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

Betsy Lerner, Author Riverhead Books $21.95 (284p) ISBN 978-1-57322-152-8
In a quirky, informal, engaging guide for aspiring writers, Lerner, a literary agent who was most recently executive editor at Doubleday, assumes the posture of the writer's sympathetic friend, coach and psychotherapist all rolled into one. She views writers as neurotic by definition--isolated, a breed apart, prone to phobias and ritualized behaviors, often seething with bottled-up envy, desire for vindication or revenge, obsessed with sex and money (""In other words, the stuff of great books,"" she quips). Instead of worrying about fame or rejection, or seeking vicarious parental approval through publication, blocked writers and those who can't figure out what they should be writing ought to pursue their obsessions, she urges, mindful that many of the best books are born of anger, pain or the struggle for self-definition. Lerner candidly draws on her experience working both sides of the fence, as poet and teacher of writing workshops as well as editor and agent. She offers hard-nosed advice on topics often overlooked, such as the dynamics of author/editor and author/agent relations; struggles against the temptations of alcohol and drugs; the testing of book titles for marketability; acrimony over jacket art. While a lot of her straight talk has a familiar ring, readers will glean practical nuggets. The book's real value, however, lies in compelling the ambivalent writer to confront his or her inner dreams, demons and strengths, and Lerner illuminates this task with a nonstop barrage of anecdotes and apt observations on writing drawn from Dickens, Orwell, Whitman, Updike, Nabokov, Vidal, Mailer, Grisham, Sontag, Philip Roth and many more. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 02/28/2000
Release date: 03/01/2000
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 284 pages - 978-1-57322-857-2
Hardcover - 284 pages - 978-0-333-98922-7
Paperback - 284 pages - 978-0-230-76826-0
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