I wanted to hate it.
I wanted it to only be a stupid gimmick.
But, I don't and it's not. Adam Mansbach and Ricardo Cortes's "Go the Fuck to Sleep" is already a massive hit, achieving the #1 spot on Amazon before it was even released and currently residing at #1 on the NYT's Bestseller List.
This is great! Authors like me shouldn't be jealous, we should pay attention and learn a few things.
"Go the Fuck to Sleep" was released by a small Brooklyn publisher and has become a hit because it deserves to be one.
In fact, more than any other recent book, the success of "Go the Fuck to Sleep" can teach us the five important lessons for the future of books.
1. HIGH CONCEPT
The "Fuck" in the title cheaply draws you in, sure. The idea of an adult children's book quickly intrigues you. Curse-titled books and children's book spoofs have existed before, but there haven't been too many. Being high concept isn't about being the first of its kind. It's about being easily describable. You hear "Go the Fuck to Sleep" and go, "Ah...I get it."
(Likewise, I wanted you to hear "How to Fail: The Self-Hurt Guide," the world's first self-hurt guide, the opposite of a self-help guide, and also immediately "get it.")
2. FEW WORDS
I seriously do not snark when I say that.
People do not read any more. And by that, I mean they don't read long things any more. You know it, and I know it. You've probably already started skipping ahead in this blog post--which I'm guessing, actually will end up having more total words in it than "Go the Fuck to Sleep."
Nowadays a writer needs to quickly entertain, and then get the fuck out. "Go the Fuck to Sleep" does that.
If you keep something to a minimal amount of words, everyone can enjoy it and everyone is willing to give it a try. If not, you've already lost.
There surely must be a formula that can predict for every 1000 words added how much in percentage your potential audience decreases. It's larger than you'd think. Shit, by the time you get to the 1000 pages category, perhaps only 1% of people in the world will even dare attempt your book.
Do you really want to cut your potential audience (customers) so dramatically just because you "need" that much content?
(With "How to Fail" I tried to write it in a way so that each chapter and footchapter were short enough, and insular enough, to enjoy on a quick subway ride or during a 10 minute break while waiting for a friend.)
3. EASY TO DISCUSS
One of the toughest things about books is that they aren't as easily spreadable as other media. When you finish a great book, how do you LIKE it or Tweet it, without physically typing "u shuld really read this book" into Twitter or on Facebook? How do you "share" it without, uh, walking up to a friend and literally putting it in his hand? How do you quickly tell a friend to read Jonathan Franzen or Jennifer Egan's new book. "Uh...you should read this. It's good."
That's about the best you can do.
But a high-concept, short work like "Go the Fuck to Sleep" is easy spreadable. Almost like an epic poem. Shit, I could nearly recite the entire book to you from memory (in fact, my friend Jenn was telling me about another iconic children's book a few months ago, which she did by reciting from memory the entire thing. I was sold!).
It also doesn't hurt that "Go the Fuck to Sleep" is available in other media that are far more spreadable (more on this in a second.) And, interestingly, "Go the Fuck to Sleep" started as a Facebook post!
4. A KEEPSAKE WANTED
It seems that everyone in the world had already read (via piracy) or heard (via Sam Jackson's unsurprisingly brilliant audio-recording here) "Go the Fuck to Sleep" in its entirety before the book had even been released this week. And, now, any one could easily walk into Barnes & Noble and read the book in about three minutes while standing up. Yet it still hit #1 on Amazon in preorders.
It doesn't matter. This is still a book that people want to OWN. It's a great gift. Perfect for a baby shower, new parents, as a gag. It's a funny thing to have around the house to show to guests. Or, to save to give to your own annoying baby once he or she grows up. The same isn't true for most other books, though Seth Godin is releasing limited deluxe editions for the Domino Project and I believe McSweeney's also does a brilliant job of making physical books that people want to actually own. Curiously, "Go the Fuck to Sleep" is selling pretty well on Kindle--though not as well--currently nestled at #12.
5. "LIVE MUSIC"
I've often wondered what is going to be the "live music" for authors in the future? When people quit buying CDs, musicians were forced to change their revenue making abilities and focus more on live shows which, of course, can't really be pirated (you can't just search for a free Lady Gaga torrent and then magically have her standing in front of you in your living room--though don't we wish!). But what about authors? What's the "live music" for us?
"Go the Fuck to Sleep" has solved this brilliantly by creating a work that demands live performance, and by wacky celebrities such as Werner Herzog no less. People actually paid $15-25 the other night to hear the legendary director read a book that they could have bought for cheaper than that!
(And here's where I've utterly failed. I haven't made a lot of "live music." Though I do have a fun speaking gig next week.)
BONUS: CHILDREN INVOLVED!
You release a new book, announce it on your Twitter feed, and get a few LIKES and some stray comments. Your old buddy from high school status updates about their child finally taking a shit in an adult toilet and the internet nearly blows up. I tried to shamelessly integrate kids into my marketing campaign, but it was phony so it didn't work.
I didn't have a children's book. Mansbach and Cortes do. Perfect. Boom:
One final thing...all of this shit would be negated if "Go the Fuck to Sleep" wasn't actually a clever, brilliant, and well-written work. It truly is. I dare you to listen to the Sam Jackson audiobook and not laugh at least once. You will. It's very funny. It's very catchy. It'll be stuck in your head for the rest of the day like a bad 80's pop song.
And that's how you create a book that rocks the zeitgeist and makes you a very rich man.