Quercus Publishing Plc was founded in May 2004 in the flat of current CEO Mark Smith with a former colleague from the Orion Publishing Group, Wayne Davies. Shortly after, the pair moved to a two-desk room above a shop just off Baker Street in central London. Initially funded by their own savings and investments from friends and family, they produced their opening list of six titles, which were hand-sold out of a suitcase at that year’s Frankfurt Book Fair.
Orders were secured for all six titles, the first coming from the US and foreshadowing the international sales success Quercus would have throughout its history. The very first two titles produced – Universe and Speeches that Changed the World – went on to be bestsellers, the latter having recently passed one million copies sold worldwide. Another title in this initial program, The Digital Photography Handbook, remains to this day the best-selling photography book in the UK.
These early successes enabled Quercus to extend its list to more than fifty new books in 2006, including the launch of Quercus’ award-winning crime fiction list. Peter Temple’s The Broken Shore marked Quercus’ debut on the UK bestseller lists in July of that year.
By October 2006, the company had moved to more traditional publishing premises in Bloomsbury Square to house a staff of over 20 and was now listed on Plus Markets, attracting new levels of investment and ensuring a strong financial platform for its future growth.
The start of 2007 saw Quercus’ first major literary prize when Stef Penney’s The Tenderness of Wolves won the Costa Book of the Year Award (formerly the Whitbread Prize). In a year of rapid growth, the company also won Small Publisher of the Year at the British Book Industry Awards and Plus New Business of the Year at the Fast Growth Business Awards.
In 2008, Quercus’ first imprint, the MacLehose Press, was launched to great success with the release of the first title in Stieg Larsson’s award-winning Millennium Trilogy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The sequel, The Girl Who Played with Fire, published in 2009, was not only Quercus’ first number one bestseller but also made British publishing history, being the first ever translated title to top the UK hardback fiction chart.
Also in 2008, Quercus launched its children’s list and one of its first titles, Manfred the Baddie, was to win the Royal Mail Award. This small and select list has been much acclaimed with Gregory Hughes’ Unhooking the Moon winning the Booktrust Teenage Prize and other titles being shortlisted for the Waterstones Prize, the Guardian Prize, the Roald Dahl Funny Prize, the Blue Peter Award and the Branford Boase Award.
For the second year running, Quercus was to win a major honour at the British Book Industry Awards, this time as Independent Publisher of the Year 2008.
In 2009, Quercus published its first six e-books, including Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy which went on to break all e-book sales records, including being the first author to sell more than one million e-books. Quercus’ e-book title count has risen exponentially alongside the explosion of e-reading devices and tablets and provides a very significant proportion of the company’s revenues.
Two highly prestigious awards were also secured in 2009 when The Armies by Evelio Rosero on the MacLehose Press list won the Independent Foreign Fiction Award and Harold Larwood by Duncan Hamilton won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year.
In 2010, the non-fiction list came to the fore. Among highlights were Andrew Grieg’s At the Loch of The Green Corrie, which was shortlisted for the Saltire Award, and Duncan Hamilton’s A Last English Summer, which was shortlisted for the William Hill Book of the Year. However, the biggest success was The King’s Speech, the true story behind the award-winning film, which hit the Sunday Times bestseller lists in both hardback and paperback. In fiction, Peter May’s The Black House was the first Quercus title to be picked for the Richard and Judy Book Club, to spectacular sales success.
Quercus also won the Marketing Campaign of the Year 2010 at the Bookseller Industry Awards and was shortlisted for Publisher of the Year, as was the MacLehose Press for Imprint of the Year.
Encouraged by the triumphs of the MacLehose Press, two new imprints were introduced in 2011, both led by proven industry figures. Susan Watt’s Heron Books is an imprint dedicated to author-led fiction and non-fiction, and Jo Fletcher Books focuses on science fiction, horror and fantasy. One of Jo Fletcher’s very first titles, A Cold Season by Alison Littlewood, was also to be selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club.
2011 was a spectacular year for awards, with the company named Plus Market Company of the Year at the Growth Company Awards and Company of the Year at the Plus SX Awards, and CEO Mark Smith honoured as the Grant Thornton Quoted Company Entrepreneur of the Year. Surpassing even these, Quercus was awarded the ultimate accolade by its peers, being named Publisher of the Year at the 2011 Bookseller Industry Awards.
In August of that year, Quercus relocated its now seventy-strong staff to the prestigious and hi-tech 55 building on Baker Street, starting an exciting new chapter in the company’s history just 100 yards from the founders’ original garret.
In early 2012, Quercus won yet another award that, whilst highly prestigious in its own right, had a particular significance for the company, being born out of one of its most controversial episodes. For as Toby Harnden’s Dead Men Risen won the Orwell Prize, it felt a vindication for the publisher who had faced front page headlines and the MOD to ensure the book was published. Quercus completed a heavyweight year for non-fiction that had also seen the launch of its cookery and lifestyle list when it published the tie-in book to David Attenborough’s BBC series Africa to great commercial success.
This was also the year when the digital side of the business exploded to a previously unimaginable level. Two titles topped the e-book charts for months at a time and reached national notoriety – Alice Peterson’s Monday to Friday Man and Hilary Boyd’s Thursdays in the Park – whilst Peter May’s Lewis Man and David Mark’s Dark Winter, another Richard and Judy Book Club selection, also had residences in the upper echelons of the digital bestsellers. Whilst these authors had significantly increased their audiences as they built their careers at Quercus, other already established authors were now joining the fold, as exemplified by the arrival of the hugely successful women’s fiction author Dorothy Koomson whose The Rose Petal Beach became an instant digital and print smash.
As 2013 began, Quercus’ international leanings were to the fore. On the literary front, Three Strong Women by Maria N’Diaye was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize whilst, on the commercial front, Quercus opened its first international office in New York, ready to publish directly into the world’s most vibrant market and the one that had provided its bedrock orders just nine years previously.
In less than a decade, Quercus has published over 1000 titles in print and digital formats, and established itself as one of the most acclaimed and profitable independent publishers in the UK. Now the wider world beckons.