Harvey Ginsberg, a New York book editor who served long tenures at G. P. Putnam’s Sons, Harper & Row and William Morrow & Company, and whose most loyal writers included John Irving and Saul Bellow, died on Dec. 30 in Manhattan. He was 78.

The cause was respiratory failure, said his nephew, Michael Kahn. Mr. Ginsberg had Parkinson’s disease, he said.

Known as a private man and, in the publishing world, as the prototype of its gentlemanly curmudgeon class, Mr. Ginsberg spent 36 years in the close reading and persnickety polishing of prose that was generally of high quality to begin with. His taste was high-minded, but he enjoyed a well-executed popular novel as well. In 1975 he edited “Black Sunday,” a first novel about a terror attack at the Super Bowl whose author, Thomas Harris, went on to write novels featuring the man/monster Hannibal Lecter; and in 1978, Mr. Ginsberg edited “Tales of the City,” Armistead Maupin’s first novel.

His relationship with Mr. Bellow began at Harper & Row with Mr. Bellow’s book “The Dean’s December,” published in 1981. Mr. Ginsberg subsequently left Harper for Morrow, and for his next novel, “More Die of Heartbreak,” Mr. Bellow followed him.

Mr. Ginsberg began his long partnership with Mr. Irving on the novel “The Cider House Rules,” published by Morrow in 1985, and he edited five other novels by Mr. Irving as well; they continued to work together through 2005 on a freelance basis even after Mr. Irving moved to another publishing house.

Mr. Irving said in an interview Friday that as a writer of long novels he especially cherished Mr. Ginsberg’s adept sense of appropriate foreshadowing, of recognizing how often a detail that had to be held in the mind of a reader for 200 pages needed to be underscored: “Was three mentions enough? Was six too many?”

“What made him especially suited to me was that he had a fondness for long novels without being tolerant of long-windedness,” Mr. Irving added.

Harvey Slom Ginsberg was born on June 23, 1930, in Bangor, Me., where his father, George, was a clothing manufacturer. His literary bent — and his middle name — came from his mother, Lena Slom, a college-educated homemaker. Mr. Ginsberg graduated from Harvard and spent two years in the Army before entering publishing. He got his first editing job in 1957 at Doubleday.

Mr. Ginsberg never married. He is survived by a sister, Sandra Kahn of Cambridge, Mass. In his later years he became a collector of early-20th-century postcards, amassing more than 12,000 from before 1920, which he donated to the New York Public Library.

Mr. Irving said that he and Mr. Ginsberg once did an interview together about the editorial process. The reporter asked how frequently Mr. Irving accepted Mr. Ginsberg’s suggestions, and Mr. Irving said three times out of five.

“And Harvey scoffed,” Mr. Irving recalled. “He said, ‘One out of five. If I’m lucky.’ ”

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