The Mysterious Bounce of
‘The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep’
How did a self-published picture book
become an international sensation?
It’s been quite a week (or two) for Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin. The author of a heretofore unknown Swedish pic- ture book, which mysteriously shot to the top of Amazon’s U.K. print bestseller list on August 13, now has a bona
fide hit on his hands. The question that remains, though, is how
Forssen Ehrlin’s 28-page book, The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall
Asleep, became, literally, an overnight success.
Forssen Ehrlin self-published through Amazon’s CreateSpace,
releasing an English-language edition of the book in the U.S.
in April 2014. Rabbit’s quick rise to international attention
seems to have been sparked by an August 14 article in the U.K.
newspaper the Daily Mail. The article credited the book’s success to Forssen Ehrlin’s claim that the title could ease parents’
bedtime routine; its headline referred to the “book that’ll send
your kids to sleep.” The Mail article also noted that Rabbit had
accomplished a remarkable feat, becoming the first self-published book to hit #1 on Amazon’s U.K. print list.
The Mail article then begot other coverage, with stories
about Rabbit following in Forbes, the Guardian, PW, and NPR,
among others. Fewer than seven days after the Mail story,
with sales of the book skyrocketing, Forssen Ehrlin signed
with the Salomonsson Agency, the powerful Swedish literary
agency that represents such authors as Jo Nesbø. By the end
of last week, PW learned that Random House paid seven
figures for world English rights to Rabbit and two sequels.
(At press time, no one at Random House would confirm the
There’s little question that the press attention the book has
received—much of it seizing on the fact that the author self-published, and questioning whether the book really is the literary equivalent of pediatric Ambien—drove recent sales. In
the U.S., Nielsen BookScan, which captures roughly 80%–85%
of print sales, reported that Rabbit had sold 24 copies in the
week ended August 16. By the following week, ended August
23, the title had sold more 29,000 copies. (Prior to August 23,
BookScan shows the book sold roughly 300 copies in the U.S.)
In the U.K., print sales of the book picked up earlier, but
show a similar trajectory. According to BookScan (which also
tracks sales in England), the title had sold 1,150 copies in the
June14 June21 June28 July5 July12 July19 July26 Aug. 2 Aug. 9 Aug. 16 Aug. 23
week ended August 8. By the end of the following week, on
August 15, BookScan reported that Rabbit had sold 4,119
copies. Ben Spencer, a medical journalist with one of the bylines
on the Daily Mail story about the book, told PW a source tipped
him off to the fact that a self-published book was perched at the
top of the Amazon list.
Rabbit’s rapid rise, on Amazon’s U.K. list—without seemingly
any major marketing effort—has led to speculation that sales of
the title may have been manipulated. (So-called manipulation of
bestseller lists is something that authors and industry members
are aware of, but there are few documented instances of the practice being successful on a large scale. Nonetheless it is possible
for someone who is willing to buy a large number of copies of a
title over a short period to drive a book up a bestseller list, espe-
Unit Sales for ‘The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall
Asleep,’ June 14 –August 23