What are the best selling "classic" authors?

If we define “classic” as “could be used in your average college literature course”, what classic authors and books sell the best in an average year? (Exclude if you can sales to schools.)

Moving to Cafe Society.

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Whichever ones just had a movie made of their work?

I think Dumas’ The Three Musketeers and maybe a couple of sequels.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Just about anything by Mark Twain.
Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes.
War and Peace and Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy

How far back are we going for “classic,” because I could easily include Steinbeck and a few of his contemporaries.

Let’s start by looking at this article:

You didn’t define “classic” very precisely, so I’m going to have to do some guessing. I’m going to remove any authors who I assume are too recent. That leaves the following authors who have sold more than 350 million books:

Agatha Christie
William Shakespeare
Leo Tolstoy
Horatio Alger
Alexander Pushkin

Horatio Alger is only studied in literature courses as an example of what was once popular, not as a great writer. Agatha Christie might be the answer to your question, but is an author who died in 1976 too recent for your definition? William Shakespeare would thus be the obvious answer, but are you limiting yourself to novels and short stories, not plays and poetry? The answer would then be Leo Tolstoy. This article says that in 2002 there were 33,000 copies of War and Peace sold in the U.S.:

That article also mentions Jane Austen, who might also be the answer to your question. She’s mentioned in my first link as being one of several authors for whom there are no good sales figures. That link also mentions Miguel de Cervantes, Alexandre Dumas, Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, Victor Hugo, and Jules Verne.

Does the Bible count as a classic? Just one translation, or all of the translations together? And if it does count, does it count equally for all of the many authors of the Bible, or do those who wrote larger portions get more credit? The single most prolific bible author was probably Paul, who also benefits from all of those copies of the New Testament published without the Old (but who misses out on the copies of just the Torah printed by Jews).

Also, with any work out of copyright (like many Bible versions or Shakespeare), you have to ask what counts as a “sale”. If I download a free copy of Shakespeare’s complete plays from Project Gutenberg, does that count, or does money have to change hands? And if money does have to change hands, does the amount matter: Are we counting “best selling” by dollars or by copies?

George Orwell?

Here’s another article:


Let’s assume that the OP is limited to fiction books, so the Bible, the Koran, and the Quotations of Mao Tse-tung aren’t included (and no arguments about what’s fiction, please). This would then include these authors, if I eliminate authors still alive or who were alive too recently:

Miguel de Cervantes
Charles Dickens
Cao Xueqin
Lewis Carroll

Let’s add to them these authors I’ve previously mentioned:

William Shakespeare
Leo Tolstoy
Alexander Pushkin
Jane Austen
Alexandre Dumas
Arthur Conan Doyle
Victor Hugo
Jules Verne

I think those twelve authors are pretty much the answer to the question in the OP. Siam Sam mentions Twain and Stoker. It appears to me that their sales are less than the twelve I list above.

Orwell may also be, like Twain, just a little below the twelve I’ve listed. I can’t find any accurate mention of how many books Stoker sold. Millions, certainly, but a lot of authors have sold millions of books.

How about Hugh Lofting? The Dr. Dolittle series was a favorite of mine as a child. Do those books still get read?

(For that matter, there’s Dr. Seuss.)

Dr. Seuss is one of those who have sold about as many books as some of the twelve authors I’ve listed, but I wouldn’t count him among classic authors because he died too recently. I can’t find any information about how many books Hugh Lofting sold. I suspect that the number of his books sold is somewhat less than any of the authors I mentioned.

Dr. Seuss died long before JD Salinger. Would he be considered classic?

I find it surprising, and/or suspicious, that A Tale of Two Cities is number two overall but nothing else by Dickens is even listed.

Yeah, really the problem is that installLSC used the term “classic” in the OP, and I’ve decided that it means something like “died before about 1935.” I don’t know that that is what installLSC actually meant. In my definition of “classic,” Seuss and Salinger aren’t classic authors. I still claim that under my definition, the best-selling classic authors are probably Miguel de Cervantes, Charles Dickens, Cao Xueqin, Lewis Carroll, William Shakespeare, Leo Tolstoy, Alexander Pushkin, Jane Austen, Alexandre Dumas, Arthur Conan Doyle, Victor Hugo, and Jules Verne. I also eliminated Horatio Alger because few of his books are sold anymore, even though a lot of them once were. But if you want to say that my definition is arbitrary, I don’t know how to refute that.

I find the number of copies that A Tale of Two Cities has supposedly sold to be suspicious too. It sounds to me like a bunch of sources are all quoting some original wild guess. If anyone can cite a good reason why that book has sold so many copies, I’d be interested to hear it.

Because it’s the one most used in literature class and very popular with movie makers as well. And if a “classics for teens” includes a Dickens, it’s going to be Two Cities. It’s the Dickens Default like Sawyer is the Twain Default.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has probably sold about as many copies as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, both apparently in the range of 20 million books:


That article lists some more best-selling authors, but none of them other than Twain and Carroll died before 1935, so none fit my arbitrary definition of “classic.”

I would have thought *A Christmas Carol *was even more prominent. It’s certainly very influential in popular culture - Two Cities might be more likely to be done "straight " but Christmas Carol has spawned a whole lot of homages and updated versions.

A Christmas Carol also has a play version, which is often performed by school drama clubs and the like.

–Chronos, as Ebenezer Scrooge, 1989

I haven’t looked up the figures, but by bets would have been:

1.) Mark Twain. Not only Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, but also Life on the Mississippi, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and others. Besides that, they seem to find an inexhaustible supply of his Unpublished Writings to keep bringing out, a century after his death. Recently, because it was 100 years after his death, they published the definitive edition of his Autobiography – in three massive volumes. After that they published a Detective Novel of his. And a play. Just this month they published a Children’s Story – Oleomargarine.

2.) Jules Verne – Although the man was unbelievably prolific, he’s really only represented in stores by a handful of his novels, but I still see them on the shelves – Around the World in 80 Dauys, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, A Journey to the Center of the Earth. In addition, we’re in the midst of a Third Verne Renaissance, with new translations of his novels (Carpathian Castle and Five Weeks in a Balloon recently got new English translations), first publications of previously unpublished works (The Shipwrecked Family), and new editions of Verne’s works shorn of the additions by his son , Michel (The Secret of Wilhelm Storitz, Magellanca) They can keep this up for years, yet.

3.) Jane Austen – she’s been immensely popular. There was a store largely devoted to her stuff (until it closed recently) in Salem, MA.

4.) Charles Dickens – Not only the perennial A Christmas Carol, but several of his other works have been almost perpetually on the shelves – Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, Great Expectations. I don’t recall his Nicholas Nickelby being seen, until it showed up on Broadway as a play, but now it’s always there. His Mystery of Edwin Drood got a new lease when it, too, became a play, and then Dan Simmons did a take on it.

5.) Homer – The Iliad and The Odyssey are never going to isappear from high school, and college curricula, I guarantee. And they keep coming up with new translations

6.) Shakespeare - Ditto. even the translation part.