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How Today’s Number One Book on Amazon Started as a Dad’s Lament on Facebook

Book Cover of 'Go the F*** to Sleep'

Getting a child to go to sleep can be one of the most maddening tasks a parent faces, which is why this image from Facebook struck all the right nerves on my funny bone this morning.

(Warning: Clicking some of the links below will subject you to reading a dirty word that begins with the letter "F." You've been warned.")

When Adam Mansbach, author of “Angry Black White Boy” and “The End of the Jews,” posted on Facebook in June 2010 to “Look out for my forthcoming children’s book, ‘Go the F*** to Sleep,’ ” he was not serious. He was just tired. His then-2-year-old daughter refused to acknowledge bedtime. (I can relate. My 22-month-old daughter is learning the fine art of diversion to stay up past her bedtime.)

He drafted some sample verses, such as this:

The tiger reclines in the simmering jungle. The sparrow has silenced her cheep. F*** your stuffed bear, I’m not getting you s***. Close your eyes. Cut the crap. Sleep.

Friends were thrilled with Mansbach's idea, so he enlisted an illustrator and an independent publisher to make the whim a reality. It was scheduled to go on sale in October of this year. "And then," reported The New York Times April 28, "seemingly out of nowhere, the book went viral."

As of Thursday afternoon, May 12, it's number one on Amazon.

Why? And how can the phenomenon help us better understand the nature of social media, public relations, and publishing? The Times noted:

Neither Mr. Mansbach nor his publisher can account for this phenomenon. Galleys have not been distributed, so the only people who have seen the work are a handful of booksellers who received a PDF via e-mail a few weeks ago.

Well, that PDF (NSFW) made all the difference. It was the entire book. And, despite the author's attempts to remove it from Facebook, it spread like mad. The book did not include a link to the book's Facebook page or author's Twitter page. The author's official book page includes links to sellers, but none of the sharing in social media sites initially did.

It wasn't until the weblog Boing Boing, whose multiple authors promote their own writing with free sample, linked to Amazon and called it "Beautiful, subversive, and pants-wettingly funny" and "a perfect gift for parents new, old, or expectant."

The New Yorker tracked down the original bookseller who leaked the PDF and was told, “My wife, like, got it from this guy she works with, who, like, got it from his wife, who went to school with this dude who works at [REDACTED].”

Mansbach has since relented after dozens of Facebook fans posted messages on his personal wall and book page exhorting him to let the PDF free. They pre-ordered the book because they were able to read it. The cover doesn't do it justice. A few even submitted unsolicited titles for follow-up books. ("Eat Your F***ing Food" was a popular request.)

Macy Halford, who wrote The New Yorker piece, noted that the bootlegged PDF would probably help rather than hurt sales:

After seeing the PDF, I went online and preordered a bunch to give my pregnant friends. They’re going to need it.

Picture of the author's daughter pouting.

Unfortunately, I know it all too well.

Meanwhile, I also pre-ordered "Go the F*** to Sleep" and eagerly wait to learn how much sooner the publisher will be releasing it now that it's skyrocketed to number one. Authors may bemoan file sharing. Publishers may struggle with new media. But people love to share what they love, and getting in their way does nothing but slow down sales.