"before the afternoon was done, they had all managed to enjoy the sweet glory of spreading the fact
that pretty soon the town would 'hear something.'" -- Adventures of Tom Sawyer Chapter 13


Pushing Tom Sawyer

After reading the novel in manuscript, William Dean Howells suggested to MT that he could "deliberately advertise it by Atlantic publication" before bringing it out as a book. MT replied that he could not afford to sell the story to the Atlantic for what the magazine Howells edited would be able to pay, but he did not hesitate to ask his friend to review the book in the Atlantic as part of the sales campaign; Howells himself thought of the review he wrote at least in part as designed "to start the sheep jumping in the right places" (see Reviews).

Moncure Conway, whom MT had commissioned as his agent to secure the novel's publication in England, reviewed the British edition in the London Examiner the day the book appeared there (see Reviews). Conway was also a foreign correspondent for the Cincinnati Commercial. In his "London Letter" published in the Commercial on 26 June 1876 he wrote a long notice of Tom Sawyer that repeated many of the things he said in the Examiner review, but also included five long excerpts from the story. Many American papers reprinted part or all of Conway's "Letter." The excerpted passages from Tom Sawyer -- the introduction of Huck, Injun Joe's Cup, the satire on sentimental eloquence, the pinchbug in church, and, at greatest length, the whitewashing scene -- were reprinted in such papers as the Philadelphia Sunday Republic, the New York Evening Post, the Boston Transcript, the Portland Transcript, the Springfield Republican and the San Francisco Call. Conway's entire "Letter," including the quotations, was reprinted in such papers as the St. Louis Globe Democrat, the Chicago Tribune and the Hartford Times. Because the passages Conway chose were so widely reprinted, his letter functioned almost as a pre-publication preview of the novel. Because the American edition did not appear until almost half a year later, his comments on the novel and selections from it were for a long time the only way most Americans "knew" Tom Sawyer.

Bliss prepared his own account of the novel for the prospectus, where he also printed severely edited passages from four favorable reviews, including Howells'. As you can see, although MT apparently accepted Howells' suggestion about treating Tom Sawyer as a "boys' book," Bliss promoted it instead as a book for adult readers.

According to Hamlin Hill, sometime after the publication of Tom Sawyer, when subscription sales had stalled, Bliss arranged a circular and sent it to prospective mail-order customers. There is no copy of this circular in the Barrett Collection, but Hill says it was a single sheet, double-sided, with the novel's first page on the front and his own "advertisement" for the novel on the back, so it is possible to get a sense of how the circular looked:


If promoting the book this way improved sales at all, the process was a slow one. As mentioned in the section on Composition, Revision and Piracy, sales of the authorized edition of Tom Sawyer started growing when Huck Finn was published in 1885 -- presumably because of Tom's appearance in the novel, and also because all the ads for Huck prominently mentioned Tom.

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