Literary Hub

How Many Copies Did Famous Books Sell in the First Year?

Book publishing can be a tricky—and fickle—thing. Some of the classics we know and love today were instant bestsellers when they were originally published—and some were huge flops. While the numbers a book puts up during its first year in the world aren’t everything, they can be fascinating—especially when they’re a lot lower (or higher) than you’d think. (I mean, just look at Joyce.) So to that end, I’ve hunted around to find out how many copies the below books sold in the twelve months following their publications. Obviously, most of the numbers are approximate (it’s pretty clear when they’re not), and of course I haven’t mentioned every book on on the spectrum (because that would just be . . . every book). But if you’re a writer who knows your own book’s numbers, and you’re brave, feel free to add to the list in the comments section.

Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë, Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell (1846): 2 copies

James Joyce, Dubliners (1914): 379 copies

Elie Weisel, Night (1960): 1,046 copies (in 18 months)

Billy Collins, Picnic, Lightning (1998): 12,000 copies

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1932): 13,000 copies (UK); 15,000 copies (US)

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (1843): 15,000 copies

George Eliot, Adam Bede (1859): 16,00 copies

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925): 21,000 copies

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876): 24,000 copies

Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (1961): 30,000 copies

F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise (1920): 41,075 copies

David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest (1996): 44,000 copies

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949): 50,000 copies (UK)

Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrim’s Progress (1869): 70,000 copies

Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms (1929): 100,000 copies

William S. Burroughs, Junky (1953): 100,000 copies

Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth (1905): 140,000 copies

Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind (1936): 176,000 copies

Strunk and White, The Elements of Style (1959): 200,000 copies

Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852): 300,000 copies

Betty Friedan, The Feminist Mystique (1963): 300,000 copies

Philip Roth, Portnoy’s Complaint (1969): 400,000 copies

John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (1939): 428,900 copies

Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon (1977): 570,000 copies

Shel Silverstein, A Light in the Attic (1981): 575,000 copies

Leïla Slimani, Chanson Douce (The Perfect Nanny) (2016): 600,000 copies (France)

Charles A. Lindberg, We (1927): 650,000 copies

Stephen King, Pet Sematary (1983): 657,000 copies

Benjamin Spock, The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care (1946): 750,000 copies

A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh (1926): 1 million copies

Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974): 1 million copies

Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front (1929): 1.2 million copies (Germany)

Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth (1931): 1.8 million copies

Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl (2012): 2 million copies

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960): 2.5 million copies

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