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Expletive-laced kids book parody is unlikely hit

(Warning: Use of strong language in paragraphs 1, 5, 11, 12)

By Mark Egan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Adam Mansbach has had three novels and a book of poems published but it was a brief Facebook update wishing his two-year-old daughter would "Go the F--- to Sleep" which helped him hit publishing gold.

Now a year later, the resulting parody of a children's book may be the unlikeliest hit book of the summer.

Ahead of U.S. publication on Tuesday, the expletive-laced book of rhyming verse has advance sales of over 100,000 copies and is in its fifth printing, which takes copies in print to over 400,000.

The movie rights have been bought by Fox 2000.

"After a particularly difficult time putting my two-year-old daughter Vivien to bed, I posted on Facebook ... 'Be on the lookout for my forthcoming children's book, Go the F--- to Sleep,'" Mansbach recalls of the unlikely night which changed his professional life. "It was a joke. It was not a book I had any intention of writing at the time."

Mansbach got a good response and in the coming weeks retold his joke again and again, winning positive reactions from fellow bleary-eyed parents who urged him to write the book.

Eventually he did, aiming to voice the love a parent has for a child while capturing the inner frustration of a parent who, however loving, also hears a darker inner narrative as the task of bedtime drags on and on.

Among the verses are:

"The eagles who soar though the sky are at rest

And the creatures who crawl, run, and creep.

I know you're not thirsty. That's bullsh--. Stop lying.

Lie the f--- down, my darling, and sleep."

Mansbach asked his friend Ricardo Cortes to do illustrations to show a publisher what the book might look like. The pair sold it to Akashic Books, whose publisher Johnny Temple is another friend, and agreed on an October release.

VIRAL HIT

But an electronic PDF reproduction of the book leaked. As advance orders piled up and the PDF went viral online, Akashic pushed publishing up to June and started fielding calls from big publishing houses who wanted in on the action. Eventually, Mansbach said, he turned down an advance of more than $1 million from one large publisher.

"I believe in independent publishers," he said, noting he and his publisher have a profit-sharing deal. "Also, if we sell as many books as all the big publishers say we will, then I will make much more money this way."

So, is it safe to assume his latest book has made more money than all of Mansbach's literary output to date?

"That is not only a safe assumption but ironclad," Mansbach said. "It is a weird thing, but I am not going to complain about any kind of success. It is an incredibly hard time to make a living as a writer, so I am lucky."

Mansbach said the book appeals to parents and anyone connected to them who empathize with their sleep deprivation.

Now three, Vivien goes to sleep more easily. And, Mansbach says, he is not overly concerned what she might think of being the muse for such an odd book when she is old enough to read it.

"The book is written with a lot of tenderness and affection and love and I think that will come through to her," he said, noting the book has a dual narrative -- the tender, loving parent's actions and the darker thoughts.

At any rate, he's not too worried what she thinks about it, "Especially since this book may well be the reason that we are living in a house and not under a bridge."

Next up for Mansbach, who teaches fiction writing at Rutgers University, is a graphic novel "Nature of the Beast" which will be published later this year and a new novel "Rage is Back," which he hopes to sell in the coming weeks.

(Reporting by Mark Egan, editing by Michelle Nichols and David Storey)

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