Go the Fuck to Sleep Goes Viral

Go The Fuck to Sleep, the children's book aimed at parents, has become an Internet sensation and reached #1 on Amazon well before its release owing to a leaked copy.

Back on April 26, I posted a quick story, based on a tweet, about a new book aimed at parents of young children called Go The Fuck to Sleep.

It drew a fair number of comments, retweets, and Facebook likes but quickly faded away. But the post has been one of the more popular that I’ve written over the years–far exceeding most substantive posts. It gets steady traffic and has garnered over 5000 “likes” on Facebook.

It turns out that the book itself has gone truly viral. I’ve already seen a full copy of the book, circulated in PDF form via email, and it’s already a Number 1 bestseller months before its scheduled release.  The publisher is responding:

Playing dress up or running around the park, kids can be so darn cute. Until it’s 3 a.m. and they won’t go the (bleep) to sleep.

The F-bomb plea on the mind of every parent at one point or another is the title of a buzz magnet of a book parody written in kid-friendly rhyme. Beware, parents, it’s decidedly unworthy of a bedtime readaloud.

Not yet out, the 32-pager from a tiny Brooklyn publisher has hit No. 1 on Amazon.com and has sold more than 100,000 copies in pre-orders since it surfaced less than a month ago. After bootleg copies leaked, Akashic Books moved up publication from October to June 14, for Father’s Day.

Film rights have already been sold. A British publisher, Canongate, is putting out the book simultaneously with U.S. release, including the former commonwealth countries of Australia, India and South Africa. Publishers in China are interested.

All this for what amounts to a lament put to picture book illustrations (by Ricardo Cortes) at a suggested retail price of $14.

Amusingly, The Bay Citizen reports, the leaked PDF is apparently part of the reason it’s doing so well.

A few weeks ago, The Bay Citizen looked at the furor around a provocatively-titled “children’s book for adults” — the illustrated “Go the Fuck to Sleep,” written by a Bay Area author, Adam Mansbach, currently on the East Coast for two-year stint at Rutgers University. Galleys have not been distributed, so the only form that people have seen the book thus far has been as an emailed document.

It is now at the #1 spot on Amazon’s bestseller list.

The book, now scheduled to hit stores on June 14, began attracting attention with a sudden, mysterious climb up the Amazon list after it had been posted for pre-sale earlier this year. While it’s impossible to calculate the number of emailed documents shared, media outlets such as the New Yorker have begun to speculate that one of the biggest engines of its success has been booksellers and other industry folk circulating the 32-page PDF to the wider world.

This, of course, presents a challenge to Akashic Books, the independent publisher who is seeing unbelievable success with this slim, illustrated book —namely how to stop piracy of its intellectual property while not squashing healthy buzz. The book’s success, while only existing in electronic form, seems fairly unprecedented: already, Fox 2000 has optioned the film rights and Mansbach appears to be poised for a national media tour.

“The copies have been proliferating since this craziness started,” said Ibrahim Ahmad, senior editor at the Brooklyn-based press, “With a PDF, you can make so many duplicates and people have just been forwarding it.”

And Akashic been doing what they can to control distribution of the document by asking people to take down any posted PDFs. This may not be much. “As the publisher of this book, our responsibilty is to tackle instances of piracy when we become aware of them,” Ahmad said, “That’s just doing a service to our authors, ourselves, book sellers, distributors, to everyone involved in the successful making and promotion of a book.”

In an age of e-books, piracy has been a rising concern amongst publishers for a few years, although none of the publishers contacted by The Bay Citizen could recall a PDF of a book going viral in the vein of “Go the Fuck to Sleep.” This volume had a few key properties that enabled its electronic popularity: an undeniable title, a good-looking cover and a short length, making it easy to read, post and pass on. Also, the long lag time between the book’s pre-sale (it was originally scheduled to go on sale in October) and the buzz made online sharing necessary.

The New Yorker‘s Macy Halford psychoanalyzes:

[The buzz] made me wish I were among the lucky booksellers who’d been sent a PDF—knowing I would have to wait for the galley to read the rest was nearly unbearable. I’m struck now by my naïvété: of course (of course!) that PDF had been forwarded by those untrustworthy booksellers to everyone and their brother, which I know because last night, three separate people, none of whom work anywhere near books, e-mailed it to me out of the blue. “Go the Fuck to Sleep” has gone viral, which is only fitting: Mansbach was inspired to write it after posting the idea as a joke on Facebook (he has a daughter, Vivian, who used to take two hours to go to sleep) and getting an enormous positive response from his friends.

The book is super funny, and the art, by Ricardo Cortés, is perversely sweet, so sweet and genuine that it made me cringe. Nothing has driven home a certain truth about my generation, which is approaching the apex of its childbearing years (I’m thirty-one), quite like this deranged book: we are not really adults. Maybe it’s the Wes Andersonification that happened to us in our early twenties (plus also of course the coddling by our own parents, which is still going on, even among my friends who do have children). Whatever the cause, it is definitely the case that, when faced with a kid who refuses to go to sleep, we get annoyed, like all parents before us, but, rather than just abandoning the child to the dark and telling it that it can go to sleep or stay awake as it likes but it is staying in the bed until morning (remember Proust at the opening of “Swann’s Way”?), we sit there with it, reading to it and singing to it and distracting it with swirling night lights until it decides it feels like going to sleep, all the while thinking to ourselves, Go the fuck to sleep, kid.

In this case, it’s a short, illustrated book much like the average volume aimed at small children. Having a copy in PDF might diminish sales to those who were merely curious and were disappointed at the follow-through. Most likely, though, it’s actually helped the book go viral and won’t hurt the desire to have the book any more than having already read–indeed, memorized–Goodnight Moon has on its sales. The sheer novelty of a book called Go The Fuck to Sleep, after all, is most of the appeal.

Indeed, I wouldn’t imagine that distribution of PDF copies would much harm the sales of any printed book. Where it would become damaging would be digital copies of e-books getting out. What would anyone buy a copy for their Kindle or other e-reader if they can get them for free? The same problem, obviously, has long affected digital music and video sales.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    It’s a very well-written and beautifully-illustrated book. I wish I’d come up with the idea — but my wife handles the picture books in our family. I stick to scaring teenagers. We’re both big admirers of the book though.

  2. dutchmarbel says:
  3. John Burgess says:

    I don’t think Akashic Books, in its wildest dreams, would have anticipated huge international sales, movie rights sales, and, frankly, a boost to their own reputation when they bought the book. So far, their response seems to acknowledge that they’re not–and never will be–in control of publicity and total distribution. Yes, go after the most egregious assaults on their bottom line, but otherwise, let things play out. They’re not losing money, only some of the potential money they could make if they could squeeze every drop of blood out of the manuscript.

  4. TG Chicago says:

    I would think many of the people buying this book would plan to give it as a gift to new parents. Thus, the leaked PDF wouldn’t make much (negative) difference. You can’t wrap up a PDF and bring it to a baby shower.

  5. Kimally says: