Book Category: Creative, Writing,

The Forest for the Trees (Revised and Updated): An Editor’s Advice to Writers (book summary)

Author: Betsy Lerner
Life Changing Principles
Quality of Writing
Overall Value
pros: Motivational, practical advice
cons: Lengthy, not all chapters relevant for all writers
overall rating


Phew. What a knockout. This book covers the entire process of writing a book, from conception, editing, and onwards to publication. Ms. Lerner backs up her experience with different real-life author examples, quotes, and her own experience in the publishing world for pretty much her entire life. This book is hefty. The earliest chapters are most useful as related to motivation, editing, and writing advice in general. The later bit about the publishing industry as a whole was a bit overwhelming, and might not even be relevant anymore since the industry is changing so much today.


  • To every trope or expectation about the way a book or piece of writing should be, there are a billion examples of the exception making a ton of money.
  • The only way to be a success is to spam the world with your writing.
  • There is no single way to write, publish, edit, or schmooze in the industry: all you need is the drive to write at all.


  • Mindfully relax about writer expectations, whether they be about when you “should” be published, how you “should” write, etc.
  • If possible, try to be more comfortable making tons of mistakes/not having an ideal first draft.
  • It’s important for a writer to schmooze and you should probably be doing more of that.


Most writers have very little choice in what they write about. What is in evidence over and over is a certain set of obsessions, a certain vocabulary, a way of approaching the page. The person who can’t focus is not without his own obsessions, vocabulary, and approach. However, either he can’t find his form or he can’t apply the necessary discipline that ultimately separates the published from the unpublished.

If you are struggling with what you should be writing, look at your scraps. Encoded there are the themes and subjects that you should be grappling with as a writer.

You will be better served both professionally and personally if you find your inspiration and models within yourself, not on the bestseller list.

The degree of one’s perseverance is the best indicator of success.

Whoever you are, whatever your bizarre behaviors, I say cultivate them.

I think every industry needs its Swiftys, its elder statesmen, its iconoclasts, its rising stars. We need people who defy convention just as much as we need those who uphold it.