In the first (Im)Perfect Verses column, I wanted to approach the question of what it is that truly makes something Indie by juxtaposing the Arcade Fire’s enormous fame with a concept considered to be more underground. In today’s piece, I’d like to complement that by discussing what it is that makes something a success.
Disclaimer: it’s unlikely that the former or even the latter question can be easily answered by anyone, much less by me, but I thought it would still be fun to try.
Since last time we talked music, today we are talking books. As such, I couldn’t think of a better Indie book with which to debate the topic of merit vs. success than Adam Mansbach’s 2011 book: Go the F*ck to Sleep.
A bedtime story for adults, Go the F*ck to Sleep was written by a parent, and for parents, everywhere. Mansbach initially devised the concept as a joke; he mentioned the title one night on Facebook after having spent upwards of two hours putting his daughter to bed. To his surprise, the idea was generally loved and praised by his friends. He quickly set about writing it and found a willing illustrator. Soon after, this unlikely book, in a genre that didn’t even exist prior to its creation, reached #1 on Amazon’s Bestseller list a whole month before its release.
Because Go the F*ck to Sleep had been leaked online unintentionally and It.Went. Viral. The audio version even went on to be narrated by Samuel L. Jackson and that’s just awesome.
But what is it about Mansbach’s book in particular that made it a success?
For one thing, he had the market totally cornered on profane children’s stories meant for adults. For another thing, it was funny, truthful, and touched at issues that most people don’t want to talk about for fear of being thought to be bad parents. The timing was absolutely crucial as well.
The main reason this book was such an enormous hit, however, is that the internet is a weird and wonderful place.
Forgive my hyperbole, but the internet as we know it can literally make or break a career in an instant. It’s a whole universe onto itself wherein bizarrely awesome videos like “The Fox” go from forty thousand to over thirty-seven million views in less than a week.
Therefore, it can definitely make a cute book with a mediocre rhyme scheme reach #1 on Amazon’s Bestseller list pre-release.
Also it was edgy, and edgy always gets noticed online.
I’m not saying I think Mansbach doesn’t deserve the success he’s achieved. In fact, every author who makes in in the publishing world, particularly Indie authors, are deserving of respect. I personally even laughed out loud a few times while reading Go the F*ck to Sleep. Of course, that was probably because I was reading it aloud and I generally don’t swear very much.
What I am saying is that there are thousands of Indie books out there that are twice as worthy of international recognition that just don’t get it. Obviously that’s not Mansbach’s fault, or his problem, and he gets to laugh all the way to the bank while I write this article. But, since I promised to be honest in all my (Im)Perfect posts and it’s completely boring when writers sit on the fence, I will say this: aside from a few laughs borne out of shock and sweet illustrations by the great Ricardo Cortés, Go the F*ck to Sleep is only an average book at best.
There. I said it. Now I want to hear what you think in the comments. Go the F*ck to Sleep: cultural zeitgeist or internet fluke? Drop me a line with your opinions.
It’s been real, it’s been nice, it’s been real nice.