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The public interest that has made Go the F–k to Sleep the most unexpected publishing hit of 2011 continues to be high as the book finally arrived in stores Tuesday. Johnny Temple, the owner and publisher of Akashic Books, the small publisher that has hit gold with the bawdy kids’ book, talked to The Hollywood Reporter about the book’s unexpected rise and the marketing plans going forward.
Originally scheduled for October, Akashic Books rushed the publication date and increased the first printing to more than 275,000 hardcover copies to meet the public interest. The book will debut this week at No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list for advice books. On Tuesday night, more than 400 people paid $15-$25 a ticket to attend a launch event at the New York Public Library that featured a recorded reading by German director Werner Herzog (which one attendee called both scary and hilarious). The audiobook version with Samuel L. Jackson narrating has already become an Internet sensation. Jackson will do a live reading of an excerpt on Thursday’s Late Show With David Letterman.
Exactly one year ago, Go the F–k to Sleep started as a joking Facebook post by author Adam Mansbach when he could not get his daughter to fall asleep. His friends loved the fake title so much he decided to turn it into a real nursery rhyme-style book with illustrations by his friend Ricardo Cortes. Instead of traditional galleys, Akashic sent a PDF of the book to independent bookstores in February. The PDF went viral, passed from knowing parent to knowing parent, and propelling the book to No. 1 on Amazon’s bestseller list seven months before publication. Akashic’s Temple said, “In the beginning we were very worried” about the PDF undermining sales but “we quickly stopped worrying … because it feels to all of us that we are gaining more sales than we are losing. It’s a gift book. No one is going to print out the PDF and give it as a present.”
Temple discussed the plans for the book going forward. First up is a G-rated “completely kid-friendly” version of the story due in the fall or perhaps early spring. Akashic has also partnered with digital publishing upstart Open Road to produce both a standard e-book (available now) and an enhanced e-book (available for the holidays). Open Road has yet to detail exactly what the enhanced version will look like. Temple said readers should expect other editions and permutations of the book in the future but he declined to be specific about details.
Akashic called Go the F–k to Sleep a worldwide hit and said numerous foreign editions are in the works, with 15 deals completed and another four in the works. Temple said: “Some of these places are a bit socially conservative. Go the F–k to Sleep is so very American in its colloquialism and its bluntness” that it has been interesting to see the offers come in from a country like Turkey. Temple also pointed to strong interest in Asia, where Japan, Korea and, most surprising to him, China had all licensed the book.
Akashic is also exploring merchandising. Temple said the company had received many offers but was proceeding carefully. “It’s a strategy question to be answered about what direction we want to move in and more importantly what direction we don’t want to move in.” He added that Akashic did not want to “sour” parents by flooding the market with cheap T-shirts.
He stressed that the key was to remain “parent-centric.” While he likes the idea of doing more celebrity readings, Akashic was also exploring setting up a website where parents could do their own readings and share their own stories and bedtime strategies, but he emphasized that the company “had not yet laid down a systematic plan.” His goal was for the marketing to remain “authentic” to the book’s grass-roots popularity. “The explosion of interest has been totally organic, and it’s been an authentic response to the book by parents so a lot of our marketing is based around parents and trying to encourage the parental interest while not being to intrusive.”
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