized to accommodate new ways goods are sold today — everything from books to razor blades, even groceries.

OK, so what did happen with my book?

When my book reached the top of the New York Times best seller list, a handful of people took to social media attacking both me and my book.  As one news report stated, “some in the YA community questioned how a book that many publishers and YA authors had never heard of... opened at No. 1 on the Times’s YA hardcover list. Some suggested that people connected to the book had gamed the best-seller list through an organized campaign to bulk buy at stores surveyed by the Times to compile the list.”

After one day of these baseless allegations on Twitter and social media, the bestseller-list editors at the New York Times removed my new novel, “Handbook for Mortals,” from the number-one slot in the “Young Adult” category.  

As most everyone knows, the way goods are sold today is different from how they were sold three years ago, five years ago and ten years ago. That’s true of my sales efforts as well.   

Rather than use traditional means, I chose to promote my book in a city-by-city tour of Wizard World and Comic Con events, which bring together avid fans of comic books, fantasy and tales of horror and the supernatural.  In late August, for example, we were promoting the book at Wizard World Comic Con in Chicago in an effort to win new fans from the throngs of a reported 150,000 attendees.  This in-person approach works:  We have logged pre-orders in Columbus, Detroit, Nashville, Philadelphia, Sacramento, San Antonio and San Diego. By year-end, we will have appeared at a dozen events, and we plan to attend upwards of 40 of these confabs in 2018.  

In order to sell books at these events, I had to have books to sell.  If I had purchased the books directly from my distributor, Itasca Books, they would not count as sales for purposes of the New York Times list. If they were purchased from booksellers — brick and mortar or online — they would count. While I didn’t limit my purchases to only those booksellers involved in the Times list, I did purchase books in bulk from booksellers to resell them later at events.

It’s not unlike music artists selling CDs at their concerts. What I have chosen to do is to build a community of interrelated fans at these 3D, real-time events. This is part of what I believe is an innovative strategy – one that is aimed at building an entire new franchise in the “Hunger Games” and “Game of Thrones” mold, yet without having to give up creative control and a huge cut of the revenue to some synergistic studio giant a la Disney or Fox.  That is why we published the book with the film rights already in place, set to produce the first of up to five “Handbook for Mortals” films that will star, in the lead role, yours truly, alongside my producer and co-star, Thomas Ian Nicholas. If all goes well…

The New York Times bestseller list is one of the most coveted platforms in all of publishing, and most any author would be honored to be included on that list, let alone to be ranked number one. But I honestly believe the steps I took are well within the rules. As I said previously, the sales of my book are real sales to real people. The fact is, bulk sales aren’t unheard of, and the Times has been known to footnote a book entry when bulk sales may have bolstered the total: the paper places a little glyph of a tiny dagger next to the entry, flagging it with a sharp-edged asterisk.  

I believe it was only fair that the Times had done that for “Handbook for Mortals.”

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