Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Forest for the Trees” as Want to Read:
The Forest for the Trees
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Forest for the Trees

3.94  ·  Rating Details ·  2,330 Ratings  ·  264 Reviews
Book by Lerner, Betsy
Paperback, 304 pages
Published April 1st 2001 by Riverhead Trade (first published March 20th 2000)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Forest for the Trees, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Forest for the Trees

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Adam Ross
May 04, 2011 Adam Ross rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: on-writing
This book has become, almost instantly, one of my all-time favorite books on writing. It's unique. Instead of dealing with matters of technique or style, it gets to the heart of the matter, plumbs the depths of the world of the writer. The first six chapters have to do with the personality and emotions of the writer. Each chapter deals with one or another of writer personalities, filled with profound insight into writer's minds. She really does know exactly what makes a writer tick. The second p ...more
J. Scala
Feb 21, 2011 J. Scala rated it it was ok
Betsy Lerner's The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers has a bit of an identity issue. On the one hand, it claims to be advice to writers which, in places, it actually is. On the other, it reads like an insider's exposé of what editors and agents really think of we writer types. I couldn't help but wonder if Lerner's audience wasn't actually intended to be other editors who would get the inside jokes and find the stereotypical caricatures of authors funny.

Lerner recently posted o
Dec 21, 2009 John rated it really liked it
Every. Single. Writer. I’ve given this to has called to thank me. Every. Single. One. Ignoring the not so fashionable accessory of sleep deprivation that comes with an infant, one started reading in the evening and didn’t stop till she finished in the early morning hours. It’s such a damn good book. And if you’ve ever longed to write that novel or that exquisite piece of history or collection of essays, let me offer a little piece of advice: – Stop reading this right now, grab this book and run ...more
Amy Plum
Jul 04, 2011 Amy Plum rated it it was amazing
This is like a spa for the writer's mind. Helped soothe my "I don't know what the hell's going on in this mysterious world of publishing" angst and reassured me that I am normal (for an author). As much for the unpublished writer as for those who have just published for the first time.
Deborah Harkness
A book for writers and those who love them, Lerner talks about the ups and downs of book writing and publication. If you are a writer, you will find yourself constantly thinking "oh, I thought that was just me" and if you love/live with/work for a writer you will have a sympathetic resource here. Required rereading and reading, this is a book that will help keep things in perspective!
K.j. Dell'antonia
I reread this regularly, and now there is a new edition, with new words I can use for inspiration and self-flagellation. I can't wait.

Marked as "read," but in some sense I'm always reading this.
Jun 04, 2017 Rebecca rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
An interesting read about the world of publishing from an agent. Betsy Lerner has a MFA and a deep love of all things literary. She tells a lot of stories about famous authors and working with new writers while weaving in quotes and insights.

Most aspiring writers can't wait to be published and yet getting published quite often kills their drive and ambition. I didn't realize so many authors only get published once and then struggle to put out anything worthy of attention. Oh, and how many have s
Londonmabel Mabel
Jun 28, 2011 Londonmabel Mabel rated it it was amazing
One of the best books about writing I've read, though it's not a how-to. Lerner was an editor for 15 years at a few houses, and is now an agent (she was also a poet.) She says the first half of her book is meant as an encouragement to those stalled in their writing or afraid of writing; maybe because that's not my problem, I just found it to be a celebration of writers. She tells great stories both from her own career and from the lives of famous writers and their editors, and really gives you t ...more
Jun 05, 2011 Lee rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very readable reinforcement for those who sort of know a lot of this stuff. Required reading for the clueless. Depressing for writers who seem to pass the psych profiles of the book's first part but haven't had much success with agents, editors, publication -- all of which sadly seem like last century's news. A well-written tour of the sausage factory -- left me feeling a bit grody, like I'd indulged in a guilty pleasure instead of spending weekend time reading something healthier for me. Defini ...more
Kirtida Gautam
"No matter how many compromises were made along the way, no matter what happens in the future, a book is a thing to behold."
~ Betsy Lerner

A book that introduces a writer to writer's life, vile and virtues. What to expect. Where s/he is going wrong. It's a 101. Must read for any writer who wants to understand the what being a writer feels like, inside the skin.
Huntley Fitzpatrick
Dec 23, 2011 Huntley Fitzpatrick rated it really liked it
I am so grateful to have found this book. We writers work alone and sometimes struggle. Betsy Lerner holds up a flashlight to show us all that we are not, in fact, alone. An amazing book. I keep it on my nightstand.
Tabitha Blankenbiller
Apr 07, 2011 Tabitha Blankenbiller rated it really liked it
When setting out to write a book the cover touts as “An editor’s advice to writers”, Betsy Lerner immediately has to grapple with the issue of establishing trust. Her audience is writers, many of them unpublished. Unpublished authors are not very likely to trust editors for a couple reasons: one, we aren’t likely to know any and two, they are the “others”, the ones rejecting our work in the first place, hiding behind receptionists and assistants in New York offices away from us. Her challenge is ...more
Asails F
May 25, 2011 Asails F rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reference
It is 2011 and over ten years since its publishing and is the preeminent book about the publishing industry from Betsy Lerner and editor who seems to care about the writer and the writer’s life.
Much of the book is a vindication of the editor and his necessity at a time just before publishing was about to go through its greatest changes and turmoil. Betsy even apprised the reader of the coming changes in the industry and its effects on the writer. While the book is written from an industry-centr
Alex Kudera
Nov 29, 2016 Alex Kudera rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 31, 2009 Randy rated it it was amazing

An Instant Shrink
for Writers

The Ambivalent Writer, The Natural, The Wicked Child, The Self Promoter, The Neurotic: which one are you? These are the first five chapter titles of Betsy Lerner’s (agent, writer, editor) book, The Forest for the Trees. It was published in 2000, and I’ve probably read it yearly since I buying it. (Note picture of worn book reflecting clutching, bathtub reading, and talismanic lifting to heart, kissing, and offering to God)

Lerner’s book will always be on top of my con
Catherine Grant
Nov 08, 2008 Catherine Grant rated it liked it
Recommends it for: serious writers, anyone who wants to publish, anyone interested in the publishing business
I enjoyed this book, but it wasn't the best book I have ever read on the subjects of writing and publishing, nor gives the best advice. However, I did glean some information about myself and established some realistic expectations about the publishing experience. I have learned some ways that I can help my career as a writer and work with my future agent and editor instead of sabotaging myself by not understanding the limitations of those people who, at this time, I see as the editorial/publishi ...more
Tamela Rich
Jan 02, 2011 Tamela Rich rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing, publishing
How refreshing that someone at the top of her profession, a profession characterized by snobbery and back stabbing, would begin her book revealing her own fecklessness in trying to find her place in the publishing sun.

"To calm my nerves before going in (to an interview with a Putnum editor arranged through her mother), I wolfed down a Haagan-Dazs ice cream cone. In the elevator I realized the chocolate had stained my jumper...Thirty resumes and a half-dozen interviews later, I had failed the ty
Beth Cato
This book surprised me on many levels. I bought it and expected a dry yet useful commentary on the publishing industry and what writers must do to survive. Instead, I discovered something that was highly readable--as smooth as fiction--and comparable to someone taking a writer by the hand to offer them advice. The Forest for the Trees is a gentle book. Lerner's approach is that she understands writers, with all their angst, writer's block, and depression, and that it takes more than talent to su ...more
Dec 29, 2011 Amy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the best books about writing, really the writer, and the publishing industry that I have every read. The author of the book is an editor and calls on her years of experience climbing her own way up the ladder in the publishing industry to give insight on such things as the different types of writers there are, the psychology of the writer, and the complex relationship between agent and writer, writer and editor, writer and publisher. Having read several books on writing, mostly de ...more
Ivy Reisner
This is required reading for anyone who aspires to become an author. She doesn't talk about technique. She talks about the ins and out of what it's like to be part of the publishing world, what to really expect. Not much has changed since her first edition, other than talk of technological options, such as Twitter and Facebook, that weren't available at the time. The information on building a platform is important.

Jan 18, 2013 Mary rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed this book, especially the sensitive portrayals of authors and all of our neuroses.
Dave Cullen
Jun 09, 2009 Dave Cullen rated it it was amazing
The best book I've come across on for writers getting serious about a career.

(Disclaimer: Betsy is my agent. But she is my agent BECAUSE I read this book, and then sought her out.)
Feb 21, 2012 Stephanie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
(From my blog, Misprinted Pages.)

You’d think a book subtitled “An Editor’s Advice to Writers” would be about useful editing techniques, right? Wrong — at least not in Betsy Lerner’s The Forest for the Trees, which views the process of writing and and publishing through a literary editor’s lens. This is an insider’s look at the business, with juicy secrets from within the publishing house, from an editor who fearlessly bares her soul and, by way of it, encourages her readers to do the same.

As som
May 09, 2007 Nicola rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: writers of all sorts
Shelves: nonfiction
Betsy Lerner’s book The Forest for the Trees is a book about writers for writers, but not just any kind of writer. Her book is for those of us who know in our hearts we are writers but haven’t yet figured out how to overcome our personal obstacles and become writers. For once, someone addresses this particular sector of the writing world without making those of us struggling feel bad about not churning out a thousand words a day. Lerner talks about the reasons we may not be able to drum up the c ...more
Jan 16, 2010 Allison rated it really liked it
As an amateur writer who has long fancied a career in editing, this book naturally piqued my interest. In chapters that first detail different types of writers and then move to varying perspectives on the process of publishing, Lerner takes the writer by the hand and on a tour through the miry maze of publication.

Lerner begins with the starting point of any piece of writing: its author. I thoroughly enjoyed the characterizations, sometimes perhaps caricatures, of different ways the need to write
Alex Telander
Jan 25, 2011 Alex Telander rated it really liked it
Like a lot of English majors on campus, I want to get a book published eventually. Also, like a lot of other people, I don’t really know how to go about getting an agent, an editor, a publisher, etc. I just figured I would find answers to those questions when I got the book done.

Thankfully there is now a book that answers all these questions, and much more. The Forest for the Trees should be on every writer’s shelf, right next to Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style. The author, Betsy Lern
Lynne Favreau
Mar 16, 2012 Lynne Favreau rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
Betsy Lerner is a former editor turned agent. In the introduction, Lerner lets us know who she’s trying to help,

“–if you can’t start or finish a project or can’t figure out what to write about, or can’t figure out what you should be writing. – whose neuroses seem to get in their way, those who sabotage their efforts, those ...stalled between projects.”

All I could think was “Hey, I resemble that remark.”

It isn’t the advise in this book that held my interest (though it is very good) as much as it
Leslie Lindsay
Aug 30, 2013 Leslie Lindsay rated it really liked it
Where else but a display at my local library did I spot this title. I had heard of the book before, but have never actually seen or read it. Until today. What I love about this book is Lerner's description of the six basic writer types. Here they are:

1) The Ambivalent writer ("says" she'll write, has a great ideas, maybe some real talent, but never finishes anything)
2) The Natural (has the gift, but author of this book claims the gift may not actually make the person a true writer).
3) The Wild
Have it professionally copyedited if you're nervous about grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Nothing makes a writer appear less professional than not knowing whether to use its or it's." --The Forest for the Trees, p. 177

"Sometimes the title alone will distinguish your book from the rest of the pack. Sometimes a catchy, clearly targeted title can make a project almost irresistible. Enticing readers is the Holy Grail of titling: a good title will go a long way, and if the book's contents live u
Jul 05, 2011 Liza rated it it was amazing
Shelves: on-writing
Betsy Lerner warns that The Forest for the Trees is not a prescriptive formula about rules and style. Instead, you learn about the various writing personalities she has often encountered and gives compassionate advice so that aspiring writers may overcome their most damning psychological roadblocks. Whether you're the writer with a million ideas you can't choose from or the self-promoter who wishes to gain fame and notoriety, she has practical advice to help you.

She acknowledges that the writin
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Take Joy: A Writer's Guide to Loving the Craft
  • The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide To Staying Out of the Rejection Pile
  • The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great
  • The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself
  • Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers
  • Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore
  • Thanks, But This Isn't for Us: The Compassionate Guide to Understanding What's Wrong with Your Writing and Leaving the Rejection Pile for Good
  • Write Away: One Novelist's Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life
  • Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft
  • Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction and Other Dilemmas in the Writer's Life
  • Naming the World: And Other Exercises for the Creative Writer
  • The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear
  • Writing from the Inside Out: Transforming Your Psychological Blocks to Release the Writer Within
  • Description & Setting
  • The Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and Exercises
  • Page After Page: Discover the Confidence & Passion You Need to Start Writing & Keep Writing (No Matter What!)
  • Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go
  • First Draft in 30 Days: A Novel Writer's System for Building a Complete and Cohesive Manuscript

Share This Book

“When an editor works with an author, she cannot help seeing into the medicine cabinet of his soul. All the terrible emotions, the desire for vindications, the paranoia, and the projection are bottled in there, along with all the excesses of envy, desire for revenge, all the hypochondriacal responses, rituals, defenses, and the twin obsessions with sex and money. It other words, the stuff of great books.” 12 likes
“...but every person who does serious time with a keyboard is attempting to translate his version of the world into words so that he might be understood.” 10 likes
More quotes…