The most expensive novel to be produced was not “Harry Potter”. It isn’t modern. It isn’t short. It wasn’t originally written in English. It’s Les Misérables.
Remember this book was before the days of huge author contracts. The publisher Lacroix, took a chance, an unprecedence gamble and introduced to the world a masterpiece. He has to be congratulated on pulling it off single-handedly, outside the usual routines of publishing conglomerates.
Victor Hugo earned an unprecedented sum of 300,000 francs (approximately $3.8 million in today’s currency value) for an eight-year license to publish Les Misérables. It was a tremendous amount of money for that day and time, and since it entitled the publisher to own the work for only eight years, it remains the highest figure ever paid for a work of literature.
Les Misérables was published in 1862, but Hugo had started writing his fifteen-hundred-page “monster” novel seventeen years earlier, in 1845. Forced to abandon it by his political misfortune, he left the fledgling manuscript, which was almost destroyed by rioters, with his devoted mistress, who ushered it to safety. From there, Hugo wrote the bulk of the novel on Guernsey, only traveling to Belgium for the last pages, which he wrote in a hotel room overlooking the battlefield of Waterloo.
This is a good example of it take years to create a literary masterpiece that survives years after the author passed away and most of them aren’t short.
Think of what we would have lost had Hugo written Les Misérables as the popular format used today. I doubt there would’ve been a musical created from the book. I am a firm believer that universal social issues still sell books today as they did in 1862.