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Drilling Down on "The Big 5" Publishers

Tonya Thompson

Published on
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When you hear someone referring to "The Big 5" in publishing, they're referring to the top five trade book publishing companies in the United States. They were formerly known as "The Big 6" but in 2013, Random House and Penguin merged. Now, "The Big 5" are Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Hachette Book Group, and Simon & Schuster.

While getting published by one of these top publishers is a dream for most authors, none of them accept unsolicited manuscripts, which are manuscripts that are submitted directly from authors and don't go through a literary agent. However, some of these publishers have smaller imprints that do accept unsolicited manuscripts from unrepresented authors, so it's not a waste of time for new and indie authors to look into these major players in the industry.

While getting published by one of these top publishers is a dream for most authors, none of them accept unsolicited manuscripts.
While getting published by one of these top publishers is a dream for most authors, none of them accept unsolicited manuscripts, which are manuscripts that are submitted directly from authors and don't go through a literary agent. Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash.

Getting the attention of "The Big Five"

There is a lot of disruption happening right now in the book publishing market, as online retailers and self-publishing platforms are changing the outlook for the industry. However, it's still possible to get the attention of "The Big Five" if you follow the rules. Here are a few suggestions offered by

Have a platform

According to the website:

Your platform might be an established history of literary publications and prizes or a popular blog. It might even be a web series with a strong audience or a Twitter feed with 100,000 followers.

In any case, a publisher will look to you to help bring an audience to your work. It's a rare author these days who stumbles upon a publishing contract armed with nothing but a great manuscript.

Even if the book is still just a gleam in your eye, you can start building an author platform.

Write a great manuscript

Obviously, this is a given. Without a great manuscript, you won't stand a chance of getting your foot in the door.

Find an agent

As mentioned in each of the profiles of "The Big 5" publishers below, unsolicited manuscripts are not accepted, except for some exclusions on certain smaller imprints. According to the website:

Literary agents are the gatekeepers for book editors. They pre-screen the gazillions of manuscripts and book proposals that are produced every year, winnowing them down to the few most likely to succeed, and pitching them directly to publishers. A credentialed literary agent can be a powerful advocate for your book.

These days, there are opportunities to directly catch the attention of print editors. The digital-first imprints of major publishers are prime examples. But most of the time an agent is essential to getting a contract with a major publisher.

Now, let's take a look at each of "The Big 5" and some of the recent titles they've released.

Penguin Random House

Penguin Random House (PRH) was formed in 2013 with the merger of Random House and Penguin Group. The company publishes 70,000 digital and 15,000 print books each year.

Penguin Random House does not accept unsolicited submissions, proposals, manuscripts, illustrations, artwork, or submission queries. However, some of its imprints do accept submissions for periodic review from authors as well as from agents. According to the Penguin Random House website:

DAW accepts unsolicited submissions of science fiction and fantasy novels. We do not publish short stories, short story collections, novellas, or poetry. The average length of the novels we publish varies, but is almost never fewer than 80,000 words.

Schwartz & Wade accepts submissions directly from authors. Schwartz & Wade publishes about 15 to 20 books a year, mostly picture books, as well as middle grade and young adult fiction, non-traditional nonfiction, and graphic novels. Schwartz & Wade also accepts unsolicited picture book manuscripts and proposals for longer books. However, we advise that you first take a look at a selection of our books to make sure that your submission is a good fit for our small imprint. All submissions may be sent to: Schwartz & Wade Books, Submissions Editor, 1745 Broadway, 10-4, New York, New York 10019.

Our digital imprints, including Alibi, Flirt, Hydra, and Loveswept, accept digital submissions.

Penguin Random House

Some of Penguin Random House's recent titles include Metahuman by Deepak Chopra, M.D., There Will Be No Miracles Here by Casey Gerald, and The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene.

Hachette Book Group

The Hachette Book Group (HBG) began in 2006 when major French publisher Hachette Livre acquired the Time Warner Book Group. The Group has 24 imprints, including Little, Brown and Company, Orbit, and Perseus Books. According to their website, they publish 1,800 books a year, with 150 of them making the New York Times bestseller list in 2018, including 31 that ranked number one.

The Hachette Book Group (with the exception of Yen Press) does not accept unsolicited manuscript submissions and unsolicited queries. Yen Press accepts unsolicited graphic novel submissions and more information can be found at


HarperCollins Publishers, headquartered in New York City, is one of the world's largest publishing companies, with publishing operations in 17 countries. According to their website, With two hundred years of history and more than 120 branded imprints around the world, HarperCollins publishes approximately 10,000 new books every year in 16 languages, and has a print and digital catalog of more than 200,000 titles.

HarperCollins authors include winners of the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Newbery and Caldecott Medals, and the Man Booker Prize. Some of its imprints are Avon, Dey Street Books, Harlequin Books, Kimani Press, and Walden Pond Press.

Some of HarperCollins' recent titles include The Mapping of Love and Death by Jacqueline Winspear, Aurora Blazing by Jessie Mihalik, The Art of Making Memories by Meik Wiking, and The Professor of Immortality by Eileen Pollack.

HarperCollins does not accept unsolicited submissions, with the exception of its Avon Impulse imprint. Avon Impulse focuses on digital publishing and accepts Romance manuscripts.


Macmillan Publishers has been in business since 1843 and includes imprints like Holt Paperbacks, St. Martin's Press Paperbacks, Celadon Books, and Metropolitan Books, among others. According to its website, Macmillan Publishers is a global trade publishing company operating in over 70 countries, with imprints in the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, and India. Macmillan is a division of the Holtzbrinck Publishing Group, a large family-owned media company headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany.

Some of Macmillan's recent titles include The Everyday I Ching By Sarah Dening, A Well-Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler, and Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty.

The Everyday I Ching By Sarah Dening is a new release from Macmillan Publishers.
The Everyday I Ching By Sarah Dening is a new release from Macmillan Publishers.

Simon & Schuster

Simon & Schuster is a subsidiary of CBS Corporation and was founded in New York City in 1924 by Richard L. Simon and M. Lincoln Schuster. Simon & Schuster publishes around 2,000 titles annually under 35 different imprints.

Some of Simon & Schuster's recent titles include Right after the Weather by Carol Anshaw, Leadership In Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Embrace Your Weird: Face Your Fears and Unleash Creativity by Felicia Day, and The Library Book by Susan Orlean.

According to their website, Simon & Schuster does not review, retain or return unsolicited materials or artwork. We suggest that prospective authors and illustrators submit their manuscripts through a professional literary agent. Should you wish to pursue self-publishing your work, we invite you to explore the services offered by Archway Publishing, from Simon & Schuster.

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