Even if you weren't forced to read it in school like most people, you've heard of "Moby Dick." It's one of the most famous stories ever written. And when it was published, it completely tanked. Author Herman Melville was so disillusioned with his novel, he wrote a whole new novel about how bad he felt about it.
How bad did "Moby Dick" do in 1851 when it was published? It didn't even sell the entire first printing order...which was only 3,000 books. That's not many copies for a book that's passed out in schools every single year. Herman Melville was bitterly disappointed by this failure. In fact, he wrote mostly poetry and short stories after his novel about the whale, because he was so sad that so few people purchased it.
Melville wrote a book called "Pierre" after "Moby Dick" fell completely flat. The main character of the book, Pierre, is a writer whose book is very poorly received by fans and critics alike. This was a familiar theme to Melville.
He spend the rest of his career mostly writing poetry, but didn't make a lot of money from it. Melville got a day job, and worked as a customs inspector in New York City. That all happened after "Moby Dick" was published, and failed. In the last years of his life, the book was totally out of print.
After he died, the publishers began printing the book again in hopes that readers would perhaps enjoy it the second time around. Then World War broke out, and the themes in "Moby Dick" resonated more strongly than ever. Suddenly, critics were paying attention again. It has since become the subject of study and is one of history's most highly-acclaimed books. Maybe some bestsellers are just late bloomers, that’s all.