Lerner's The Forest for the Trees

It doesn’t take long for readers to want to become writers. Why wouldn’t a person who loves books want to create one of their own? I found books early, on my mother’s lap, and writing stories soon followed. I remember telling stories into my dad’s Dictaphone. This was, of course, before I knew how to type. As I’ve gotten older, though, writing has become more difficult. There’s more happening in an adult’s mind when writing tries to happen: fear, rejection, humiliation. I think the process of writing as an adult is really the process of trying to peel off the layers to return to the excitement of writing that you felt as a child, when other people didn’t matter, you didn’t know what publishing was, and perfection just happened.

For those of us who write, Lerner’s book, The Forest for the Trees, is incredibly instructive. She is a former editor, a current agent, and writes poetry. She understands writing from all sides.

Her book opens with explanations of the different types of writers, moves to the writing process (but she is careful to say that she this is not a writing help book), continues to getting published, and finishes with life after being published. The kernel of the book is this: WRITE. Getting published has more to do with frequency and devotion than anything else, but it’s not always guaranteed even if you bleed and sweat into a notebook for years. When you send your manuscript off to the publishers, you are sending it to one person whom you haven’t met, probably isn’t as smart as you are, and may not have your taste level. That one person is St. Peter at the Gate.

One story is particularly illustrative in this vein. She tells of a first experience as an associate editor. She is given a book to read and review for the higher-ups. She spends all weekend, which happens to also be a Jewish holiday, reading a book and writing a detailed report. This book doesn’t really appeal to her, but she persists because she has respect for the amount of time that must have gone into it. A full-length report is the result, and it lands on her boss’s desk Monday morning. He asks her if she liked it, as he stares at the report without making the move to pick it up, let alone read it. She responds, “It’s in my report.” He says, “Did you like it.” She says, “Honestly, no, but…” “No buts, you didn’t like it. Write a rejection letter and let’s move on.” There goes a few years, multiple heartbreaks, and no doubt a few bottles of wine for the author in that short and unemotional conversation. Hopefully, the author wasn’t pinning her worldview and/or self-worth on whether or not this publishing house took on her project.

This is a great book for someone who is interested in the publishing process, or wants to procrastinate writing their own stories. I was actually in the latter category, but after reading this book, it made me go to my computer and start something great. It also helped me get some perspective on the publishing process, which really is more like looking for a needle in a hay stack than anything else.


  1. I agree, this is a good book for any would-be writers to look into, especially for the realistic look into publishing. Very straightforward information.


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