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The Forest for the Trees

3.95 of 5 stars 3.95  ·  rating details  ·  1,858 ratings  ·  229 reviews
Personal inspiration and practical advice from an expert in the field who delivers.
Paperback, 304 pages
Published April 1st 2001 by Riverhead Trade (first published March 20th 2000)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Adam Ross
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
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
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 As much for the unpublished writer as for those who have just published for the first time.
J. Scala
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
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.
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
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!
Huntley Fitzpatrick
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.

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
Asails F
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
Catherine Grant
Nov 30, 2008 Catherine Grant rated it 3 of 5 stars
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
Tabitha Blankenbiller
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
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
Londonmabel Mabel
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
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.

Really enjoyed this book, especially the sensitive portrayals of authors and all of our neuroses.
Sep 02, 2011 Ry rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: writers, editors, publishers, readers
Betsy Lerner's book is great because it addresses the realities that writers will need to face at some point--both before their books are published as well as after. The first half of the book is Lerner discussing the act of writing and the personality and psychological makeup of writers, showing her sensitivity and deep knowledge of the confusing, pitiable, and self-conscious being known as the writer. Lerner then switches in the second half of the book, titled "Publishing," which is where Lern ...more
Tamela Rich
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
Before reading this book I feared the book-publishing industry the same way I fear the housing market or a Roth IRA: I know this works somehow, I thought. I know there's some way millions of people do this complicated, scary thing. But how do I do it? Who will dumb it down for my layman's brain?

A: Relax. Betsy Lerner, professional editor, will explain all. In "The Forest for the Trees" Ms. Lerner acts as a Virgil who walks clueless readers like myself down through the concentric circles of publ
Lynne Favreau
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
Lerner gives us an intriguing look at the process of a manuscript becoming a book, and that process is not magical. It's hard work and heartache and chance and cajoling, and I'm convinced that it's not a world for me. I love books, and I love words, and I am passionate about writing. I wouldn't want to watch a work of art go through a deadline-driven, market-driven process in which the cover for the work someone spent a decade on might be given to an exhausted graphic artist with a short, tight ...more
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
Betsy Lerner does not talk about the grammar of writing or how to put together a story. Instead, her advice is more on what she has observed about writers and the process of publishing a book throughout her years as an editor. This book teaches what writers should expect, and how to survive in the tough world of writing.

I enjoyed this book. It could be a little boring at times, but then there would be a sentence/paragraph that was full of truth and made me stop and think about myself as a writer
Peter West
This is another of those accumulated wisdom books - which is not a bad thing. It is split into sections that cover various writer personality types and issues relating to how publishing really works. That's the intention, but I think you could probably dispense with the chapter titles for the most part and consider this book to be one rambling conversation between yourself and Betsy Lerner, sat in Covent garden perhaps, on a long sunny afternoon. I don't mean that as a criticism; I think it work ...more
(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
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
I attended an author talk at one of my old grad schools, and Betsy Lerner was the speaker, and this was the book she was promoting. She started by asking a question to the mid-sized room packed with writing students, the jist of it being - Raise your hand if you would continue to write if you knew for sure you will never ever get published. I stuck my hand up, looked around, and was really surprised to see just a few other hands up. She looked over the crowed and said that the chance of anyone b ...more
Leslie Lindsay
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
The subtitle is a bit misleading (though Lerner herself is up front in the Introduction about this not being a book about how to write). It is not so much an editor's advice to writers as it is an editor's analysis of them and of the publishing field at large. Lerner describes the types of writers she sees most often, their processes and neuroses, their stumbling blocks and quirks. There are some entertaining quotes from writers as well, and the pieces of advice she does include are solid though ...more
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“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.” 11 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.” 9 likes
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