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The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  2,929 ratings  ·  355 reviews
The Forest for the Trees should become a permanent part of any writer's or editor's personal library. -The Seattle Times

Quickly established as an essential and enduring companion for aspiring writers when it was first published, Betsy Lerner's sharp, funny, and insightful guide has been meticulously updated and revised to address the dramatic changes that have reshaped the
Paperback, 285 pages
Published October 5th 2010 by Penguin (first published March 20th 2000)
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J. Scala
Feb 21, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jennie Louwes
Apr 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
How is it that someone who doesn't know me could peg me so well as a writer?

This book is fun, in depth, and holds intriguing truths within each chapter. It held my attention fully; especially, during the first half when words were dedicated to writers themselves.

Based upon the first half of this book I would have rated it a 5 and been shouting from rooftops about it; but, the second half lagged just a wee bit for me and so I decided upon a 4 star rating instead.

That being said, this book is a
Adam Ross
May 04, 2011 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
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.
Lee Klein
Jun 05, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Dave Cullen
Jun 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.)
Deborah Harkness
Jan 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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! ...more
Amy Plum
Jul 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
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.
London Mabel
Jun 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Beth Cato
Apr 10, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: writing, in, nonfiction, 2011
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
Jul 14, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I went into this book with the wrong idea about what kind of book it was. I expecting a craft book that gave tips on publishing from both sides of it — writing and editing — when what I got was more of a collection of essays and memoirs about the author's experience as an editor and with writers. Which meant a lot of 20 page chapters that boiled down to "some writers are neurotic. advice: calm down and write", which I didn't need 20 pages to drill in. I ended up skimming through a lot of this an ...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.
Lauren Kayes
Jan 27, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
It’s entirely possible there’s good writing advice in here, but I’m DNFing after about 20 pages because there have already been jokes about bipolar disorder/alcoholism/crossdressing and I don’t think I can overlook that to keep reading! This came highly recommended so I’m a little flabbergasted.
May 01, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: may, nonfiction, writing, 2021
In the first half of this book (the revised edition that came out in 2010; the 2000 original still charmingly referenced faxes and Borders bookstores), Lerner skewers the various "types" of writers. They're caricatures, and they veer into unhelpful stereotypes, but they also include amusing and illuminating anecdotes, which are what kept me reading them despite my annoyance. The second half of the book pulls back the curtain on the publishing process, with particular focus on the role of editori ...more
Jan 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: textbooks
Really great read. A little long in the telling, but wholly worth it.
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
Alex Telander
Jan 25, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 Lerner,
Asails F
May 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Alex Kudera
Nov 29, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 31, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

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 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love reading books about writing books, even though I have little to no ambition to ever become a writer myself. I just love learning about how books come into being, I suppose. This book did not disappoint. The author has worked as both an editor and a literary agent, and she writes this book to provide insight into the laborious process of getting a book published (and the even trickier process of promoting and selling a published book). If I were a writer, I would consider Betsy Lerner a co ...more
Jun 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 29, 2011 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
Oct 12, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really enjoyed this book, especially the sensitive portrayals of authors and all of our neuroses.
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The Insecure Writ...: Reviews - The Forest for the Trees 2 6 Sep 25, 2019 08:00AM  

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