Ironically, there are few books that aspiring editors and publishers can look to for inspiration and guidance on their journeys. It seems that editors are excellent advocates for other people’s work, and for the most part prefer to remain in the background themselves. That’s why A. Scott Berg’s biography of Max Perkins is such a treasure.
Maxwell Perkins isn’t a well-known figure, generally speaking. But among acquisitions editors and publishers, he’s practically a deity. And if you love literature, I promise that Max Perkins has impacted your life—he’s the genius behind F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe.
It’s not just that he discovered and published (in spite of his company’s serious reservations) some of the most influential American authors of all time; Max Perkins changed the very role of editors. Editors are no longer confined to copyediting; as Berg writes, now editors must “know what to publish, how to get it, and what to do to help it achieve the largest readership. At all this… Max Perkins was unsurpassed.” In many ways, he was an eccentric: quiet, reserved, known for wearing his hat indoors and taking tea at exactly the same time every day. He was a stark contrast from his authors, the free-spirited Fitzgeralds, hypermasculine Ernest Hemingway, and proud Thomas Wolfe. But they—and all of his authors—absolutely loved and adored him. They credited Max with shaping their work and believing in them before anyone else did.
There’s no doubt about it: Editors have much to learn from Max. I think his unique contributions to the world of editing boil down to five key characteristics.Continue Reading