In 1868, Thomas Niles, the publisher of Louisa May Alcott, recommended that she write a book about girls that would have widespread appeal.:2 At first she resisted, preferring to publish a collection of her short stories. Niles pressed her to write the girls' book first, and he was aided by her father Amos Bronson Alcott, who also urged her to do so.:207
In May 1868, Alcott wrote in her journal: "Niles, partner of Roberts, asked me to write a girl's book. I said I'd try.":36 Alcott set her novel in an imaginary Orchard House modeled on her own residence of the same name, where she wrote the novel.:xiii She later recalled that she did not think she could write a successful book for girls and did not enjoy writing it.:335- "I plod away," she wrote in her diary, "although I don't enjoy this sort of things.":37
By June, Alcott had sent the first dozen chapters to Niles, and both agreed these were dull. But Niles' niece Lillie Almy read them and said she enjoyed them.:335–336 The completed manuscript was shown to several girls, who agreed it was "splendid". Alcott wrote, "they are the best critics, so I should definitely be satisfied.":37 She wrote Little Women "in record time for money",:196x2 but the book's immediate success surprised both her and her publisher.