A Reminder That Most Good Editing Is Done Quietly and Patiently

By Jack Limpert

Editor Maxwell Perkins was born on this day in 1884—he helped F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and other authors do their best work. And one of the great books about an editor is Max Perkins: Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg, published in 1979 by Dutton; a Riverhead Books paperback also is available. Here’s what I wrote earlier about the Perkins book:

In the late 1970s my sense of how an editor should behave was shaped by reading Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, by Scott Berg. Perkins was a book editor at Scribner’s and his authors included F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, James Jones, and many others. His genius was his ability to inspire writers to do their best work. He often had a big impact on a book—the length, structure, and title—but to the outside world the finished book always was the author’s; it was the author’s genius, not the editor’s. I translated that to often just saying, “Writers are more important than editors,” and always believed it.

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