Poe had intended to collect a number of his early short stories into a volume titled Tales of the Folio Club in the 1830s. The collection would be unified as a series of tales presented by members of a literary club designed as burlesques of contemporary literary criticism. Poe had previously printed several of these stories in the Philadelphia Saturday Courier and the Baltimore Saturday Visiter. An editor, James Kirke Paulding, tried to assist him in publishing this collection. However, Paulding reported back to Poe that the publishers at Harper & Brothers declined the collection, saying that readers were looking for simple, long works like novels. They suggested, "if he will lower himself a little to the ordinary comprehension of the generality of readers, and prepare... a single work... they will make such arrangements with him as will be liberal and satisfactory." They suggested "if other engagements permit... undertake a Tale in a couple volumes, for that is the magical number." The response from Harper & Brothers inspired Poe to begin a long work and began writing The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.
Poe arranged with his boss at the Southern Literary Messenger to publish his novel in several serialized installments at a pay rate of $3 per page. However, Poe retired from his role at the Messenger on January 3, 1837, as the installments were being published; some scholars suggest he was fired and this led him to abandoning the novel. His split with the Messenger began a "blank period" where he did not publish much and suffered from unemployment, poverty, and no success in his literary pursuits. Poe soon realized writing a book-length narrative was a necessary career decision, partly because he had no steady job and the economy was suffering from the Panic of 1837. He also set part of the story as a quest to Antarctica to capitalize the public's sudden interest in that topic. After his marriage to Virginia Clemm, Poe spent the following winter and spring completing his manuscript for this novel in New York. He earned a small amount of money by taking in a boarder named William Gowans. During his fifteen months in New York, amidst the harsh economic climate, Poe published only two tales, "Von Jung, the Mystific" and "Siope. A Fable". Harper & Brothers announced Poe's novel would be published in May 1837, but the Panic forced them to delay. The novel was finally published in book form under the title The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket in July 1838, although it did not include Poe's name and was instead presented as an account by Pym himself. Poe excused the earlier serialized version by noting that the Messenger had mistakenly adapted it "under the garb of fiction". As Harper & Brothers recommended, it was printed in two volumes. Its full subtitle was:
Comprising the Details of Mutiny and Atrocious Butchery on Board the American Brig Grampus, on Her Way to the South Seas, in the Month of June, 1827. With an Account of the Recapture of the Vessel by the Survivers; Their Shipwreck and Subsequent Horrible Sufferings from Famine; Their Deliverance by Means of the British Schooner Jane Guy; the Brief Cruise of this Latter Vessel in the Atlantic Ocean; Her Capture, and the Massacre of Her Crew Among a Group of Islands in the Eighty-Fourth Parallel of Southern Latitude; Together with the Incredible Adventures and Discoveries Still Farther South to Which That Distressing Calamity Gave Rise.
The first overseas publication of The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket appeared only a few months later when it was printed in London without Poe's permission, although the final paragraph was omitted. This early publication of the novel initiated British interest in Poe.