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Cornerstones Interview

Posted on 23 November 2007. © Copyright 2004-2018 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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WriteWords talks to Helen Corner, founder of Cornerstones Literary Consultancy and literary agency talent scouts

Tell us something about your background.

I used to work at Penguin and part of my job was to process the slush pile. They have an automatic rejection policy, as do the majority of publishers, and I felt that while many submissions were obvious turn-downs, there were some that sparkled with promise but needed work. I wasn’t able to give feedback – we didn’t have the time or the resource – so I set up a business that could provide just that.

Cornerstones & Kids’Corner is one of the founding UK literary consultancies and has been going for ten years. We provide editorial feedback on manuscripts (MSS) for any author – published or unpublished; run self-edit workshops; and scout for agents. We work mainly on word of mouth with agents and publishers and writers. Our ethos is simple: if I can talk to an author and tell them in five minutes what they may spend a year finding out then I consider that a good thing all round, whether they end up using our service or not. Our intention is to coach the author through the writing and self-editing process and to raise their writing to the next level. If their MS is ready to submit we then coach the author on how to present themselves and their work professionally to the trade, or if we’re passionate about the MS then we submit it to agents. We have lots of schemes going on – competitions, top tips, and announcements on who’s looking for what. Authors should sign up to our email round-robin by emailing me at Helen@cornerstones.co.uk so they can be part of our writing community.
Our fees are competitive. We’re not the cheapest but we are good value for money considering our reader/teacher expertise and what we offer as an all-round service. Our fees vary depending on whether the MS is children’s, adult fiction or non-fiction and what type of report the author would like – General or In-depth. The fees also reflect word-length. So, to give an idea of range, it can be £140 + VAT for a report on three picture books, £226 + VAT for an In-depth Report on a 40,000 word middle-reader novel, to £350 + VAT for a General Report on a 100,000 word novel.

How do you find your writers? Or how do they find you?

Mainly by word of mouth and referral from agents, writers and publishers. We’re also on The Society of Authors list of recommended LCs. We’re on many leading literary agency sites and publishers such as HarperCollins, Orion, Random House, Hodder, etc. But really we work on a reciprocal basis with agents, where they refer authors to us and we refer authors back to them. Agencies such as, Felicity Bryan, Andrew Mann, Celia Catchpole, Toby Eady, Conville & Walsh, Eve White, Diane Banks, RCW, RLA, LAW, Andrew Lownie, Caroline Sheldon, MBA, PFD, Greenhouse, and many others. This is a free process to agents, and we’re the only LC to do that, so agents are willing to read our authors’ material and we’re strict about what we pass through so we usually get a result.

Just this month, we submitted nine authors to agents – MSS that we’ve worked on with the authors for the past year. Three now have representation, and one has already had her ms sent to publishers; two authors are due to meet agents and two have had a request to see more material. The other three I’m waiting on a response. We’re so keen on their work that even if it’s a turn down we’ll approach another agent. In fact, just now the phone went with a request to see some material of another author. It’s so exciting when that happens.

What excites you about a piece of writing-

If I read something that tests my emotions, and I learn something, and if I keep turning the page to find out how the characters will react and what happens next, then I love it. It is also very much to do with voice: do I like it and am I intrigued, and do I want to go on the journey with him/her. But the test of time is the language and characters. Writing that I’m passionate about echoes within me for years. It somehow sticks to the fabric of who you are. For instance, I read a MS five years ago by one of the authors in the above list who’s now due to meet an agent. Her weaving, lyrical style and fresh imagery and real characters stayed with me. I tried placing her with an agent back then but couldn’t – they just didn’t bite. I then ran a ‘Wowfactor’ competition in which she was shortlisted with her second novel. Her second novel has had a similar effect on me and it now looks like she’s ready to be published, or the industry is ready for her. Either way, I’m so glad she persevered.

and what makes your heart sink?

Bad writing combined with an arrogant or lazy author approach. But luckily, this is far and few between.



A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member.







Comments by other Members



Steerpike`s sister at 16:54 on 23 November 2007  Report this post
Teach Yourself: How to Write a Blockbuster is really good, full of useful, above all practical, advice. The title put me off it at first, but I'm glad I read it. It's not about how to write a blockbuster at all! :)

CarolineSG at 17:05 on 23 November 2007  Report this post
Cornerstones also do fantastic residential courses. I've been on a couple and they were worth their wait in gold.

susieangela at 22:32 on 23 November 2007  Report this post
They have an automatic rejection policy, as do the majority of publishers,


I wondered what exactly this means. Can anyone explain? It almost sounds as if they reject automatically, without looking at the work - but I expect it means something else.
Susiex

Dee at 17:48 on 24 November 2007  Report this post
It usually means they start reading with an assumption they’ll reject, which means – depending on where their bar is set – an unappealing first line, incorrect punctuation, a typo, could stop them reading. This is why it’s so important, as Cornerstones keep saying, to get that first page perfect and then make sure every other page matches it.

I have to say I'm a huge fan of Cornerstones. I've been working with Helen on my novel, off and on, for nearly a year now (crikey! Is it really that long?) and it hasn’t always been easy, but so much about perfecting the skill of writing is difficult and has to be worked on. And that’s why we need people like Helen Corner to help us at that stage.

I can recommend the book too.

Dee


MariaM at 07:48 on 25 November 2007  Report this post
Fantastic stuff, Helen!

I think what so many authors need is expert, impartial feedback on their work (as opposed to family and friends/writers groups which often don't have the time/expertise to give the level of detail required to move things forwards).

Am teaching Path to Publication workshops at Bristol Uni now as well as being on the Lit Fest circuit and have your agency on my resource list. Particularly impressed by your list of potential agents - other agencies I know of only have one!

all best

Maria

m.william.anderson at 08:57 on 25 November 2007  Report this post
As always, Helen, it's a joy to hear the enthusiasm you put into reading and nurturing writers.

I can do nothing but praise Cornerstones as Helen and one of her editors, Lorna, helped me with my typescript. I had been with my agent for a year, and the typescript had been edited down with the help of another fantastic editor, Gillian, but my grammar needed some serious tidying up, and I was also getting a little downhearted that I would never 'get to the end'.

I called Helen and from that moment on she and her team were incredibly supportive. She helped me see past the despondency I was feeling to the story I had written, and put all the things that were happening with the typescript into perspective. I came away with a much more positive outlook on my story, and its potential (and myself as a writer). And I think my agent was happier that a second pair of eyes had also confirmed what they had thought of the story's promise in the first place.

I have just submitted my final draft of the typescript to my agent in the hope that it is ready to go to the publishers for their consideration. And I would urge anyone who is serious about their writing but finding it a lonely and sometimes soul-damaging process to speak to Helen – for me it was the difference between throwing away a few years worth of hard work because I had just about had enough, or persevering with my dream of being published.

Harry at 06:51 on 26 November 2007  Report this post
I'm a huge fan of Cornerstones. Helen has given enormous help and support to me and my writing. I can't recommend them highly enough.

Harry

Maria_S at 16:30 on 26 November 2007  Report this post
I was referred to Cornerstones by Transworld Publishers and I found them very helpful. I had reports done by Cornerstones on my latest self-published novel. I would highly recommend them, as they help you to see how you could improve your work and inspire you to make the best of your ideas. Helen is very approachable and was kind enough to help out with a bit of publicity by emailing her mailing list when my latest novel was published.

FizzdeBrooke at 14:26 on 27 November 2007  Report this post
They certainly know the writing game. They can spot a beginner a mile away. I went on one of their courses and what I learned from them, you can't learn anywhere else. No books teach you the creative process that you need. These essential skills are taught by Cornerstones as well as a myriad of other tips.

I've never met a person so enthusiastic about growing raw talent than Helen. She has time for the beginner where others don't.





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