Christie revealed in her 1977 autobiography that the basic idea of the novel was first given to her by her brother-in-law, James Watts of Abney Hall, who in a conversation one day suggested a novel in which the criminal would be a Dr. Watson character: i.e., the narrator of the story. Christie considered it to be a "remarkably original thought".
In March 1924, Christie also received an unsolicited letter from Lord Mountbatten. He had been impressed with her previous works and had written to her, courtesy of The Sketch magazine (publishers of many of her short stories at that time) with an idea and notes for a story whose basic premise mirrored the Watts suggestion. Christie acknowledged the letter and after some thought and planning began to write the book but kept firmly to a plotline of her invention.
In December 1969, Mountbatten wrote to Christie for a second time after having seen a performance of The Mousetrap. He mentioned his letter of the 1920s, and Christie replied, acknowledging the part he played in the conception of the book.
- 1926, William Collins and Sons (London), June 1926, Hardback, 312 pp (Seven shillings and sixpence)
- 1926, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 19 June 1926, Hardback, 306 pp ($2.00)
- 1927, William Collins and Sons (Popular Edition), March 1927, Hardback (Three shillings and sixpence)
- 1928, William Collins and Sons (Cheap Edition), February 1928 (One shilling)
- 1932, William Collins and Sons, February 1932 (in the Agatha Christie Omnibus of Crime along with The Mystery of the Blue Train, The Seven Dials Mystery, and The Sittaford Mystery), Hardback (Seven shillings and sixpence)
- 1939, Canterbury Classics (William Collins and Sons), Illustrated hardback, 336 pp
- 1939, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback (Pocket number 5), 212 pp
- 1948, Penguin Books, Paperback (Penguin 684), 250 pp
- 1957, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 254 pp
- 1964, Modern Author series (William Collins and Sons), Hardback, 254 pp
- 1967, Greenway edition of collected works (William Collins and Sons/Dodd Mead), Hardback, 288 pp
- 1972, Ulvercroft Large-print Edition, Hardback, 414pp ISBN 0-85456-144-7
- 2006, Poirot Facsimile Edition (Facsimile of 1926 UK First Edition), HarperCollins, 4 September 2006, Hardback ISBN 0-00-723437-6
The novel received its first true publication as a fifty-four part serialisation in the London Evening News from Thursday, 16 July, to Wednesday, 16 September 1925, under the title, Who Killed Ackroyd? Like that paper's serialisation of The Man in the Brown Suit, there were minor amendments to the text, mostly to make sense of the openings of an instalment (e.g., changing "He then..." to "Poirot then..."). The main change was in the chapter division: the published book has twenty-seven chapters whereas the serialisation has only twenty-four. Chapter Seven of the serialisation is named The Secrets of the Study whereas in the book it is Chapter Eight and named Inspector Raglan is Confident.
In the US, the novel was serialised in four parts in Flynn's Detective Weekly from 19 June (Volume 16, Number 2) to 10 July 1926 (Volume 16, Number 5). The text was heavily abridged and each instalment carried an uncredited illustration.
The Collins first edition of 1926 was Christie's first work placed with that publisher. "The first book that Agatha wrote for Collins was the one that changed her reputation forever; no doubt she knew, as through 1925 she turned the idea over in her mind, that here she had a winner." To this day, HarperCollins, the modern successor firm to W. Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., remains the UK publishers of Christie's oeuvre.
By 1928, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was available in braille through the Royal National Institute for the Blind and was amongst the first works to be chosen for transfer to Gramophone record for their Books for the Blind library in the autumn of 1935. By 1936 it was listed as one of only eight books available in this form.
Christie's dedication in the book reads:
To Punkie, who likes an orthodox detective story, murder, inquest, and suspicion falling on every one in turn!
"Punkie" was the family nickname of Christie's sister and eldest sibling, Margaret ("Madge") Frary Watts (1879–1950). There was an eleven-year age gap between the two sisters but they remained close throughout their lives. Christie's mother first suggested to her that she should alleviate the boredom of an illness by writing a story. But soon after, when the sisters had been discussing the recently published classic detective story by Gaston Leroux, The Mystery of the Yellow Room (1908), Christie said she would like to try writing such a story. Margaret challenged her, saying that she wouldn't be able to. In 1916, eight years later, Christie remembered this conversation and was inspired to write her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
Margaret Watts herself attempted a career as a writer. She wrote a play, The Claimant, based on the Tichborne Case. The Claimant enjoyed a short run in the West End at the Queen's Theatre from 11 September to 18 October 1924, two years before the book publication of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
The dustjacket blurb read as follows:
M. Poirot, the hero of The Mysterious Affair at Stiles [sic] and other brilliant pieces of detective deduction, comes out of his temporary retirement like a giant refreshed, to undertake the investigation of a peculiarly brutal and mysterious murder. Geniuses like Sherlock Holmes often find a use for faithful mediocrities like Dr. Watson, and by a coincidence it is the local doctor who follows Poirot round, and himself tells the story. Furthermore, as seldom happens in these cases, he is instrumental in giving Poirot one of the most valuable clues to the mystery.
The dustjacket blurb is repeated inside the book on the page immediately preceding and facing, the title page.