on June 29, 2004
I am interning for a publishing company this summer and I honestly agree with everything that she is saying about the business. If you are looking to get published, read this and "Thinking Like Your Editor." These books could save you from getting rejections soley upon your cover letter and proposal. If you are serious about being published, you need to do your homework or you may not stand a chance, even if you have a great book. Read these books listen to their advise and keep trying.
on May 23, 2004
Although the author of this book rejected my proposal, I have to admit that she knows what she's talking about both when it comes to exploring the psyche of the writer, and the advice she offers to work through your uncertainty and finally begin submitting your manuscript. I also took her advice not to be discouraged by one rejection, and although I am not yet a published novelist, I will keep this book on my shelf and turn to it whenever I start to feel like I am alone in my writing journey.
on February 20, 2004
My biggest fear with books "about" anything, is that they tend to lecture and preach, taking any pleasure out of the topic you might have had beforehand. Nowhere is this more true than in books about writing. The danger in reading a book about "how to" write, is that it kills any of the writer's own voice, creative spirit, and instinctual sense of rhythm and timing, by focusing only on the technical aspect of writing. I've stayed clear of those types of books, because I fear that they will only make things worse and not better. And yet, I've hungered for something that could potentially give me some good points without cramping my style.
Fortunately, Betsy Lerners "The Forest for the Trees" does just that. She indicates early on that this is not a book about style. She obviously believes, that in spite of technical faults, an author may still produce very good work. So if this book is not about style, then what is it about? We're so used to reading "how to" books that I think we've forgotten "how to" do.
This book is about what motivates writers (and editors) and gives you some insight on how the system works. Lerner talks about different kinds of writers - some rely on instinct or "natural talent", others are driven by anger, hope, or any other emotion. She encourages writers to be brave, to take a chance, but to recognize likewise if you've gone too far over the edge (it's a cliff, after all!). Lerner encourages writers to do their thing. She oozes confidence between the lines that a reader can't help but be caught up in.
Don't expect any advice on "how to" write in this book. You CAN expect a bunch of interesting anecdotes and thoughtful insights. You will understand more of the process involved in producing a manuscript and what will happen after the signing of a contract (if you're that lucky).
Informative, entertaining, succinct and beautifully written prose. I highly recommend this book to anyone who knows they want to write, but are uncertain about it. This book will give you the confidence TO DO.
on August 9, 2003
A few months ago I was buying a few writing magazines. The clerk politely asked me if I wanted to be a writer, I answered no, the magazines were a gift. I was embarrassed to admit that yes, I would love to write a book, even though it might never happen. What was I trying to hide? I was in a bookstore. As a former clerk in a bookstore, I know that many bookstore employees are wannabe writers. Perhaps I would have found a soul mate in the person behind the counter. Fortunately I did, in Betsy Lerner, when she mentions how many would be writers keep their dreams private. Perhaps this is why I enjoyed this book so much. Lernerï¿½s book, The Forrest for the Trees, gives a description of both the writing process as well as publishing. She sees writing as a noble endeavor, and dreams of writing as valid. After reading her book, anyone would be encouraged to write the great American novel. She uses anecdotes and examples from literatureï¿½s greatest authors as well as some not so greats, and has plenty of examples from authors she has worked with as an editor.
Writing students would benefit from a book such as this, but it really is not for aspiring writers alone. Teachers could benefit from her concrete advise and encouragement as they search for ways to encourage students. As a matter of fact I fondly recalled two of my English teachers as I read this book and wished I had read it while I taught. It is also encouraging for people who have to write as part of their job, but may never actually write a book. She states in her book in many different ways that readers and writers (those published and not) share a bond through love of language, and since many readers will love this book, she more than proves her point.
on June 9, 2003
The book is intended to give direction to those writers seeking publication. It details the life of an editor turned literary agent and shows the pitfalls, pratfalls, excesses, standards, and query guidelines for writers as they vie for entry into the publishing world. It gives an image of a publishing profession that has dramatically changed since the days of the early fifties where writers had particular professional relationships with writers. As a writer myself, it showed me a picture of the chaotic, fast-paced world of publication gone amuck. For the would-be author, it shows that getting into print via the mail is no longer possible. Every writer must first find an agent worth taking him/her on. Every writer must write cover letters as meticulously as he/she would the work itself. And basically, the agent seems to hold all the cards-pleasing them seems to be the key. A would-be writer getting into print is like the old adage of a camel fitting through the eye of a needle. Ms. Lerner also does not paint a pretty picture of writers and their neuroses. In fact, for the most part, they seem like a pack of broken toys living on the island of misfit toys. What seems to be marketable depends on timing and since the times keep on a changin' it seems difficult for an author to hit a moving target. Through the support of the editor and agent, it appears that temperamental writers are able to complete novels and reach a certain pinnacle. For some writers, deadlines are a help, for others disaster. It was hard to find a writer-editor-agent relationship that actually survived more than a decade. The cottage publishing house is dead. Huge conglomerates have swallowed up just about every small publishing house so the publishing community resembles Titans fighting Titans.
The subtitle could have been "How to lick the boots of your editor." However, another more apt subtitle could have been the simple words "Persist." Lerner does prove to be a sympathetic editor, friend, and advocate to the aspiring writer even through the rules of the game seem too tidy and self serving. Who, as an editor, does not want to be properly courted? While the writer turned reader becomes increasingly frustrated at this self-help book which clearly shows the seemingly insurmountable odds any writer faces as he/she climbs the ladder( and cringes at the lottery hits by some authors who make the movie deal on the first try), Lerner's other advice to "persist" seems to be the nugget writers need to hold onto-it is an idea, a precious one, that feels more like a life-line.
The chapter on "Rejection" letters is the best for it shows how writers gracefully accept rejection and how others rail against the missives more as a survival instinct like a dog who's cornered. There is yet another list resembling Jack's beanstalk. Writers can find themselves at some branch on their way up in the hopes that all their efforts will soon reap the pot of gold at the top. And, of course, the advice that if you slip from this(my long winded extended metaphor)-it is only you to blame for quitting. So buck up mateys(sp?)-also good advice from Ms. Lerner's briefcase.
The anecdotes throughout are nice and help the well written book along, but if you an older writer, who has been though the series of "how to be a successful writer" for the umpteenth time, they get old-not really, but all of us can feel proverbed and anecdoted to death, can't we? It is satisfying, the story of the "child of the book" which reminds all of us on both sides that books are special and a noble Percevalian (sp?)pursuit.
After reading such book, a pessimist would easily come to the conclusion that such a field is impossible to break into. Especially if you are prone to write sentences like the previous one or you can't spell like some authors (Yeats, too). Who can be bothered to sort out restrictive and non-restrictive clauses? The landmines that fill the terrain seem to make the journey much too arduous, much too time consuming for god's sake, and even a bit sadistic. A book can be a lifetime in the making? How many drafts? Give me a break!
I would agree.
Nonetheless, it also does seem that a writer who thinks he/she is a writer is a precious thing. Somewhere along the line, the idea has presented itself in diary form or school essay or creative writing assignment or from a rhyme off the tongue. The thought of the ability or love of the word and story precludes the fact that the terrain must be traversed despite all consequences-and I mean ALL in bold, capital letters. Writers must write, that is all (in italics) there is to it. Therefore, for the young writer, I would advise on Lerner's crucial point that they continue to "persist" in finding a voice, finding a genre that they enjoy, and most importantly, sharing the writing in whatever way they can with their own small community first: whether that be friends, family, the community, radio, local publications . . . even the Internet. Young writers can also keep it personal and write like Emily Dickinson who as Lerner tells us wrote some 1000 poems that were never published or seen (as I understand it) by anyone. The Forest for the Trees is a title that suits both sides of the equation whether you are looking into the Forest as a writer or as editor. It is that focus that remains compelling and worthwhile.
Reading the book reminds me as a teacher and writer to dispel young students from trying to be like Hemingway in his pictures and from seeing themselves living like Fitzgerald in his gilded mansion. It reminds me that it might be possible for younger students to keep focusing on what's of utmost importance and that is the word on the written page-out of the mouths of babes. For my own writing, "Yes. Betsy, my dearest,. . . my ghost-like friend, I will persist."
on February 16, 2003
Ms. Lerner is a maestro in the writing world. She knows how it feels to be the lowly of the lowly down in the dungeon of an agent's office or an author who is getting constantly rejected. She knows how it feels to be on top of the world as a highly-ranked, powerful editor at a major publishing house bidding for the newest and freshest projects. She describes in depth her observations of authors who have had their books lavished by the world. She compassionately describes how her heart bled for the author who wasn't even acknowledged by her own publishing house. Ms. Lerner covers it all from beginning to end both in (in-house staff meetings on everything about your book) and out (the author struggling to write on the computer or a notepad in their house) of the publishing business. Having authored and published my first book via the traditional publishing method, I can state from first-hand experience that Ms. Lerner has described every single feeling I have had from book idea to book publication. Ms. Lerner speaks fact not fiction in a non-condescending tone. For any person who is serious about their writing and has the will to get it published, this book is an authorative, credible, must-read that needs to be purchased immediately.
Leticia Araujo Perez, author of Making Your Record: Courtroom Guidebook for Attorneys and Law Students.
on November 30, 2002
If you're a serious writer you already own a dozen writer's advice books or more; How to Write Better, How to get Published, Tips, Tricks, and the Holy Grail (doesn't exist) of Writing.. The best of them offer some positive useful advice (technical and in getting published) and many are valuable as writer's block breakers. Few of them however seem to be written because the author had to write them. It's usually the author decided to go on the lecture circuit or it was time for them to publish a book offering struggling authors some advice and/or positive uplifts. Besides, when cornered by the unpublished writer at conferences better to sell advice with a book than give it away for free, right?
Few books on writing are full of the kind of insider perspective that reveals any real publishing industry secrets (there aren't too many actually). Too few seem to written in the voice of a friend and confidante. Too few seem to tell of the author's personal experiences with honesty and truth.
Betsy Lerner is a well-known agent who began life as a poet and then worked for many years at several publishing houses until she became an editor. She understands writers as well as anyone and her book is conversational in tone. She tells stories, she offers some gentle advice and she educates in how things really work -not by preaching about it, but by relating stories. These aren't stories told with rose colored glasses, but warts and all stories. It isn't the publishing industry as you wish it was, or how it could be, or how it should be, but how it really is. Lerner's honest-- sometimes brutally so.
Lerner is also a writer in her heart and she understands the struggle, hopes and fears. There are several passages where she nails perfectly the feelings writers have gone through. How they struggle and fret over words, consider selling out to become published, question their sanity, resent the lonliness... You might find yourself shouting out-YES... that's it exactly. You might be tempted to read out-loud to non-writer friends, spouses and friends some passages from the books that state some of the emotions you have felt but have never successfully put down into words or verbalized.
Along with the stories (which usually avoid naming names for a variety of reasons) you will get a honest and truthful perspective of what editors, agents and published writers do.
You'll discover (probably) you're not quite as crazy as you though you were.
This is a great book if your serious about writing and getting published, or even if you already published and discovered some of the truths Lerner reveals the hard way.
Lerner won't make getting published any easier for you, but you'll gain valuable knowledge and probably come away from the book understanding the crazy world
Of book publishing much more than you ever have before.
Lerner passionately has devoted her life to writing and publishing-not to become wealthy or see her name in lights-but because she had no choice. Once she got bit by the bug, there was nothing else for her. She writes a little about this, so that we understand where she comes from and a little bit about who she is. Her passion and love for writing comes through on nearly ever page of this book. It's warm, funny, frustrating,
Eye-opening, discouraging, encouraging and ultimately a writer's best friend...
on April 2, 2002
I swear to gawd this woman is hiding in my closet. She has made my writing habits public without the benefit of the rule of confidentiality. Maybe she's got of those voyeur cameras hidden in my monitor so she can watch everything. Carnivore is hooked to her laptop so she can sniff my email. I've been wailing ad naseaum to my friends about this muse creature that I steadfastly refuse to believe exists.
She knows what my goals are and she's got that insidious inside information on how it works inside of a publishers house. She knows how I feel about writing, right down to the "are you completely insane??" looks people give me on a regular basis. Worse, even worse, she knows my habits. She got everything in there but my relationship with my mother.
If she wasn't so helpful, I'd be terrified. She is right about one thing. Procrastination is an evil habit. If you're a writer and want to meet a non-writer who knows. Look here. She not only knows, she can also advise. And she's right. It's scary.
on May 17, 2001
"Once upon a time, there was a book the agent loved, the editor loved, the publisher loved, and everything fell into place and they all lived happily ever after..." It may sound like a fairytale, but it sometimes happens. And for Lerner, that's the ending she dreams of every single time she picks up a manuscript.
What a reassuring guide this is to the often-"bedaffling" world of publishing! Lerner has been there and back and lived to tell the tale... and it's a tale we unpublished authors are eager to lick up. She dishes out all the tasty stuff, showing us the hard truth about what editors are really thinking as they pick up our manuscripts from the slushpile.
Her overview of "writerly personality types" is amusing but a little superfluous. Anyway, there's probably a little of each type in every writer. We're cocky, we're ambivalent, we're junkies... all rolled into one. It's a pity this section is right up front, because I was reading this book to find out about editors.
But anyway, as she says right out, this ultimately isn't a book on writers, or on how to write. Editors are people too, Lerner says, showing (not telling!) how she helps "her" writers. Editors (and agents) like Lerner want to be partners in creating quality books, and she's right to say they're the often-unsung heroes of the industry. Unsung until now, that is, but Forest for the Trees is a masterful aria, a lovesong to the book industry, a homage to the fairy tale that sometimes comes true.
As an aspiring writer, I'm grateful to Lerner for showing me what goes on behind the scenes. But editors and agents and publicists should also thank Lerner for making their jobs a little more easier.
If you're a writer, read this book before you send your next manuscript, or even before you write a word. Think about the editor who's eventually going to have to read that word, and then write it so she won't be able to say no. It's the only way, Lerner shows us, that we can make that fairytale a reality.
on May 10, 2001
for a beautifully written volume that educates and entertains. Whether you aspire to be a published author, or are merely interested in the mechanics of how a book gestates from an idea to bound pages, you will learn so much by reading this treasure. Lerner somehow manages to give you the cold, hard facts of life in today's world of conglomorized publishing, yet never loses her infectious enthusiasm and optimism.
The first section of the book focuses on the different personality-styles of writers she has encountered, including the ambivalent writer, the natural, the wicked child, the self-promoter, the neurotic, and the truly mad (if you write, you will recognize bits of yourself in each of these). The rest of the book focuses on all aspects of the book business: agents, rejection, the editor-writer relationship, the book itself, and publication.
I have yet to read a more engaging book, rich with anecdotes and useful information, about the industry that makes a community like the one here at Amazon possible.