Ya’ll, I have been a part of the online fandom community for close to twenty years and believe me when I say I have seen some shit. I have seen scammers, plagiarists, sockepuppet masters, and everything in-between. Yet, when I tackled the Lani Sarem saga, I was deluded enough to think I was ready. Chile, I wasn’t ready! I’m still haven’t recovered from this NEVER ENDING rabbit hole that was filled to the fucking brim of washed up celebrities, white mediocrity, racism, and an ego that only Donald J. Trump could be proud of.
It’s been two years since the twitter scandal that hit the book community like a tidal wave and this tea is STILL SUPER REVELANT! I want to especially thank Valerie Complex (@ValerieComplex), Furry Tim Allen (@ASheepdogsBlog), cranMary Sauce (@knoxdiver), Lydia (@Librarylydia) who interviewed this clown in person, and most importantly Kayleigh Donaldson from Pajiba and Jenny Trout for covering this rolling dumpster fire and reading the book of said rolling dumpster fire in it’s entirely. Without them, I would have never known about this mess because I wasn’t really apart of book twitter at the time.
However, the research I did for this post was so intensive that I knew I couldn’t talk about everything in a simple post. They are too many details to simply leave on the cutting room floor. So, I had to make the hard decision to split this tea up in two posts.
Buckle up, grab some tea or that bottle of wine you have been saving for a rainy day and settle back to read the long and dirty saga of The New York Times Scammer: Lani Sarem.
Who is Lani Sarem?
Lani Sarem grew up in entrenched in the entertainment industry. Her cousin JC Chasez is a former NSYNC member that has had a little bit of solo success both as a singer and on Broadway but he has been mostly lingering on the fringes of the B-list. Now Lani herself, was never as famous as her cousin. Lani has been writing scripts since she was eleven and acting since she was three years old. Yet, Lani’s only real successes were starring in one of SYFY’s brand of ridiculous movies ‘Trailer Park Shark’, uncredited roles in Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 (Hotel Guest), Jason Bourne (Conventioneer) and little guest barely speaking roles on Angel, CSI, and Las Vegas.
Eventually, Lani found her way into the music business. Turns out, she wasn’t half bad at it and actually had some success. Now, I’m not saying Lani used her cousin’s connections to get her in the music industry but I wouldn’t be surprised if she did. And in the entertainment industry, nepotism has gotten more than one mediocre nobody’s foot in the door.
Anyway, according to Lani she worked the music festival scene which eventually lead her to managing bands such as Blues Traveler and The Plain White T’s and toured with the likes of Ryan Adams and Gnarls Barkley.
The Origins of the Handbook for Mortals.
The publishing industry and Hollywood has always had a symbiotic relationship. Since the very first book to film adaption of Cinderella (1899), filmmakers have always used books as easy and profitable way to create newish content. The usual process for this is that an author, or its publisher will get offers from a studio or filmmaker to get exclusive rights to create a film adaption. Sometimes there are bidding wars from major studios but the whole point of this is to make it clear that the book will always come before the screenplay.
Lani Sarem who had a very tentative foot in Hollywood and had some experience in screenwriting (none of her screenplays ever sold) and decided that she would attempt to streamline the process.
It starts with Skye Turner, the author of the romance series ‘The Bayou Six’ about a famous Rock Band of that same name. Lani and Turner met because Turner was a Twilight fan and started a Twilight Facebook page and since Lani was managing Jackson Rathbone’s band ‘100 Monkeys’ they became fast friends.
Anyway, fast-forward to some under determined time later, Lani writes a screenplay and as a favor for her betaing latest installment of ‘The Bayou Stix’ asks for her friend to give her some feedback on her screenplay. I mean if you are going to write a book about Rock Stars who better to beta than someone deeply entrenched in that scene? Anyway, it blew Turner away. She gushed to Lani how awesome her screenplay was. I took the following from the foreword Skye Turner wrote for ‘The Handbook for Mortals’.
“I told Lani that I enjoyed this book far more than other books of the genre that have exploded. That wasn’t idle talk or a friend telling another friend something nice so as not to hurt their feelings. It was real and it was honest.”
Then Lani gets the idea, “Hey, why don’t I turn my screenplay into a book.” Book adaptions make big money (Fifty Shades of Grey, Jaws, The Lord of the Rings, James Bond etc.). The list goes on forever! So, Lani thought, “Hey why not skip the middleman. I can write a successful book and instead of hiring a screenwriter I can just hand them my readymade adaption). Because J. K. Rowling didn’t show us all that most authors can’t easily transition to screenwriting.
All of this almost seems irrelevant amidst Sarem’s repeated, “All I wanted to do was make a movie.” There was a certain naïve appeal to her desire to write the book alongside the movie. She cited common disappointments with book-to-film adaptations: the story changes because a different writer is in charge of the script version, the book and the movie don’t match, and the actors look different than the author wanted them to be imagined. — Lani Sarem at AWCon 18: I Remain Unconvinced by Amanda J. Surowitz
That screenplay turned into the book, ‘The Handbook for Mortal’s’. With a passion to get her movie to film adaption made a reality.
Geek Nation and American Pie
To get the full context of this situation, you need to know about Geek Nation is that is a geek entertainment hub that produced videos, podcasts, articles, and everything in-between. It was co-founded by Claire Kramer who is most notable for being Glory on the TV show ‘Buffy: The Vampire Slayer’ and her husband Producer husband Brian Keathley.
Anyway, for some reason I can’t define, they decided to open a publishing branch of their business with Lani Sarem as their flagship book. They have yet as of the writing of this post published any other book since.
“This is something we’ve had our sights on for quite a while, looking for the perfect product to lead with,” Kramer says. “As a woman, I think it’s important to support female-based projects but also to open ourselves up to new stories we’ve yet to hear and to follow new interesting characters to fall in love with.” — The Hollywood Reporter
It was made clear from the very beginning that ‘The Handbook for Mortals’ would immediately be adapted into a movie and produced by Thomas Ian Nicholas who ya’ll will immediately recognize from his portrayal of Kevin in the ‘American Pie’ movies.
According to Lani, she had been promoting this book through the comic convention circuit previous to her signed on to Geek Nation. I honestly don’t have idea of how or when Lani became a part of the convention circuit. I have yet to find anything to clarify how she went being a music manager to diving into the geek communities.
Anyway, all I can say is that you can best damn assured that no one in the book community was prepared for the bombshell that was ‘The Handbook for Mortals’ dropping on the top of ‘The New York Times Best Seller’s List’, least of all Angie Thomas a black author which ‘Handbook for Mortals’ dethroned her critically acclaimed young adult novel, ‘The Hate U Give.‘
The Hate U Give
Before I discuss ‘The Hate U Give’, I want to make a few things clear: I have never read this book, and I only heard of it when it was announced Amandla Stenberg, (The Hunger Games, Sleepy Hollow) would play the lead character of Starr Carter.
I will also be honest about why I haven’t read this book since it is a black book. With my fiction reading, I read fully for escapism. I am a queer black non-binary pagan person living in the bible belt. I live with the fear and the trauma that comes with being all of those things every day. I feel that I personally shouldn’t have to further traumatize myself in the very little free time I have left.
Books like ‘The Hate U Give’ is an educational tool for non-black people, in particular white people. It gives you a perspective of how it is to be black in America and the fear and trauma we face every day.
Now, that with that out of the way, Angie Thomas wrote the hate you give as a response to tragic shooting of 22-year-old black man Oscar Grant that was murdered by BART police Officer Mehserle in Oakland.
Angie Thomas wrote ‘The Hate U Give’ as a short story when she was in her senior year of college. According to Angie Thomas she was not expecting that her book would be so well received. In fact, the book was so damn popular that publishers were having a bidding war over it.
In the end, the rights to that book was bought by HarperCollins’ imprint Balzer + Bray and was developed into a full-length novel. The moment this book dropped, it immediately went to the top of the ‘New York Times Best Selling List’ and it stayed there for EIGHTY WEEKS.
Oh and don’t me forget the very well deserved awards that this book won. According to Wikipedia:
The book was recognized in 2018 by the American Library Association with the William C. Morris Award for best debut book for teens, the Coretta Scott King Award for the best novel by an African-American author for children, and was an honor book for the Michael L. Printz Award for best novel for teens. The novel also won the overall Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and American Bookseller’s Association Indie Award for Best Young Adult Novel. The Hate U Give was named to the National Book Awards longlist for young adult literature, was nominated for the 2018 Carnegie Medal, and won the 2018 Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis in the “young adult jury” section.
With all this context, you can see why everybody and their mama was like: “The Handbooks for Mortals” who? Lani Sarem, what?” And as suspicions started to grow, people started to dig, and well with someone like Lani Sarem you didn’t have to dig far to find pay dirt.
It all started with Phil Stamper, Author of a young adult novel, ‘The Gravity of Us’. He took one look at ‘The Handbook for Mortals’ which again nobody knew anything about. Now, Lani has said that she was promoting it but apparently her publisher knew as little about book marketing as Lani because nobody in the tight-knit YA book community didn’t know a goddamn thing about this book when it snuck up and shoved ‘The Hate U Give’ off the top ‘The New York Times’s Best Sellers List’ after being there for 25 conclusive weeks at that time.
I find it… strange that a mediocre website can decide it wants to be a publisher, and one month later hit #1 on the NYT Bestsellers list. pic.twitter.com/RS1UoWl6H4
— Phil Stamper 🚀🏳️🌈 (@stampepk) August 24, 2017
Next person to get suspicious was writer Erik J. Brown these terrible books shoved award winning and critically acclaimed ‘The Hate U Give’ off the NYT best seller’s list?
And the thing is? The book is fucking terrible. Jenny Trout has a singular passion for giving the worst books the dragging they so rightfully deserve. And just like her ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ reviews, Jenny held nothing back and the review? Chile, that shit was S C A T H I N G. Two years later and Lani probably still feel that burn.
Now you can’t take both mine and Jenny’s word for it. For a bestselling book, Lani an average rating of 1.22 stars on Goodreads and 2.9 average rating on Amazon. I originally pointed it out that according to Fakespot a website that points out a lot of the reviews were shady AF. According to Kayleigh Donaldson from Pajiba, Erik J. Brown also stated that that many of the initial 5 star reviews for ‘The Handbook for Mortals’ were duplicates.
And then things get even more shady when people called around and that ‘The Handbook for Mortals’ were temporary out of stock, and at the time Lani Sarem only had 9 reviews on Goodreads that were again all 5 stars.
Then one day, Phil Stamper did some sleuthing worthy of Sherlock Holmes and then all hell really broke loose.