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A brief history of the Orion Publishing Group


Foundation

The Orion Publishing Group Limited was founded in 1991. Soon after, Orion began negotiations with Lord Weidenfeld and acquired Weidenfeld & Nicolson as the nucleus of a new, entrepreneurial publishing group. The W&N imprint, founded in 1949, was an established brand name with a consistent history of quality publishing. Since the 1980s, the imprints under the Weidenfeld umbrella included JM Dent and Everyman Paperbacks.

The Orion Paperback Division was successfully launched in 1993 and two more acquisitions were made at the start of that year. Orion bought the assets of Chapman Publishers, a small general publishing house. The second acquisition was a warehousing and distribution centre, Littlehampton Book Services, based in Sussex.

In 1998, a majority of the share capital of the Orion Publishing Group was sold to Hachette Livre, the French publishing arm of the Lagardere Group. In 2003 Hachette Livre became the sole owner of the group.

In December 1998 the group acquired the publishing house Cassell & Co, whose imprints included Victor Gollancz Ltd. In January 2002, with the acquisition of the Octopus Publishing Group by Hachette Livre, the popular illustrated imprints of Cassell & Co were transferred to the Octopus Group. As a result, the Cassell Reference and Cassell Military lists were joined with the Weidenfeld imprints to form a new division under the name of Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd.

Orion Books


Fiction

Orion Books published its first list in 1992, with Maeve Binchy and Ian Rankin among the founder authors. Fourteen years later, Orion Books is one of the leading commercial publishers in the UK. As well as Maeve and Ian, Orion’s bestselling novelists include Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Lilian Harry, Tami Hoag, Erica James (winner of the Romantic Novel of the Year Award in 2006), Maureen Lee and Robert Ludlum. Another recent worldwide success has been Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth, which was chosen for Channel 4’s Richard and Judy Book Club in 2006 and went on to win their coveted ‘Read of the Year’ award.

 

Orion Books is particularly known for its outstanding list of crime and thriller authors, who include Lawrence Block, James Lee Burke, Ed McBain and George Pelecanos, Lisa Gardner, Raymond Khoury and James Rollins. Orion’s bestselling crime writer Ian Rankin is about to celebrate 20 years of writing the Rebus novels – and now you can see them on TV, with actor Ken Stott bringing the detective to life.

 

In 2001 Orion began publishing Asterix, and has since acquired English language rights to the entire series.

 

Non-fiction

On the non-fiction side Orion Books has topped the bestseller lists with Dave Pelzer's three-part memoir, Donny Osmond's autobiography and Richard Picciotto’s Last Man Down, and has also enjoyed success with such titles as The Darwin Awards, Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps, The Pythons’ Autobiography, and autobiographies of such personalities as Ronnie O’Sullivan, Leslie Philips and Terry Wogan. Orion is the official publisher of Manchester United publications, including Legends of United and Official Manchester United Annuals.


Orion also publishes audio editions of titles from within the Group and those acquired from other publishers. In 2005 Orion Audiobooks published the audio edition of The Da Vinci Code, which became the top seller worldwide in the audio market. Many of Orion’s audio titles have received Spoken Word Awards.

 

Science Fiction

Gollancz was incorporated into Orion Books in 1998 and is now the science fiction/fantasy imprint. It publishes a range of popular and critically acclaimed authors, including Stephen Baxter, Stephen Donaldson, Mary Gentle, Rob Grant, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Richard Morgan, Robert Rankin and Alastair Reynolds, as well as a number of Terry Pratchett titles. Its Science Fiction and Fantasy Masterworks series, reissuing the great novels in the two genres, have been widely acclaimed. Since 2005, Gollancz has published Manga, bringing an ever-growing list of diverse titles to a new audience.

 

Children's Books

Orion Children’s Books, which was founded in 1992 incorporating JM Dent’s Childrens List, is also part of Orion Books. Orion Children’s Books acquired and published the English-language version of Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder, which became a huge worldwide bestseller. Its other major authors include Ann Halam, Alan Gibbons, Sally Gardner, Cliff McNish, Marcus Sedgwick and Kevin Crossley-Holland. Francesca Simon’s terrific Horrid Henry series has proved very popular with 5 to 7-year-olds (and their parents) both in book form and on audio (read by the irrepressible Miranda Richardson), and a TV cartoon and character costume have been launched. Orion’s biggest recent success is Michelle Paver’s Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series: following the worldwide publishing success of Wolf Brother, the sequels Spirit Walker and Soul Eater have both been bestsellers.

 

Weidenfeld & Nicolson


History

The first books bearing the Weidenfeld & Nicolson name were published in November 1949. However, the firm’s origins began five years earlier when George Weidenfeld – a refugee from Austria just before the Second World War – formed Contact Publications, primarily to publish a magazine called Contact and a small number of books. In 1947, he was joined by Nigel Nicolson, fresh from distinguished war service, and the creation of the publishing house of Weidenfeld & Nicolson followed soon after.

The emphasis on history and biography was evident from the beginning, and distinguished authors on the early list included Isaiah Berlin, Stephen Spender, Hugh Trevor-Roper, Rose Macaulay and Cyril Connolly. A distinguished fiction list developed in the 1950s with novels by Mary McCarthy, Saul Bellow – and, in 1959, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. This sensational book became the firm’s first major bestseller, eventually selling over 200,000 copies in hardback. Other novelists since have included Margaret Drabble, Edna O’Brien, Olivia Manning and Booker Prize winners J.G. Farrell and John Berger.

 

Non-fiction

Weidenfeld & Nicolson has published more world leaders than any other house, including Charles de Gaulle, Henry Kissinger, Golda Meir, Konrad Adenauer, Harold Wilson, Pope John Paul II and most recently Boris Yeltsin. In addition, it has long had a popular science list led by James D. Watson (The Double Helix), R.L. Gregory (Eye And Brain) and Richard Dawkins (River Out of Eden). It is also the leader in the field of diaries and letters, having published classics by ‘Chips’ Channon, Noël Coward, Alan Clark, Victor Klemperer, Kenneth Tynan, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Lord Alanbrooke, Duff Cooper and John Gielgud. Other recent bestsellers include Belle De Jour’s The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl.

 

The history list currently publishes leading names in the field – Antonia Fraser, Simon Sebag Montefiore, Andrew Roberts, Geoffrey Moorhouse, Liza Picard, John Adamson, Hugh Thomas, Felipe Fernandez-Armesto and Bernard Lewis.

The JM Dent imprint has brought with it the two most famous Welsh poets, Dylan Thomas and R.S. Thomas, as well as the Everyman list of classics in paperback.

 

Fiction

W&N specialises in distinguished contemporary fiction, and publishes novels by Vikram Seth, Colum McCann and Michael Collins – whose novel The Keepers of Truth was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. W&N has a strong crime list that includes such outstanding writers as Alan Furst, Elmore Leonard and Walter Mosley. Weidenfeld has also cherry-picked the best of European fiction, bringing such successes as Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader, Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World, the Captain Alatriste books and Boris Akunin’s acclaimed Erast Fandorin novels to the English language as well as the bestseller The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, which was also a ‘Richard and Judy’s Book Club’ choice. Other recent bestsellers include Snobs by Julian Fellowes.

 

Illustrated

The Weidenfeld Illustrated division’s reputation as a quality publisher of sumptuous, highly illustrated books is second to none. Past glories include glossy biographies of Luciano Pavarotti and Judi Dench, Thomas Pakenham’s extraordinary Remarkable Trees series and mouthwatering cookery titles from Tamasin Day-Lewis and Michel Roux. More recently, Weidenfeld Illustrated have tasted bestselling success with TV tie-in titles by fashion gurus Trinny & Susannah, and popular actor-turned-traveller Michael Palin. Other recent notables include According to the Rolling Stones, Inside Out by Nick Mason, and Richard Dawkins’s magnum opus The Ancestor’s Tale.

 

In 2005, The Orion Publishing Group was named ‘Publisher of the Year’ at the British Book Awards.

 

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