Copyright © 2017 by Don A. Singletary Sing Systems   

This is the story that’s never  been told.

How did Mark Twain’s first book, The Innocents Abroad, make it to print? Twain afforded an extravagant lifestyle most of his life, but it was his first book that launched the career of the man William Dean Howells called “the Abe Lincoln of American literature.” How does a struggling new writer make $16,500 ($225,000 equivalent) on his first book?

Clemens grew up poor. It is actually quite common for many wealthy people to cite fear of poverty or fear of failure as a major motivation for their working so hard to become successful.  Sam L. Clemens had a father, who in spite of being a lawyer, a justice of the peace, and an educated man – could never quite provide any financial security for his family.  The lack of money, debts, and frequent moving plagued the family.  Young Sam was only 11 when his father died - and he was withdrawn from school and put to work to help support the family.

When he met (future wife) Livy, his language was coarse, his dress and manners were far less than her social class demanded, and his self-esteem was suffering badly.  Olivia Langdon was the rich daughter of the coal magnate, Jervis Langdon of Elmira, New York. In 1868, young Sam Clemens began courting her at age 33.  He had made good money sporadically as a reporter but had saved almost no money - and had no recurrent income. He found himself smitten with a girl of high social standing and education. She flatly turned down his offers to court her – but he was persistent if he was anything.  Over the next year-and-a-half, he won her over by writing 184 letters to her – until she relented and allowed him to call on her.

And so his courtship with Olivia Langdon began while he still had very poor prospects for earning enough to marry; he survived by producing news items for papers and producing short stories such as travelogues. These circumstances could have found him in some degree of desperation, or put another way – he was highly motivated to find a quick success for himself.  

Even the idea of creating his first successful book did not originate from Mark Twain.  He had received a letter from Elisha Bliss, who had read and liked his newspaper travelogues on the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii).  On 21 November 1867, Bliss requested that young Sam Clemens write a book on those travels ‘for subscription publication’ at Bliss’s American Publishing Company. Traditional publishing companies had offered Twain nothing.

Subscription publishing was considered a ‘low class’ method of publishing – many new authors who did not yet have the following to be picked up by major publishing houses, elected to try ‘subscription publishing’.  This was the fastest growing new method to publish- and had proven to be quite successful at taking a lot of money out of the pockets of many traditional publishing houses.  This new method of publishing offered new authors an opportunity. The subscriptions to the books were sold door-to-door by thousands of salespeople. Elisha Bliss was a pioneer in publishing and he took Twain on the trip to success & money with him. The method was the new technology of the day. They adapted to it and became very rich men.

The new subscription publishing made these books affordable to every class of citizen, and the new low postage rates and steam-powered, very fast and cheap presses – created the fastest growing segment of book publishing.  Clemens agreed to the terms and became an American Publishing Company author.  Elisha Bliss was entirely responsible in educating Clemens in all aspects of subscription publication – and he took a big gamble that quickly launched the success of new author Mark Twain.


The present day POD (print on demand) and eBooks are the leading edge of modern publishing.  They are taking money from the pockets of traditional big house publishers.  As was the case with Mark Twain - there are many new  & unknown authors that these publishing houses cannot afford to gamble on— they send these authors rejection notices, if they even accept their manuscripts at all.  Thousands of new and innovative authors now make a success of themselves by self-publishing POD and eBooks- the modern, leading-edge, alternative in publishing.

Just as the cheap postage and the new high-speed technology of fast & efficient printing presses created new opportunities in publishing in the post Civil War era, the eBook and new printing technology with computer distribution techniques - now create fresh opportunities for previously unknown authors.  Self-publishing with print-on-demand and eBooks - is now the pioneering territory in publishing for new authors - and many well-known authors are using it to gain much higher royalty payments than old publishers can afford to pay.

Of all the Print-On-Demand companies, the most successful at present, is a subsidiary of Amazon; it is called CreateSpace.  The books are sold on and self-published authors can buy inexpensive copies to sell themselves - as well as listing their book on for sale without spending even a penny!      

New Print-On-Demand (POD) at Amazon’s subsidiary CreateSpace, is a ‘zero inventory’ method; the books are not printed until they are ordered.  The moment a customer buys the book on Amazon, a computer takes the order, another computer uses a proprietary technology press that prints at over 1100 pages per minute to print the paperback, while still another press makes the cover – and assembles the book. Zero inventory cost is a revolution in modern publishing!  

Without ever touching human hands, the computers list the books for sale - collect the payments, send a credit to the author’s account for the royalty immediately, and put the book into a shipping vessel and address the package to the buyer.  The book is sold, printed, packaged, addressed, and shipped in a matter of only minutes!  This has revolutionized the book industry - as did technological changes during Twain’s time over a century ago. And eBooks only add to the new opportunities.

There are no guarantees an author’s book or eBook will sell - and the author never makes a penny unless it does.  It is a very fair system,  a very American form of economic democracy, that allows anyone with the ability and desire  to take a chance on themselves- to publish as many books as they wish --  and do it on their own schedule!  I have taught many self-publishing workshop courses at colleges over the last three years – and I always enjoy encouraging and educating new authors on the amazing opportunities & technology that is now available at no cost to new authors through companies like CreateSpace & the Amazon digital subsidiary of KDP, Kindle Direct Publishing (eBooks).

Mark Twain had no offers from traditional publishers because he was yet unproven; the large publishing houses offered him nothing.  He might have settled for failure in spite of his tremendous talents.  After his subscription publishing successes, that cost him nothing to initiate, he became a famous best-selling author in short time- and a very wealthy author.  Of course not every new author becomes wealthy, but thousands of them are able to earn extra income, as they hone their craft.


Clemens did have the important support of his friends and family, and he had an offer to use new technology and the opportunity to publish – and he took it!  Of course, not everyone who tried it, did as well – but they did have a fair chance and did not depend on the tedious process that seems to operate at the whims of traditional publishing business for their chance.

While researching & writing my new book on the life and times of Mark Twain, I was pleased to find out that he self-published and rode his wave of success on the latest technology of his day – high-speed inexpensive steam presses, new low postage rates, and a rail system that allowed his sales force cheap access to millions of new readers at a lower cost than had every been possible.

Now, 150 years later, we have new high-speed presses, new inexpensive and fast delivery methods, new media, and the great economic equalizer of internet marketing.  Mark Twain was lucky enough to have a talent and be ‘in the right place and the right time’ – and now - so are we!

This story and dozens of others are appear in Don A. Singletary’s new book, The Second Coming of Mark Twain, an historical-fiction style account of the author’s life and times.  If you’ve ever wondered what MT might have said and done in a modern world with digital media, you might enjoy this read. – in paperback and eBook on Amazon now!  Go to:

The Second Coming of Mark Twain  


How Mark Twain Used New Technology  To Launch his First Book Successfully Contact Us Pictures

 By Don A. Singletary

To see a pictorial tour of the Twain family’s Hartford, CT home click here.

Here is a link to a picture gallery of Mark Twain’s home in Hartford, CT  Notice his special Billiard Room up top on the third floor. Click Here.

A must-read for all who self-publish Books - especially new authors. by  Don A. Singletary Other books by Don A. Singletaryr