Go The Fuck To Sleep, the children’s-themed book for grownups saw viral success months before the intended publishing date. Parents and childless folk alike tweeted and Facebooked the images of children sleeping admits tigers and beds, the frustration of the parent penned in phrases like “The tiger has reclines in the simmering jungle. The sparrows has silenced her cheep. Fuck your stuffed bear, I’m not getting you shit. Close your eyes. Cut the crap. Sleep.”
The colorful narrative of a parent at their wit’s end coupled with conventional bedtime images has struck a cord with people everywhere, as The Los Angeles Times described Go The Fuck To Sleep as “a popular book for bleary-eyed adults.” Samuel L. Jackson has narrated the audiobook and the premise is on the fast track to becoming a film. Whatever your take on the language, Go The Fuck To Sleep has tapped into the universal parental problem of getting kids to bed and keeping them there.
The book’s author, Adam Mansbach, and illustrator, Ricardo Cortés, were in New York City yesterday for a talk at The New York Public Library. I popped over to chat with the creators of this runaway success about the origins of the book, why they initially were not in favor of the viral reaction, and why parents seem to love it so much.
How did the idea for the book come about?
Mansbach: It came about as a result of my struggles to put my daughter to bed on a nightly basis. And then at some point I put up a joking Facebook post about the fact that I was going to write a book called Go The Fuck To Sleep.
Social media played a huge role in the promotion of this book. Was the online viral marketing campaign intended?
Cortés: No, at first when the link started going viral our greatest fear was that there was a PDF of the book that would get out that would be the actual whole book. Within a week or two, that’s exactly what happened. At first we tried to stop it by sending cease and desist notices but eventually we figured that it was going faster than we could ever stop it and in fact, it started pushing the sales up of the book.
Mansbach: Clearly none of the piracy was malicious. It was people who loved the book and were were really excited to share the book and who felt that they had a big part in the book’s success. In the early days, I was getting in touch with people directly. If I saw enough people linking directly to the online version of the book, I would email random women in Australia and say “Listen, I’d really appreciate it if you took your entire Facebook album of my book down.” The responses would be like, “I’ll do that if you want. But you should know that almost 300 people have asked me where can they can buy the book and I’m telling them all to go to Amazon.” So eventually, we gave up trying to chase it off the internet. We’re lucky that it’s such a beautiful book that people want to own it and that low resolution images aren’t enough to dissuade people.
The publishing date was in fact pushed forward because of the book’s viral success on the internet, right?
Cortés: Yeah, it was originally supposed to come out in October and we were able to move the printing date up to close to Father’s Day.
I understand the UK rights were acquired as well. Is Go The Fuck To Sleep doing well over the pond as well?
Mansbach: I think when it went viral it sort of rickshawed everywhere. The internet is the internet I guess. I think they’re actually less upright about curse words than we are, but also it’s sold well in China, Korea, Russia, Brazil, Germany, Denmark. There doesn’t seem to be any cultural barrier to this premise.
Why do you think Go The Fuck To Sleep has seen so much cultural resonance?
Cortés: From what I gather, it’s kind of a coming out of sorts of parents saying that they have these frustrations too and realizing that they’re not the only person who is up at three o’clock in the morning ready to strangle their child — and it doesn’t make them a bad parent. The book legitimizes how parents are feeling. There has even been a community that has come out surrounding this book that gathers on the Facebook page. They write posts supporting one another.
Mansbach: I got a really sweet email from a woman who told me that it was so much easier for her to put her kids to bed now knowing that there are millions of parents who are also trying and the same thoughts are going through their minds. She can think of the book and laugh about it while it’s happening. There is something cathartic about the book — a way in which this frustration has gone unspoken. And there has been a permission that has been granted to admit that you’re frustrated without it implying that you’re a bad parent.
I understand that the film right have been purchased. What can you tell me about that?
Adam: They have been bought by Fox 2000 which is a division of Fox. They recently did Water for Elephants. It’s being produced by Three Arts Entertainment. There is a writer and director attached but I can’t tell you who yet. It’s live action. They’re hoping to start shooting in January 2012.
Ricardo, this is hardly your first children’s book. You’ve illustrated others that are also somewhat controversial, correct?
Cortés: I illustrate children’s books that are pretty provocative. I did a book on marijuana – a young girl finds out that her parents smoke weed and it explains what marijuana is. I did a book about terrorism and xenophobia and basically how people who look other than you are not necessarily dangerous.
Mansbach: All of them are great. Ricardo and I are old friends but one of the reasons I wanted him for this is because I knew Ricardo would kill this. Ricardo’s other kids books are for children and deal with adult issues but in a way that I would read those books to my kid. I wouldn’t read Go The Fuck To Sleep to my daughter.
So how did you get connected to this project, Ricardo?
Cortés: Adam and I have known each other for years. We grew up together. We have been familiar with one another’s work and so basically Adam came up with this idea and sent it to me and I thought it was amazing. There were glimpses that I saw and immediately understood it to be a hit. I don’t think I thought it would be this much of a hit, but still it showed promise. I gave him two or three illustrations and made a little mock up and then we sent it to Johnny Temple at Akashic Books. We both had a previous relationship with him and Adam had worked with him before. It was a really intimate process of just the three of us putting this together over a couple of months without any big, super creative direction from a big house.
I imagine that in putting together a book like this that is not for children and has swear words you would have to consider a very specific aesthetic to off-set the language.
Cortés: If anything, this was the most children’s book-like illustrations that I’ve done because the idea was just to do a classic children’s books. Adam already nailed the writing. I didn’t have to catch up to that. I was just going to provide the perfect and somewhat imperceptible background to this book. We just had fun coming up with the cutest things that we could think of.