When Mark Twain published The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1876, a Canadian publisher pirated it which negatively affected its sales in the US and overseas. The bootlegged edition of the books proved to be more popular due to th8eir cheap price. Twain learned from this so he wanted to make sure that this wouldn’t happen to him again. In 1884, he concocted a plan that would hopefully make his next book, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a sales success.
Twain published Huck through his own publishing company managed by his nephew Charles L. Webster. The plan was to keep the books off the market until Webster received a total of 40,000 preorders. Twain theorized that high early sales would create a good press which would then snowball into more sales. This would also prevent the pirates from obtaining a copy of the book before the initial sales were completed.
But reality has a way to turn any plan into ashes. Estes and Lauriat, a Boston publisher, somehow appropriated the book’s manuscript. In December 1884, while browsing Estes and Lauriat’s catalog, Twain saw an advertisement for his yet to be published book: “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, now ready, for $2.25.” This ad was released two months before the authorized edition became available to the market for $2.75.
While his nephew was surprised, Twain was furious. He sued the publisher despite her wife’s objection. The case went to the United States Circuit Court in Boston and Judge Le Baron Colt presided it. On February 10, 1885, the judgment came, and yes, Twain lost the case.
So, it was now Twain who was surprised. He was silent about the case for some time but later, he made the following public statement about the judge who allowed the publisher,
to sell property which does not belong to him but to me — property which he has not bought and I have not sold. Under this same ruling, I am now advertising the judge’s homestead for sale; and if I make as good a sum out of it as I expect, I shall go on and sell the rest of his property.
As for making The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn into a bestseller, Twain eventually succeeded. Nonetheless, it took him a few years as opposed to a few months that he first envisioned. Furthermore, as we now know, Huck would become Twain’s bestselling book, selling more than 20 million copies over the years.