Readersforum's Blog

October 8, 2013

The age of Amazon still needs editors like Max Perkins

Max-Perkins-Editor-of-GeniusPDFs may have replaced galley proofs, but Hemingway’s editor still has lessons to teach the literary world.

by Gavin James Bower

Max Perkins: Editor of Genius is reissued this month, 35 years after it was first published – but what can the man who told Ernest Hemingway to “tone it down” and lived to tell the tale teach us about publishing today?

Random House founder Bennett Cerf described a lunch in 1925 with Theodore Dreiser, author of An American Tragedy, and Horace Liveright, the book’s first publisher. Liveright had struck a deal with Dreiser: if he sold film rights, Dreiser would receive a one-off payment of $50,000; if Liveright got more than that, the difference would be split 50/50. Liveright later handed Dreiser a cheque for $67,500 over lunch – only for Dreiser to storm out of the restaurant, accusing his publisher of ripping him off. “Bennett,” Liveright told Cerf as he recalled the lunch, “let this be a lesson to you. Every author is a son of a bitch.”

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