The Independent recently spotlighted Quercus, a British independent publisher who is responsible for bringing Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy into the English language market. Mark Smith and Wayne Davies started Quercus in 2004 after working together and simultaneously leaving Orion Publishing Group.
At first, Quercus mostly acquired non-fiction manuscripts which could be realized well as illustrated books. Two years later, Quercus began taking on the riskier path of buying fiction and they also hired Christopher MacLehose. His specialty is to scout foreign writers, such as Haruki Murakami and Henning Mankell, who would do well in the English language market.
Thanks to MacLehose, Quercus bought the rights to the Millennium Trilogy and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo came out in 2008. Booksellers were not receptive to this title. Smith wouldn’t identify a particularly memorable vendor who told him, “Don’t like authors with funny names.”
Needless to say, the first book in the series did not do well and it was difficult to move copies. When the second book was released, they employed a guerrilla marketing technique. They handed out copies of The Girl who Played with Fire on trains and buses.
It worked and Larsson’s second book was the first translated title to make it to the pinnacle of the UK hardcover bestseller list. That set a good platform for The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest which went on to also top the bestseller lists.
Smith has more to say on Quercus’ success: “Before Larsson, we were constantly having to prove ourselves. As a new start-up we weren’t high up agents’ lists and had to work really hard to convince authors to sign. It was difficult. Everyone dreams of signing the next blockbuster, the next Harry Potter â€“ and we did. I’ve had colleagues who have been waiting 25 years for such a hit.”