Monday, June 06, 2011

Who are the Big Six? Why Should You Care?

The Big Six publishers, that most people can't even name anymore, have gobbled up smaller publishers to the point those of us who aren't publishers or agents don't know who is who. So I listed the Big Six below. It's worth your time to follow the links and read the overview of each history at, where I cherry-picked key info for this post.

You'd think that these publishers could more than handle what you and I would like to publish, but they cannot. Besides being highly selective (look at the authors listed below), they have limited resources, regardless of how big they are and how many names are on their door.


Owned by the German company Holtzbrinck. Known for the following: St. Martin’s Press (also contains five imprints of its own and publishes commercial fiction to include authors Thomas Harris, Dan Brown and Janet Evanovich), Tor (sci-fi), Henry Holt (contains multiple imprints such as Times Books, Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, Holt Paperbacks), and Farrar, Straus & Giroux (literary imprint).

Owned by the British conglomerate Pearson. Has over 50 imprints to include Riverhead Books (publishes commercial and literary works), Dutton (publishes commercial, literary and children’s books to include such authors as Joyce Carol Oates, John Irving and Gail Sheehy),  G.P. Putnam’s Sons (more hardcover bestsellers than any other in the industry to include Robin Cook, Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler, Nora Roberts and Amy Tan), Viking –(literary with names like John Steinbeck, Gloria Naylor and Geraldine), Portfolio (business books).

The biggest trade publisher in the world. Belongs to the German conglomerate Bertelsmann. Imprints include Doubleday Broadway (with several imprints of its own and includes authors Margaret Atwood, Suze Orman, Mitch Albom, and John Grisham), Alfred A. Knopf (literary fiction and nonfiction), Bantam Dell (commercial fiction to include authors Sophie Kinsella and Danielle Steel), Crown Publishing Group (has its own imprints Clarkson Potter for crafts and cooking, Three Rivers Press, and Crown).

Owned by CBS Corporation. Notable imprints include Scribner (literary and commercial imprint that published Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, Edith Wharton, Annie Proulx, Stephen King and Frank McCourt), Simon & Schuster (the flagship imprint that publishes current affairs, biography and history to include Woodward and Bernstein’s All the President’s Men, Dale Carnegie, David McCullough, Larry McMurtry, Jimmy Carter and Bob Dylan), Free Press (imprint of politics and nonfiction to include Phil McGraw (aka Dr. Phil), Pocket (publishes MTV Books, G-Unit (Rapper 50 Cent’s imprint and is known for paperbacks).

HBGUSA for short and formerly Warner Books. Owned by French company Hachette Livre. Known for imprints Little, Brown & Company (the oldest imprint and most literary - authors Stephenie Meyer, James Patterson, Michael Connelly, Alice Sebold, David Sedaris and David Foster Wallace), Grand Central (the largest imprint which has 12 imprints of its own with authors like David Baldacci and Douglas Preston), Orbit (sci-fi), and FaithWords (faith-based).

Belongs to Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, News Corp. Early authors included Mark Twain, Thackeray, Dickens and the Bronte sisters. Known for 20 imprints, some of which include Zondervan (Christian works), Collins (business, wellness to include authors Jim Collins and David Packard), William Morrow (publishes authors such as Elmore Leonard, John Grogan (Marley and Me), Dennis Lehane and Neil Gaiman), Amistad (African descent books and authors), Avon (publishes women’s fiction and romance) HarperEntertainment (publishes pop culture to include biographies like Rutger Hauer and Eminem).

In the last couple of decades, smaller publishers were gobbled up by conglomerates, that weren't neccessarily in the publishing business, and the Big Six came together. What often happens when big guys consume little guys, is a certain amount of homogenizing when the big boss has in his mind what his company is supposed to represent.

While we'd love to have those huge names in our portfolio, it's difficult to reach that high until you've proven yourself in a big way. So know the big publishers and understand who they are and how huge a ground they cover. Then take a look at mid-sized and small publishers.

Smaller publishers are open to more diversified voices, lesser known names and risk. You can reach the editors with a phone call, discuss marketing, and keep your book in print a lot longer as you fight to create that platform.

These days, it's fast becoming a career path to self-publish, jump to a small publisher, then become recognized by a large publisher. But you can choose your own path. Sell a gazillion ebooks and jump to St Martin. Publish with Pocket Books and drop down to self-publishing once you have your platform. But whichever turn you make, whatever path you take, understand all the players and levels. Informed decisions are always the best.


Sarah Tokeley said...

Thank you for this. It's hard to keep them all straight!

Karen Lange said...

Thanks for the info. Was thinking about this the other day and couldn't think of all of them.

Diva Jefferson said...

Glad to know I'm heading into the RIGHT direction instead of backwards. Great information!

Bryan Thomas said...

Thanks for the information. It's clear that the entire writing and publishing industry is in transition.