Book Review: The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner

Book Review:  The Forest for the Trees 
by Betsy Lerner

Reviewed by Shane P. Carr

©2001, Shane P. Carr

When I am out searching the shelves of my local bookstore, I keep my eyes open for that book that will enlighten me or offer some me some secret advice on how to become a best-selling author. As most struggling writers will tell you, there is no secret advice or magic that will make a publisher buy your book; however, in my search I found a book that does come close.

The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner is a fascinating book that gives writers a glimpse into the world of editing and publishing from an editor’s point of view.

The book opens with an honest and sometimes brutal look at the psychological makeup of most writers. Through her experience working with various authors, Lerner gives a first hand account of the trials and tribulations all writers face. She covers personality traits and mental disorders that plague the most gifted of writers, as well as the demons that can effect the creative mind, such as alcoholism and drug abuse.

In each instance Ms. Lerner manages to make you empathize with the writers she discusses as she guides you through their rise to fame and their untimely downfall to their inner demons. We learn that being a writer can be a trying experience for the mind that wishes to create but cannot find the words to do so. 

This is where some of the subtle enlightenment sets in. While reading The Forest for the Trees, I realized how much I had in common with many of the writers discussed. It was refreshing and calming to learn that even great writers such as Truman Capote, J.D. Salinger, and George Orwell suffered from "creative angst." I gained the knowledge that I was not alone in feeling the emotions that most writers experience.

Ms. Lerner even shares her own personal struggles to break into the field of writing and publishing. With deft humor, Lerner manages to touch her reader’s hearts with her most trying experiences in the publishing industry.

At this point we only have only begun to approach the enlightenment this books offers. In the second section, readers get the insider’s look at what it takes to get a publisher’s attention. Drawing from her personal experiences as both writer and editor, Betsy Lerner gives solid advice on finding and agent, preparing a query letter, and submitting to the right publishers.  She explains in detail what attracts the attention of an agent or editor, as well as what will immediately turn them off to your manuscript.

So whether you are a writer who is preparing to submit a manuscript, or just a reader who wishes to learn how writers, editors, and publishers think, The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers is a must read.

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

 ISBN 1-57322-857-5 pub. Riverhead Books $12.00 U.S.