In retrospect, Sarah Knight’s first editorial job was a harbinger of a long and circuitous career to come. “My first-ever acquisition was For Us, the Living, a long-lost novel by Robert Heinlein,” said Knight, who bought the sci-fi title in 2001 while at Scribner. “A grad student found it, and somehow [the book] found its way to my boss, who granted a young Heinlein fan the chance to publish a cool slice of history.” After years away from the genre, Knight is now heading Simon451, Simon & Schuster’s new sci-fi, fantasy, and speculative fiction imprint, which will launch in October and will focus largely on digital-first publishing. The imprint represents both a foray into an underrepresented genre for the publisher and an opportunity to experiment with new digital strategies.
“As an editor, I’m so tired of being told how hard it is to get books into stores and solve the discoverability problem,” Knight said. “When you have 2,000 copies of a debut novel scattered over 600 stores nationwide, how likely is that to be aiding discoverability in any meaningful way? An imprint focusing on titles with strong traction in the digital market provides flexibility that print titles don’t have. With Simon451, we can change prices, add teasers, change cover art, and see what we can do to experiment. Something you can’t do with 7,000 copies of the book in the warehouse.”
Before becoming a book editor, Knight edited a comedy website and had a job at Shakespeare and Co. in New York. Later, while working for literary agent Lois Wallace, she realized that she was drawn to the editorial side of publishing.
Knight first began thinking about the “sweet spot” of “upmarket commercial” fiction while working as an editor under Colin Harrison and Suzanne Kirk at Scribner, where she rose to associate editor. “Working for both of them, I really got the breadth of experience that Scribner can offer,” she said. “It is an acclaimed, review-driven imprint that publishes award-winning books, but I was also working on many of the titles that were selling the best because they were commercial fiction.” Scribner authors like Tony Hillerman, Greg Iles, and Linda Fairstein, who found both critical and commercial success, provided Knight with an idea of what smart acquisitions could do.
At the end of 2005, Knight joined Henry Holt as an editor with the goal of expanding its commercial and thriller list. Since Holt focuses mainly on nonfiction, she had a lot of freedom to develop its commercial list. Soon, though, she was on the move again—this time to Random House and Shaye Areheart’s imprint at Crown. Areheart only handled fiction, and Knight knew she’d be “consciously turning my back on nonfiction, although with the understanding that at some point I might be able to acquire nonfiction” for another Crown imprint. “That was a great job because it was really just Shaye and me, so I saw everything,” Knight said. “It was an enormous volume of submissions.” At Crown, she had the opportunity to focus primarily on crime, suspense, and dark literary fiction, editing titles such as Taylor Stevens’s The Informationist and Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places.
But upheaval was shaking the publishing world in 2010, and Knight, hearing of an opening at S&S, decided it was time to move once again. It turned out to be a smart decision; the day after she left Random House, the Shaye Areheart imprint was shut down. Back at S&S, her skills acquiring upmarket commercial books resulted in her list’s diversification, away from thrillers and crime. Currently her line is tilted toward fiction, and she handles some of S&S’s prominent bestselling authors, such as Jeffery Deaver, James Lee Burke, and Steven Hunter. She has worked on the nonfiction side as well, where she generally seeks out literary memoirs, political humor, and books on “obsessive subcultures.”
Knight was tapped to head Simon451 when S&S announced the launch of the imprint in January. Simon451, which will release five titles this fall, will open with a bang in October, with X-files actress Gillian Anderson’s A Vision of Fire (cowritten by Jeff Rovin). Though most of the imprint’s titles will only be available as e-books, A Vision of Fire will be published in print as well, and S&S hopes to use Anderson’s popularity to draw attention to Simon451’s digital-first releases. In preparation for the novel’s publication, a sampler has been released that includes a letter from Knight, excerpts from upcoming titles, and preorder buttons. “Suddenly we’re starting to see a lot of preorder activity,” Knight said. “I’ll take [Anderson’s X-files character] Dana Scully as a vehicle for discoverability over a single copy spine-out on a low shelf any day of the week!”
Current title: Senior editor at Simon & Schuster
Higher education: B.A., Harvard, English and American literature
Favorite books: Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle by Vladimir Nabokov; A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving