I acquired the habit of browsing used bookstores when I was a college student in the Twin Cities, a very long time ago. At some time back then I bought a copy of Editor to Author, which is a volume of selected correspondence between the editor Maxwell Perkins and many of his writers. I suspect I bought the book because Perkin’s writers included F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe and Ernest Hemingway, authors I was just discovering after devoting my high school reading and rereading time to an odder mix: Herman Hesse, Germaine Greer, Richard Brautigan, Abbie Hoffman and Maud Hart Lovelace.
I grazed through the Perkins book recently and found myself laughing aloud. The gentle and patient way he deals with his writers’ anxieties (Marketing! Deadlines! Requests for revisions!) reminded me of my own long-time editor’s manner.
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was one of his writers. Before she hit the very big time with The Yearling (1938) Rawlings wrote some other books, and after a successful novel in 1933, (South Moon Under) evidently she was getting conflicting advice as to what to write next. Perkins patiently advised her: “…of course the sales department always wants a novel. They want to turn everything into a novel. They would have turned the New Testament into one if it had come to us for publication. … Anyhow, the thing for you to do is to write it as you feel it. …”
And then he goes on to answer a question about whether she could get an advance on her royalty check (Yes).
What would a modern sales department want to turn The New Testament into? A YA zombie novel?
Possibly so. Believe it or not, I just tried and had to stop reading – Abe Lincoln Vampire Hunter.