This is the final chapter of Manager as Muse: Maxwell Perkins’ Work with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, a less academic version of my thesis for my MBA, which compared Perkins’ management style with the principles of theorist Henri Fayol. I have recently published this via Amazon and CreateSpace, with the help of an Elance free-lancer, Jean Boles, who did the formatting and technical parts. The original academic case study is available at www.lulu.com/spotlight/suchfriends
Application of Principles
The purpose behind my research into these fascinating characters in early 20th century American literature was to determine how Maxwell Perkins motivated his three most famous authors to create great work. So how do Perkins’ management style and techniques compare and contrast with Fayol’s guidelines?
The editor inspired great devotion and loyalty, accepted responsibility and was considered to be fair.
Descriptions of Perkins’ work with all of his authors mention his tremendous fairness and kindness. Perkins took full responsibility for his writers and their work. Indeed his problems with Wolfe may have stemmed from his taking on too much responsibility, stepping over the boundary from editor to co-author. Perkins’ work was also characterized by “fair play,” along with “forcefulness and sternness” at times. His firmness usually took the form of friendly persuasion, entreaties to the writer to keep writing.
Perkins was not a strong task master but could be firm, inspiring respect in his authors and helping them with their self-control.
In the area of discipline, Perkins once again followed Fayol’s principles, although he was never known as a strong disciplinarian. Rather, his discipline was what Fayol called “organized self-control.” His authors’ obedience took the form of following Perkins’ suggestions regarding both their work and their careers, with little if any trace of fear. The only exception to Fayol’s sub-principle that discipline must be based on respect, not fear, is Wolfe’s protestation that he was afraid to show Perkins his next work because of his fear that Perkins would disregard its importance. In general, his relationships with Wolfe and all his authors were based on tremendous respect.
Remuneration of Personnel:
Personal involvement became very important and the mode of payment depended on the individual’s needs.
This area is of great importance to all managers. In fact, the sub-principle which relates most directly to Perkins’ dealings with authors is Fayol’s belief that the managers should become involved in the workers’ private lives—up to a point. Perkins was personal friends with all three writers, took an interest in their lives, spent time with them and their families socially, and handled personal duties for each of them. Perkins’ critics have argued that his biggest mistake was taking too much of an interest in Wolfe as a person, treating him as a surrogate son. Even Wolfe has given this as a cause for their famous break, “that the editor and the friend got too close” (Wolfe, 1956).
Fayol did not draw a definite line that the manager should not cross, feeling that he was only setting down guidelines and that the degree of personal involvement would vary with each worker and circumstance. Perkins’ involvement with his writers was intrinsic to their success, but when he went too far with Wolfe it led to bad feelings on all sides and the eventual loss of Wolfe to Scribner’s. What the dividing line was, what was “too far,” and when Perkins should have pulled back is difficult to determine.
Fayol’s sub-principle of remuneration being based on “the will of the company and the value of the employee,” relates directly to Perkins’ manner of financially rewarding his authors. To him the writer’s value was not measured in terms of the sale of the next book, but in the long range benefits of their careers to the company and the authors. He was willing to have Scribner’s pay for the long, fallow periods of writers’ lives as well as reap the benefits of their lucrative efforts.
The method of payment that Perkins used for each author varied slightly, although all were paid by “job rates,” which are defined in Fayol’s terms as “payment made turning upon the execution of a definite job set in advance and independent of the length of the job” (Dyer and Dyer, 1969). Fitzgerald survived on his personal and professional advances against future work. With Hemingway, Perkins volunteered to make this payment regular, in the form of an annual salary, but Hemingway declined because he knew he could never write on demand. His earnings were mostly in royalties since his books did so much better during his lifetime than Fitzgerald’s did during his. In Wolfe’s case, Perkins tried to find many different ways for him to earn a living from writing, including grants and fellowships, sales of segments of his books as stories, as well as the earnings from his books and some advances.
For the most part, Perkins’ managerial behavior in the area of remuneration was based on standard rates of exchange in the industry, although many times he knew he was paying an author less—and in some cases more—than could be earned elsewhere. For example, Fitzgerald always earned more from his short stories, but Perkins compensated for this with large advances to keep him writing novels. He knew Hemingway could earn more for articles than Scribner’s magazine would pay him, but he kept Hemingway in the fold with advances and promises of publisher loyalty. Wolfe’s value was difficult to determine, although he felt it had to be at least $10,000 since that was what another publisher had offered. Perkins kept him around by paying as much as was possible and making special arrangements for his finances, but in the long run this was not enough to compensate for the hurt feelings between the two.
Unity of Command:
Authors only dealt with one superior, Perkins, but often more on paper than in person
Perkins did not violate the rule of unity of command in the sense of having his authors deal with more than one superior at Scribner’s. In that area his behavior was in line with Fayol’s ideal. All of his authors dealt directly with him, with the exception of Wheelock’s copy editing of Wolfe’s work. Even this does not really violate the principle in spirit, for it was merely a matter of getting staff help on an enormous project that Perkins was already devoting too much time to.
However, Fayol considered one of the important aspects of unity of command to be verbal orders, and “no abuse of written communication.” Perkins would have disagreed. He was a voluminous letter writer. He sent long critiques to his authors of all their work, and his usual mode was to react to any manuscript quickly by wire, following up with a detailed letter.
One of the primary differences between Fayol’s and Perkins’ ways of communicating with employees is easily explained by the fact that Perkins was not dealing with present workers. His authors were scattered around the world, and long distance telephone service was not what it is now—and no e-mail! The telegram was his best way of communicating quickly to an author about sales, contract terms, and his opinion of the work. If this mode of communication is counted as verbal, since it was as close was he could get to direct verbal contact, then his actions are more in line with Fayol’s principles. All of Perkins’ written communication cannot be excused by distance, however, as he often wrote to authors in the same city.
But Fayol preferred verbal orders to written ones because “it is well known that differences and misunderstandings which a conversation could clear up, grow more bitter in writing.” Ironically, this may be one of the reasons Perkins wrote such long letters. He went into great detail about his feelings on any subject, especially the author’s work, to dispel any misunderstandings, often ending with, “If I could see you in person I know I could explain it better…”
All of Perkins’ authors had great respect for the written word, which may have been another reason why Perkins used this form of communication so often. Given the reactions of his authors to his letters and suggestive critiques, it is hard to say that he “abused” it. He was true to the spirit of “unity of command,” if not the letter of the principle.
Subordination of the Individual to the General Interest:
The highest priority was the work, which came first before personal gain, or personal or company profit.
Fayol’s principle of the subordination of the individual to the general interest raises an interesting point regarding the management of creative people in particular. Fayol saw this principle as a tool for the manager to use in resolving conflicts: When the individual’s own interest was contrary to that of the company, that of the company should prevail. Perkins, however, had a different set of priorities which, I conclude, is one of the main differences between managing creative people and managing others. This “Perkins Principle” will be discussed more fully below.
Applications to Specific Authors
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Remuneration of personnel came to take precedence over all else. Keeping Fitzgerald solvent kept him working on more important writing than his lucrative short stories, and was always mixed with equity as well as discipline. Unity of command became less important, as Fitzgerald did become friends with and communicate with Charles Scribner as well as Perkins. Perkins violated the principle of subordination to the general interest to keep Fitzgerald working on what was most important for his talents even when it appeared to not be in the best interest of Scribner’s.
Although he required less attention than some authors, Hemingway’s remuneration was important to him as well. This relationship worked out to be lucrative to both Hemingway and Scribner’s almost from the start, and was more in line with Fayol’s sub-principle of being fair to both employer and employee. However, Hemingway did not see money as the most important yardstick of the worth of his talent, and was more concerned about his own personal standards of excellence. Perkins’ applications of equity and discipline were also important, as Hemingway needed to feel that he was being dealt with fairly all the time. In violation of Fayol’s sub-principle encouraging verbal communication, Perkins communicated with Hemingway on paper often, although they would go off together for days on trips to talk about work and unrelated subjects. He knew that Hemingway’s work was of paramount interest to him, and that took priority over company or personal interest.
Perkins’ work with Wolfe is perhaps a good example of the manager’s mistakes. Remuneration of personnel was important to Wolfe only in terms of what it said about his standing at Scribner’s. Perkins’ personal involvement became more important than the money which changed hands. Equity—especially in terms of devotion and loyalty—also came to bear here. Wolfe was devoted and loyal, and he demanded equal amounts in return, almost equal to his own extra-human proportions. Discipline was more difficult with someone like Wolfe. He followed Perkins’ advice so closely in terms of the cuts that were suggested in his novels that he regretted it later when others dared to suggest that Perkins may have been wrong. The interest of the company meant little if anything to Wolfe, and Perkins once again used his work as the top priority for all involved. Although they spoke often in person, their correspondence is also lengthy. Perkins wrote to Wolfe when he knew what a violent reaction his suggestions and opinions would cause in his volatile writer. Wolfe, for his part, wrote to everyone including Perkins even when they were in the same city, extensively. But he also demanded the use of written communication during their break to formalize their relationship.
All told, it appears that Perkins was a good Fayol-style manager, albeit unknowingly, with notable exceptions which relate directly to the fact that he was working with creative people. His work was most in line with Fayol’s ideas in the areas of equity, discipline, and remuneration of personnel, and at variance with Fayol in the areas of unity of command and subordination of the individual to the general interest. This would imply that managers of creative people would be wise to follow Fayol’s guidelines, allowing for the “Perkins Principles,” so to speak.
The “Perkins Principles”
A Matter of Priorities
The primary Perkins Principle has been mentioned above as a variation on Fayol’s subordination to the general interest. The creative person is more likely to be motivated by subordinating all interests to the overriding one of improving the work rather than improving the bottom line of an organization.
One of the most common themes running through all of Perkins’ work with his authors is contained in a phrase he wrote to Wolfe: “There is nothing so great as a book can be” (Perkins, 1950).
Despite Perkins’ strong loyalty to his firm and to his authors, he had one higher loyalty that all his authors shared—to the work.
The work came first. Not just the current work, or most profitable work, or even the work in progress, but the overall work of a writer’s career—Fitzgerald’s post-flapper stories, Hemingway’s longer, more substantive novels, all the books contained in Wolfe. Over and over again he said to them, “Just get back to work; we’ll figure it out. Don’t worry about the public, profits, Scribner’s or even me. Don’t even worry about yourself. Worry about the work.” He told his superiors at Scribner’s, “A publisher’s first allegiance is to talent” (in Berg, 1978) and he impressed this priority on all of his authors.
This Perkins Principle can be important for the manager of creative people. Whereas Fayol would tell the manager that when an author’s work was interfering with the company’s interest, the company’s interest should prevail, Perkins would say, “Let him work.” This conflict between the two is very real and faced every day by managers.
By appealing to this side of the author, Perkins made them feel as though they were both working toward the same goal, making the work better. Because the writer worked almost exclusively with Perkins, he or she naturally felt, as Wolfe said many times, that all of Scribner’s was there for the betterment of the writing. This may not have always been the Scribner’s management’s real goal, but the author felt that it was, or at least that it was for Perkins.
The results for Scribner’s were mixed. A considerable amount of effort was put into Wolfe’s works only to have him leave and go to another publishing house. This time may have been misspent in terms of benefits to the company.
However, in the long run, Scribner’s for many years reaped the benefits of the classics which Perkins kept his authors working on. Most did not make money during the author’s—or, in some cases, Perkins’—lifetime. But many publishing companies live off their own back lists, and eventually Scribner’s made money from the major works of Perkins’ three major authors. A detailed profit and loss analysis comparing the time and money spent versus the returns over the years is a bit beyond the limits of this work.
Perkins felt his first allegiance was to talent, and second, perhaps, to the long run good of the company. He left them quite a legacy.
The Power of Suggestion
Although Perkins varied from Fayol’s dictum not to abuse written communication, the style of his letters could be one of his most important contributions to managerial guidelines.
There is a pattern that emerges in Perkins’ letters. First, in a brief telegram, he praises whatever they have done in fulsome terms. Then in a follow up letter he goes on to discuss his “minor criticisms.” He gives background and reasons for the negative as well as the positive comments, mentioning specifics in the manuscript. He also always makes it clear that his feelings are his alone, merely suggestions for the author to take and do with as he or she pleases. He then ends his letters with a phrase such as, “These are suggestions only, don’t do anything about them now. We’ll talk about them when you’re here.”
This ending has two effects. One, it cautions the author not to either race to the manuscript and start making changes right away, or, conversely, to begin brooding about why the editor thought so much was wrong. Invariably, it seems, the author would put the letter away, start thinking vaguely about the things Perkins had said, and eventually come around to most of the changes on his or her own.
Perkins’ style of stating all of his orders in vague but suggestive terms allowed the creative person to do the creating. Even in the case of Wolfe, where many accused Perkins of actually writing his work, it is clear from the evidence that he made suggestions of large cuts, changes of emphasis and focus, rather than rewriting within sentences and actually creating.
From the reports of authors who worked with Perkins it is clear that his manner in person was similar—the silence, the vague phrase, the suggested idea dropped casually in conversation. All of these allowed the writer to do his or her own writing, but with their editors’ guidance and perspective.
Room for Growth
There is one other area where Perkins’ views differed from Fayol’s theory, which illustrates another important part of his technique.
We have focused here on Fayol’s “Process” principles. However, one of his “End result” principles is “stability of tenure of personnel.” One classical critic, Haire (1962), interpreted Fayol’s guidelines to mean a minimum of change within employees as well as within the system:
Very much growth and development in the individual will upset the system. He was put into a job that was an appropriate size for him. If he grows much bigger, he will either want to reach out and do more, which will upset the apple cart, or he will work only about half speed, which has deleterious effects upon his and other’s morale.
Perkins’ approach to his authors’ growth was diametrically opposed to this. He constantly took on writers working on a project that was too small for the talents he saw in them, and then brought them along gradually to something more worthy of their gifts. This is true of Fitzgerald, whom he weaned away from flapper novels toward deeper works; Hemingway, whom he sustained through minor novels such as To Have and toward a major accomplishment such as Bell; and Wolfe, whom he pushed to finish one project so that he could hone his talent in future works that were burning to come out of him.
The evidence shows that Perkins’ interpretation of stability of tenure would be to nurture the creative person along through stages of development to the kind of work that he or she will do best. This created stability in Perkins’ situation, working for a publishing company that was “absolutely true to our authors and support(s) them loyally in the face of losses” (in Bruccoli, 1978; Fitzgerald and Perkins, 1971) through money losers to get them to write the greater work which would turn out to be lucrative as well.
My research was undertaken to explore the nature of the editor as manager, in the role of “muse” for writers and other creative people. To do this, I applied the guidelines developed by one successful manager, Henri Fayol, to the behavior of another, Maxwell Perkins.
The ultimate purpose is to give managers of creative people general guidelines to use. Despite the changes in the publishing industry in the intervening years, I hope that these conclusions can still be helpful to those tasked with managing creative people today.