How do you follow up a giant fucking phenomenon? If you’re Adam Mansbach, author of the 2011 New York Times #1 bestselling children’s book parody Go the Fuck to Sleep, you do your best to keep your head down and tune out the buzz—even if it continues to surround you.
Before Akashic Books released Go the Fuck To Sleep in 2011, Mansbach and illustrator Ricardo Cortés became internet sensations when a PDF of the book–a spot-on satire of rhyming children’s books as seen through the eyes of one very tired, very frustrated parent–was disseminated widely online. Massive pre-orders for the book followed, then serious Web and magazine appraisals of What It All Meant, followed by even more sales. When Samuel L. Jackson recorded an audio version, relishing every verse with his Jedi Master F-bombs, it went from hit book to bona fide pop culture sensation. (A chilly Teutonic reading by Werner Herzog and a sanitized kid-friendly version of the book helped, too.)
“It’s fun and kind of insane and more than a little bit exhausting,” Mansbach told Co.Create by phone from Berkeley, CA, where he lives with his family. “I probably did eight hours of interviews a day for a good eight months.”
Mansbach is now out promoting Rage Is Back, a hip-hop inflected novel about New York City graffiti artists. To promote it, Mansbach has been working with producer J.Period and some of New York hip-hop’s leading lights including Common and The Roots’ Black Thought to create a Rage is Back mixtape, posted one track at a time on sites like Okayplayer and Billboard.
While Mansbach wrote Rage before Go the Fuck went supernova, he still has to contend with the success of what he calls his “14 stanza obscene fake children’s book.” Here, he shares some tips with Co.Create for not resting on your fucking laurels.
One decision was to not be the guy who beats the idea into the ground by doing Go the Fuck to Sleep 2 and Eat Your Fucking Vegetables. Hitting the Zeitgeist with that kind of force, whether it makes sense or not, gives everyone the thought that you will do it again. What it did was open a lot of doors to me, a lot of lanes, that I was already positioning myself to be in. The goal has been not to get pigeonholed. I like working in different genres. I’m gonna try to be entertaining and funny and do my usual thing.
The stakes for literary fiction are so low. In the aftermath of Go the Fuck to Sleep, managing expectations is important.
Trying to conceive of what to do next after something like [Go the Fuck] involves carving out enough time to think. When I’m writing, I’m in an isolation chamber. I’m not one to think about that outside world stuff when I’m writing.
I’m not just gonna sell my next four books, but [dictate] how they get marketed and what they look like. I’m in a position right now where if you’re my publisher, you have to listen to me on this shit. The thing about Go the Fuck to Sleep was that it was totally organic. Had we intentionally leaked it, people would have figured that out and it would’ve been a whole other scenario.
As a writer, I’ve always been somebody who’s been productive and hustled hard. I still feel like I’m on the grind in a good sense. I’m still hungry. There’s a lot I want to do out here. I’m very aware of striking while the iron is hot, taking advantage of the opportunities. If I have a brand–and I feel like a schmuck saying “brand”–it’s as someone who will surprise you and give you something you don’t expect, with the same bravado of Go the Fuck to Sleep. [Rage] relies on the same kind of radical honesty and paradox. Being able to slap “New York Times #1 Bestseller” on the front of a book is a great thing to do, even if it’s a 14 stanza obscene fake children’s book.
This interview has been condensed and edited.