Finding Your Maxwell Perkins, Somewhere Out There

Whether a fiction writer elects to publish in a traditional or digital form, that writer should ideally search first for a skilled independent editor to ready the manuscript for submission. If that writer chooses the legacy route and must inevitably go under the knife of that publishing house’s editor, the help provided by an independent editor can pay off in dividends. This aid can come in the form of developmental editing, line editing, or ideally a combination of the two. Such editors are hard to come by, but they are out there, and working with one can be one of the best decisions a writer can make.

In the first half of the twentieth century, an American fiction writer was lucky enough to enjoy a very different relationship with his or her editor than a writer usually will today. The worldrenowned Scribner editor Maxwell Perkins comes to mind. Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Thomas Wolfe would have become great writers without Perkins’ services. But they became so much better as writers because of Perkins. He was deeply involved with Papa and with the King of the Jazz Age. Most notably, Perkins kept Wolfe from running off at the Underwood typewriter for thousands of unnecessary pages. He was able to rein Wolfe in and mold his writing into something much more concise and powerful.

Perkins gave these three writers his heart and soul when it came to the depth and attention of his editing. These days, at least in the few remaining major houses, a writer will be hard pressed to find an editor that will give such patience, attention, and care to the work at hand.

I myself was lucky to find an editor with the detailed attention and care that Perkins had: Cynthia J. Stone , co-owner of Violet Crown Publishers  in Austin. Cindy invited me to join the Novel in Progress (NIP) writers’ group in Austin, she gave excellent critiques to my submissions from my second novel in NIP meetings, and after reading her first novel, Mason’s Daughter, and submissions from her second, Mason’s Keeper, I realized that Cindy is not just a strong developmental editor, with a background in magazine publishing. I discovered she is a very powerful writer, exploring some of the same subject matter I explore with a style I liked. I made my gamble and trusted my first novel with her.

For a few months Cindy carefully read and edited the work, and asked many questions. One day, while Cindy was showing me her edits of my novel on her flatscreen, I felt a deep calm, combined with a sense of elation. I realized I was receiving even better developmental editing and continuous advice than I had expected. I smiled, remembering the great Max Perkins, as several writers called him. I knew for sure that Water Lessons would not be the novel I intended had I not enlisted Cindy as my editor. My hope going forward from that experience is that other writers are lucky enough to find their own Max Perkins, whether afar or in their very midst.