Monetarily manipulating bestseller lists diminishes the work of less privileged authors and publishers. This destabilizes the literary foundation these lists are built on.
In 2017, an unknown book by an unknown author from an unknown publisher landed at the top of the New York Times Bestseller List. This created ripples in the publishing world as professionals and readers rushed to determine how this could be. The answer was disappointing and the consequences were immediate. The implications reveal hard truths about the publishing industry as a whole.
In their article “YA Twitter versus Handbook for Mortals: A Case in Bestseller List Manipulation, Controversy, and the Effects on Library Acquisition,” authors Liz Holdsworth, Rebekah Fitzsimmons, and Karen Viars present a case study on the New York Times and other bestsellers lists and how they are manipulated to market books to readers.
This article uses research from a variety of on-the-ground sources to offer a window into the world of YA publishing. This research includes library journals, contemporary news articles, history databases, and even Twitter conversations among YA publishing hotshots.
Their case study begins with a book (Handbook for Mortals by Lani Sarem) that mysteriously landed on the New York Times Bestseller list with no fanfare and having gone through none of the traditional routes. Upon further investigation, YA Twitter found that the book had had no beta readers, little marketing, and had been suspiciously ordered to a variety of bookstores by a shady third party. When it was discovered that Sarem had funded the purchase orders of these books and essentially bought her way to the top of the list, her book was removed from the list. The implications were serious, affecting the YA genre and the publishing industry at large.
Because YA books aren’t widely considered literary enough to be included on bestseller lists like the NYT, YA booklists were created to overcome some aspects of the cultural gatekeeping within the publishing world. Even though YA literature is widely read by young people and adults alike, its inclusion on lists that attempt to determine what kind of literature has cultural value is still controversial. By manipulating the booklist through nontraditional channels, authors may undercut the work that is being done to validate these lists and more widely the literary tradition of Young Adult literature.
This article pinpoints some of the important aspects of marketing a book before and after publication. The current events that prompted this research should encourage authors and publishers alike to behave in an ethical manner, regardless of industry standards or possible loopholes.
Authors and editors alike should take the time to research trending books and lists. They should also seek to establish a culture of integrity in their workplaces and publish and market books in a reputable way. Readers can also join with others on social media to advocate for ethical publishing. Everyone’s voice matters and can make a difference in creating a positive culture of integrity in the publishing world.
To learn more about case and its implications read the full article:
Fitzsimmons, Rebekah, Karen Viars, and Liz Holdsworth. 2019. “YA Twitter Versus Handbook for Mortals: A Case Study in Bestseller List Manipulation, Controversy, and the Effects on Library Acquisition.” The Lion and the Unicorn 43 (1) (01): 108-132. doi:https://doi.org/10.1353/uni.2019.0006.
—Sierra Smart, Editing Research
FEATURE IMAGE BY MATHIEU STERN
Find more research
To read more about genres being considered literary, read Reagan Weston’s Editing Research article “Does the Science Fiction Genre Affect Literary Merit?“
You can also learn more about Young Adult Literature by reading the Editing Research article “Why Adults Are Reading YA” by Dylan Parker.