Book Review: The Forest for the Trees

The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner
(acquired via local library)

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 manifests itself. There are different types of writers, and while we all might not fit tidily into one box, the observations are accurate.

Not only is the book revealing about the writer, Lerner steeps the pages with beautiful prose:

People are motivated to write for a variety of reasons, but it’s the child writer who has figured out, early on, that writing is about saving your soul.

And in another passage…

But I believe there is still enormous value in the piece of writing that goes no farther than the one person for whom it was intended, that no combination of written words is more eloquent than those exchanged between lovers or friends, or along the pale blue lines of private diaries, where people take communion with themselves.

After identifying different types of writers, Lerner explains the differing roles of agent and editor, how a manuscript moves from the cutting room floor to the bookshelf, and the many trials and hurdles that await the unsuspecting author. I must confess that her description of the publishing process took some of the tint from my own rose-colored glasses. But whether I end up pursuing a career in publishing, or just attempting to push a piece of writing through to “mass” dissemination, I will have benefited from the insights Lerner shared from her experiences.

The one criticism I might offer is that at times I felt her literary background was obvious. Although the book is not a novel and is not meant to be read as one, at times I was pulled out of the “trance” by segments of writing I felt would have been better suited to an academic essay.

But English-major-ness aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and plan on recommending it to any friends who have interest in writing and publication.

originally posted at Read All Over Reviews. Please direct all comments to the original post.