After I wrote abut the Bulwer-Lytton contest, I received an email from commentator Mary Beard with a link to her post about a conference she attended called "Ruins and Reconstructions" about Pompeii.
The conference was about Pompeii after the discovery of the ruins; she says that much of the conversation at the conference was about Bulwer-Lytton's novel The Last Days of Pompeii, about a couple who escape the eruption of Vesuvius and the ensuing lava flow.
She mentions that the novel was frequently described as "ghastly" despite the fact that it was a nineteenth-century best-seller. They posited that the reason for its success was that it appealed to a certain British class at the time of its publication. But the novel had broad appeal and sold well, so it probably had a readership that crossed class lines.
I think that tastes change, as does language and literature, and that Bulwer-Lytton's contemporaneous popularity is probably attributable to that.
Professor Beard also met Lindsey Davis, author of eighteen detective novels featuring Marcus Didius Falco, who was born in Rome, in AD 41. Falco travels the ancient world solving mysteries. These sounded like fun, so I ordered three of a long list of Davis' novels from Amazon.
[Image from Geocities]