One feels for Betsy Lerner's writers. Oh, sure, Lerner must be a fabulous agent. But too bad for them that in gaining her as an agent, they lost her as an editor. How rare and wonderful it must have been to have such an advocate, adviser and, yes, admirer so firmly ensconced in publisher territory (at various times, Houghton Mifflin, Ballantine, Simon & Schuster and Doubleday). In The Forest for the Trees, Lerner reflects on writing and publishing, both from an editor's point of view. There are so many books by writers and agents promising to disclose what editors really want; here, finally, is one straight from the source. Like all experienced editors, Lerner has seen writers at their best, and she has seen them at their worst. "Like shrinks", she says, editors "have a privileged and exclusive view into a writer's psyche, from the ecstasy of acquisition to the agony of the remainder table".
To writers, particularly unpublished ones, editors can seem imposing figures determined to thwart their success. They won't take calls, they don't offer feedback--sometimes they don't respond to queries at all. Guess what: editors don't lug home hundreds of pounds of manuscripts to read each year because they aren't looking for good writing. "An editor gets off", says Lerner, "on the thrill of discovering a new writer". Editors crave "succinct, well-written cover letters", inspiration that comes from within (as opposed to from the best-seller list), and "catchy, clearly targeted title[s]". They detest unsolicited phone calls, "query letters that sound as if they were penned by Crazy Eddie", and writers who offer to "write it however I want it" (it's "like saying I'll be straight or gay; you tell me, I have no preference"). Lerner is aware of how excruciating it is for a writer to wait for feedback on his work. But she also lets writers in on a little secret of her own. "I'm always anxious about the author's response", she confides. "Will he or she take to my editing?" --Jane Steinberg