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

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9781573221528: The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers

The first guide to writing (and publishing) by a veteran editor and publishing insider.

In a recent New York Times article, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., wrote, "there were creative-writing teachers long before there were creative-writing courses, and they were called and continue to be called editors." And who better to teach writing than a passionate editor with years of experience working with successful writers and discovering new voices? Betsy Lerner is such an editor--sharp, funny, psychologically astute, and deeply intuitive. In The Forest for the Trees she shares her editorial wisdom and imparts an insider's understanding of the publishing process.

Categorizing writers within personality types--the natural (who appears to do it effortlessly); the wicked child (with an axe to grind); the flasher (who loves to dazzle)--she helps readers to better understand their relationship to writing. An award-winning poet and a product of writing workshops herself, Lerner understands the anxieties and concerns of writers who are just getting started.

The Forest for the Trees is filled with anecdotes from Lerner's own experiences working with writers, and with legendary stories about famous authors. An indispensable guide with a unique perspective, it should join the ranks of such classics as Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird and Nathalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones. Now all writers can benefit from the wisdom of one of the smartest editors in town.

"You couldn't, as an author, have a more savvy editor than Betsy Lerner to guide you unscathed through the slings and arrows of outrageous publishing. Obey her, and all shall be well."--Thomas Cahill, author of How the Irish Saved Civilization

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Review:

One feels for Betsy Lerner's writers. Oh, sure, Lerner must be a fabulous agent. But too bad for them: In gaining her as an agent, they lost her as an editor. How rare and wonderful it must have been to have such an advocate, advisor, and, yes, admirer so firmly ensconced in publisher territory (at various times, Houghton Mifflin, Ballantine, Simon & Schuster, and Doubleday). In The Forest for the Trees, Lerner reflects on writing and publishing from an editor's point of view. There are so many books by writers and agents promising to disclose what editors really want; here, finally, is one straight from the source. Like all experienced editors, Lerner has seen writers at their best, and at their worst. "Like shrinks," she says, editors "have a privileged and exclusive view into a writer's psyche, from the ecstasy of acquisition to the agony of the remainder table."

To writers, particularly unpublished ones, editors can seem imposing figures determined to thwart their success. They won't take calls, they don't offer feedback--sometimes they don't respond to queries at all. Guess what: Editors don't lug home hundreds of pounds of manuscripts to read each year because they aren't looking for good writing. "An editor gets off," says Lerner, "on the thrill of discovering a new writer." Editors crave "succinct, well-written cover letters," inspiration that comes from within (as opposed to from the bestseller list), and "catchy, clearly targeted title[s]." They detest unsolicited phone calls, "query letters that sound as if they were penned by Crazy Eddie," and writers who offer to "write it however I want it" (it's "like saying I'll be straight or gay; you tell me, I have no preference"). Lerner is aware of how excruciating it is for a writer to wait for feedback on his or her work. But she also lets writers in on a little secret of her own. "I'm always anxious about the author's response," she confides. "Will he or she take to my editing?" --Jane Steinberg

About the Author:

Betsy Lerner has worked as an editor at Houghton Mifflin, Ballantine, Simon & Schuster, and most recently as executive editor at Doubleday. She lives in Pelham, New York, and is currently an agent at the Gernert Company.

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