The Big Six

Who is publishing books? 80% of the books you see in stores are from what is called, “The Big Six.” They are: Random House, Penguin, HarperCollins, Holtzbrinck, Time Warner, and Simon & Schuster.

Since new authors will not land one of the big six on their first shot, there are 4,000 medium publishers, who split the last 20% of the market with 85,000 small publishers and self-publishers.

How do authors get their book on the shelf next to bestsellers? You have to be published by one of the Big Six and you have to be in their top 1% of most productive authors and at least $50,000 needs to be injected into your marketing.

Editors of those publishers are under extreme pressure to pitch books that will sell. No excuses, or they will lose their job. They need top authors who already have a “brand.” Editors will not risk their job for authors who may or may not sell books.

I know…ugggg… But you need to understand everything about the publishing industry, so you can land a deal with one of the Big Six.

Listen to me carefully…”Talent always wins out.” Let me say that again…”Talent always wins out.” If you have the talent of storytelling, mechanics of writing, marketing, and networking, you can have your books on the shelf. Literary agents and publishers will not turn down authors with those kinds of gifts. They have a business to run and need to turn a profit each quarter.

The best way to sign with a medium publisher, is to sign with an agent. How do you land an agent? The same way you are going to get the publisher: Talent, mechanics, marketing, networking. And the best way to achieve those four things is to hire a manager.

Let me fill you in on a little secret. Literary agents cost money. A lot of them charge to read your book. After you sign with an agent, expect to pay for photocopying, postage, and long distance phone calls. Some agents even charge you for additional marketing.

Another expense is a publishing lawyer, who can look out for authors interests in ways that literary agents cannot. If by some chance you are offered a contract by a publisher and you do not have an agent, stop and hire a publishing lawyer before you sign.

To verify an agent is legit, you can look them up at or Agents that belong to the Association of Author’s Representatives (AAR) are held under strict guidelines. Plus, it is not easy for an agent to be in the AAR. 

Start learning to manage your money right now, along with your investment plan. Even when you are published, authors only get a check twice a year. (April/Oct.) This is your career; your own little business that you hope to grow. That will take time and investment, but in sensible and productive ways.

The manager you hire will not only ‘brand” your name, but help you with the query letter to get your foot into the door. A query letter is the fastest way for an agent to figure out if you are worth the time.

Let me ask you this. If you had one shot to impress the biggest agent in the world with your query letter and manuscript, how much time/money would you invest to make sure that opportunity was not missed? I have nothing against authors who rush their book out to be self-published. They are trying to live a dream and I respect that. However, if you want to be in the Big Six, you will have to put in your time.

The first thing an agent or publisher will ask themselves is, “Can I sell this book?” It is your job to make sure they cannot come back with any other answer except for “YES!” You should put no doubt in their minds that you are talented and marketable.

Another thing agents do not want are authors that need coaching. Agents do not have time to teach you the publishing business. You need to understand how things work, speak their Language, and already know your plan to be successful.

Your book must have a positive impact to the readers. Your book must be “fresh,” unlike anything the readers have ever seen before. Your book must be well written. It must have a market. Authors who  have published ten books will be held under the same scrutiny as when they try to publish number eleven.

Authors cannot sell to the whole world. That is not a “target market.” Nail down your audience. Agents and publishers want to know who will enjoy your book, so they can figure out if they can reach that audience. If you tell an agent, “My audience is men and women between the ages of 20-80,” then you can expect a rejection letter.

However, if you say, “My audience is female, between the ages of 34-45, working/middle class, they have children, enjoy novels over magazines, can be found in smaller rural areas, get the bulk of their information from the web, and they enjoy thrillers with strong women characters.” That is how to describe your reader and audience!

Amateur writers tell, rather than show. An experienced author will show their target audience through experience and proven facts. (To learn more, see Untradtional Publishing in my “Traditional Pub v.s. Self-Publishing: Final Debate,” blog.)

Amateur writers also tell their story, rather than show their story. A reader should be able to hear, smell, and taste what is going on in a book. The great authors know how to do this.

It would be impossible for me to tell each author (woops, I meant show each author) the next steps to take in their career, because every author is different. (As it should be!) Here is the overall business model you should follow:

1. Write the book.

2. Have family and friends read your book and give advice.

3. Have someone in the publishing industry read your book and give advice. (Make sure you listen!)

4. Hire a manager to guide your career, market you, and brand your name.

5. With the help from your manager, query literary agents.

6. Once you sign with an agent, help the agent find a publisher that best fits your needs.

7. Keep marketing, keep reading, keep writing.

8. Sign with a medium publisher that is looking long term for your career, rather than rushing your book. (Same thing with your agent. Make sure they do not get you signed with a publisher just to make a good impression. Signing with the wrong publisher can set you back at least five years.)

9. Hire a publishing lawyer.

10. Market, write, read. Keep moving up, continue to invest. Listen to the advice of your manager, agent, publisher, and publishing lawyer. Do your own part to promote your book.

Get ready, because the Big Six will notice what you are doing…

Ron Knight

Author of “2-10”

Manager: Melissa Link



Ron Knight

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  1. Ron,

    You mention that literary agents charge to read books. Every article I have ever read, every established author I have spoken to, has warned me that “real” literary agents will NEVER charge you money to read a book, otherwise it is a scam on their part. Every agent I sent my query to has never asked me for money in exchange to read my manuscript.

  2. Ron Knight says:

    Annette: Very good point, although with the economy, more agents are charging for reads, stating, “This is the only way we can stay in business.” I provided links to check on agents to make sure they are legit. However, we hope that ALL agents will go back to not charging for reads. Five years ago, if an agent charged to look over work, it was a scam for sure.

  3. Ron Knight says:

    I did so more research. All agents in the AAR DO NOT CHARGE. I had previously claimed that some are charging because the economy. That was not correct. Thank you Annette for feedback.

  4. Thanks Ron! I know it’s a tough economy out there, but I think charging for reads will make it difficult for aspiring authors to weed out the “real” agents versus the “fake” ones. Just a personal opinion! Your article was great.

  5. Hi all!


  6. Very enjoyed this! Well done!

  7. nice post. thanks.


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