Today we may know Arthur Conan Doyle as a household name, being universally famous for writing the Sherlock Holmes stories all the way back in the 1800s

From countless adaptations in film and television, it’s hard to encounter any type of media without seeing the influence of his work. Despite this huge level of fame and popularity, we can see by reading his letters that it took more than just luck for many of his stories to be published. 

When reading through a collection nineteenth-century letters written by authors addressed to the Tillotson Fiction Bureau, I stumbled across one from Conan Doyle. He pitches one his earlier short stories to the Tillotson’s, ‘The Great Brown-Pericord Motor’, writing that: 

I have been informed that short stories find a ready market with you – I therefore send one, “The Great Brown-Pericord Motor” which may perhaps suit you. 

'The Great Brown-Pericord Motor', The Penny Illustrated Paper, June 1891, p. 340.

This story appears, however, in The Cheshire Observer in 1891. We can see the journey between the time this letter was posted, to the story being published, was a significant period, with the letter dated March 27th (year omitted). In the letter there is mention of two earlier works by Conan Doyle, ‘A Study in Scarlet’ (1887) and ‘The Mystery of Cloomber’ (1888), which he notes, ‘have both had good sales. I enclose press opinions of the former’. This gives us insight into how well known and respected he was coming to be known as a writer at this point in his career and the highly esteemed reputation of the Tillotson Fiction Bureau.

Using Conan Doyle’s letter as a point of reference, we are able to get an insight into what the world of publishing was like during the nineteenth century. One of the main differences from the modern day, is clearly the way he has sent the story to the publisher. Writing and posting a letter will have taken considerably longer than it would for a writer in the modern day to send a story after the invention of the email. With it being so hard and long winded to get a story to a publisher, there is a high likelihood that there could have been hundreds, if not thousands, of fantastic authors we may never know about.  


Conan Doyle, A (1891) The Great Brown-Pericord Motor. The Cheshire Observer. Cheshire. 

Morris, J (2023). Letter from Arthur Conan Doyle sent to a publisher (189?) [Photograph] Letter 


Colby, Robert A. (1985) “Tale Bearing in the 1890s: The Author and Fiction Syndication”. Victorian Periodicals Review. Vol.18, No.1, pp. 2-16.

Hilliard, Christopher (2009) “The Provincial Press and the Imperial Traffic in Fiction, 1870s-1930s”. Journal of British Studies. Vol.48, No.3, pp. 653-673.

Johanningsmeier, Charles (1995) “Newspaper Syndicates of the Late Nineteenth Century: Overlooked Forces in the American Literary Marketplace”. Publishing History. Vol. 37, No.1, pp. 61-82.

Jones, Aled (1984) “Tillotson’s Fiction Bureau: The Manchester Manuscripts”. Victorian Periodicals Review. Vol.17, No.1, pp. 43-49.

Singleton, Frank (1950) Tillotson’s 1850-1950: Centenary of a Family Business. Bolton: Tillotson & Son Ltd.