Betsy Lerner’s THE FOREST FOR THE TREES is a venerable rumination on book publishing, summing up the observations of an editor during her years at Houghton Mifflin, Ballantine, Simon & Schuster, and Doubleday. Viewing writers as inherently neurotic–lone cats with a penchant for self-aggrandizing and feelings of self-worthlessness–she breaks down the six basic writer personalities she’s worked with and how editors get the best out of them (and vice versa). The second half of the book describes the publishing process from an insider’s perspective, all the things that can go right or wrong with publication, and what makes an author-editor relationship work (or not).
While I tend to look for writing books that have a strong practical as opposed to an inspirational bent, I enjoyed this book a great deal. Lerner knows writers and the publishing business inside and out, has the various writing personalities pegged, and writes with authority. From working with agents to acquisitions to marketing to editing to fighting over the book cover design, this book tells all about the process, and while it’s more rumination than how-to guide, there are practical tips to glean here. In particular, Lerner provides an inside look at not only what she perceives about what makes writers tick, but also into the editor’s mind. What editors want, how they think, what drives them, what makes them happy. All the other highly interesting stuff aside, that for me alone was worth the cover price.