An Editor’s Worth: Max Perkins

For the ultimate appreciation of an editor’s worth, I encourage you all to read A. Scott Berg’s Max Perkins: Editor of Genius.  My view of literary life forever changed after reading this biography that was recently made into a film, which I also recommend. I had the good fortune of meeting A.Scott Berg at his SBWC keynote/book signing when Genius debuted in 1996. I became a Max Perkins-ophile that day. Fascinating to me that this very stable and genius among editors,  devoted husband and father worked intimately with some of the finest and most unstable writers (& geniuses) of their time, Thomas Wolfe, F Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.


Not long ago, I attended an event that featured White Oleander bestselling author (Oprah Book Club Selection) Janet Finch and essayist & author Pico Iyer discussing the writing process. A few comments I scribbled as Mr Iyer interviewed Ms Fitch about her upcoming November 2017 release of The Revolution of Marina M , a novel that took this best selling author ten years to write.

  • Ms. Fitch’s best advice received from her editor she always passes along to her students (she loves to workshop/teach): Get the ‘I’ out of your novels.

Mr Iyer’s credits also read like a Who’s Who. Here’s his answer re: ‘killing your darlings’:

  • Imagine a gorgeous woman in an orange bikini at a dinner party. She’s gorgeous but a distraction. That’s why you edit those out of your work.

The lesson here, watch your egos, writers. We are so hungry and eager to share our projects with the reading world, sometimes our glasses fog up. Authors like Janet Fitch devote years getting their stories right. With White Oleander, she shared a story about an editor who told her that while the narrative arc was readable, her sentence structure was uninspiring. After Janet healed her hurt ego, she made sure that editor didn’t deliver that critique again.

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