Big publishers traditionally rely on income from known authors to support taking risks on new writers. But those publishers have grown more risk-averse, avoiding unknown writers and focusing on mainstream books expected to perform well in the marketplace. Meanwhile, independent publishers are filling the shortlists of major prizes in part because they are willing to take risks with new authors. As a result, independent publishers are now serving as the gatekeepers to “the big five”:
Big publishers only use agents, who have their own economic imperative, and they miss out on a host of brilliant books every day, every month, every year. Like John Murray, part of Hachette, which called Andrew Michael Hurley’s The Loney “the modern classic that we all missed” when it was shortlisted for the Costa first novel prize this year. They plucked it from Yorkshire publisher Tartarus, secured it a film deal, and it became one of the best-reviewed debuts this year.