What Was the Best-selling Crime Novel of the 19th Century?

The author couldn’t sell his first book to a publisher, so self-published, selling 5000 copies in the first week

Bourke Street Melbourne, late nineteenth century
Image from Amazon

What lessons can you learn from this bestseller?

Write to market

Fergus Hume failed to sell his plays, so asked the local bookseller which books sold best. He replied the detective novels of Emile Gaboriau, and so Hume studied them in order to write his own. He set The Mystery of a Hansom Cab where he lived in Melbourne.

Study the books that sell well to write your own.

Expect rejection

No publisher would look at Hume’s book. So he published it himself.

Don’t let rejection stop you.

Going viral

The book sold 5 000 copies in the first week, 20 000 in the first three months. 

Hume then sold his copyright to a publishing company for a mere 50 pounds.

Retain your copyright.

Being prolific

Hume then went on to write 130 further novels, though none were are popular as his first.

One book does not make a career.

Bad reviews

The book was not adored by everyone.

One of the weakest tales I have read, simply sold by puffing. 

Arthur Conan Doyle

No matter how successful, not everyone will like your book.

My bookclub

This is this month’s book for the bookclub I belong to. Having read the introduction here, I am eager to begin reading.

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