Lindsay Sagnette just capped off a pretty good year. The 38-year-old, who has been at Crown/Hogarth since 2010, had two coups in 2013—one was an unexpected literary hit that made the awards rounds, and the other was an unstoppable bestseller. Those two books are Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena and Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. The former, which came out in May, earned more than respectable sales (according to BookScan, the hardcover has sold over 20,000 copies), and strong reviews, landing on the National Book Awards longlist. The latter, out since June 2012, achieved dizzying heights; the paperback edition does not bow until April but, by the close of last year, the combined global sales of the hardcover and e-book editions topped six million copies.
Books were always Sagnette’s destiny, or at least, her goal. As an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, where she was an English major with a focus in poetry, she initially thought she’d go for an M.F.A. When she told her advisor of her plan to puruse a graduate degree in poetry, he suggested she try getting a job in the “real world” first. She wanted to be “as close to books as I could be—without writing them.” That meant an editorial job at a publishing house in New York City.
Her first gig, in 1997, was as an assistant to the literary agent Howard Morhaim, who owns an eponymous firm. After working for Morhaim, whose authors range from the literary to the commercial, Sagnette moved on to “about the best first job in publishing you could ever have.” In 2000 she became an editorial assistant at Riverhead, working under Julie Grau. The prestige—and ensuing success—of the authors Grau was acquiring is something that shaped Sagnette’s sensibilities and career goals. “We were buying every single person we’re now reading—Sarah Waters, Nick Hornby. I mean, it was just incredible.”
From Riverhead, Sagnette went to Grove/Atlantic, where she edited some poetry and got to work on major titles like Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss. After Grove, Sagnette landed at Bloomsbury, was laid off in the midst of an overhaul of the editorial team there, and moved to St. Martin’s Press, working under George Witte and Sally Richardson.
Describing her niche, Sagnette said she leans towards the literary, but also appreciates the sentimental. “I like books with a lot of heart, that err on the side of emotion in some way. If there are books that are really artfully put together—almost like architectural constructions—then I tend to run towards the ones that are emotional, and have a real voice and storytelling drive,” she explained. And, having worked at literary imprints as well as more commercial ones, she said she does have a commitment to finding literary books that still have a hope of selling. “I’ve never wanted to publish books that I think are beautiful, but no one wants to read. I’ve always wanted people to come to the books that I’m working on, and find stories that are relevant to them.”
Whether it was relevant to them or not, people flocked to Gone Girl. (Flynn signed a two-book deal with Crown’s now shuttered imprint, Shaye Areheart Books. Flynn then signed a second deal with Crown; Sagnette was assigned to edit Flynn when she arrived.) While Flynn’s first two novels, Sharp Objects and Dark Places, sold well, there was a general feeling in publishing circles that the author was poised to break out in a bigger way. But, said Sagnette, Flynn still “exceeded everyone’s expectations when she turned in Gone Girl.”
The twisting, twisted tale of a marriage gone horribly off the rails, Gone Girl, which is told in alternating first person by the wife, Amy, and the husband, Nick, is, Sagnette feels, a work that maintains Flynn’s signature voice while bringing it up a notch. The critics, certainly, agreed, and Gone Girl became that unique book seemingly as adored by the critics as by the general public.
While Sagnette cherishes working with Flynn—a new novel is forthcoming, but Sagnette said she is barred from sharing any details—her experience acquiring and editing Marra has been one of the highlights of her career. “I think that was one of the proudest moments I’ve ever had in publishing,” Sagnette said, citing the joy of working on a book and then watching as it achieves both sales and critical acclaim.
With much on the horizon in 2014—film adaptations are set for both Gone Girl and Sharp Objects, and Sagnette recently bought former lawyer Eliza Kennedy’s buzzed-about, humorous, and profane novel I Take You at the 2013 Frankfurt Book Fair—this editor is gearing up for another good year.
Current title: Senior editor at Crown and Hogarth
Higher education: B.A., University of Virginia
Favorite books: Although she said “it’s impossible to choose three,” if forced, she goes with Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy; The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers; and Sula by Toni Morrison.