Mike Interviews: Helen Corner. Part1

Mike Interviews
Part 1 of 3

Well here we are again with another interview. This time with Helen Corner the director of Cornerstones a Literary Consultancy based in the UK.

Cornerstones are one of the good guys out there. I've used them myself and Helen and her team are friendly, professional and without them my novel would have been twice the length. (So much to be thankful for that!)

Hi Helen, tell me a bit about yourself

I live in London with my dog. I love seeing my family and friends, enjoy the country, love traveling and meeting unusual people. And I read a lot.

What's your ideal night out/in ?

Where do I start? Dinner with friends, watching 24 or whatever the latest TV drama is; reading manuscripts on my sofa, drinking cocktails and dancing; sitting by the fire, cooking, although that’s always a bit hit and miss! I once cooked a bacon curry and served it up at midnight.

Tell me a bit about Cornerstones.

We’re one of the founding UK literary consultancies and have 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 We provide editorial feedback on manuscripts (MSS) for any author – published or unpublished; run self-edit workshops; and scout for agents.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.

What made you set up Cornerstones?

When I worked at Penguin part of my job was to process unsolicited MSS. They had an automatic rejection policy, as with most publishers these days, so my job was to reject all MSS. However, I would always have a peek before turning them down. Most were easy to reject: poorly written, unprofessional submissions - perhaps the layout was messy, or the submission was not targeted properly. Some of them sparkled with promise but even those could have benefited from some editorial shaping. It was these MSS that I itched to give feedback to the authors but did not have the time. Ways to improve the ms might be to cut chapter one and start with chapter two, write in a ‘show’ way as opposed to a ‘tell’ way, or there may have been pages of backstory to a scene rather than starting in the heart of a scene. The list went on.

In order to be a successfully published author the writer will have natural talent, but knowing how to shape writing is a separate skill, and that can be taught. So, with five freelance editors I set up Cornerstones. Ten years on we’re known for our teaching of these skills, have a 60-strong team of professional writers and editors and have a list of authors who are now published. Once a writer has mastered these skills his or her writing flies. And the best thing is when a writer no longer needs our help. Sad but true!

What is your view on the publishing industry at the moment?

That it’s a risky business where a publisher might not be remunerated for backing a book, and an author. A writer has to consider: would they put £10-50,000 of their own money behind their book? Can they sell enough copies to recoup that spend and to then start making a profit from it? Can they sell enough copies of their first book – usually within the first few weeks - so that when they sell-in their second book to booksellers their sales figures are healthy and where the bookseller has no reason to turn it down? It’s really tough out there. Therefore an author is going to stand out from the rest if he/she views publishing in a business-like way.

It’s often said that nowadays agents and editors have less time to spend on editing manuscripts. In many respects it’s the author’s responsibility – not the agent’s or publisher’s - to get their writing, self-editing skills and their ms, in the best publishable state possible, right from the beginning, and to let the publisher and the agent worry about the publishing process. The good news is that with the onset of electronic publishing authors can take matters into their own hands. Getting published nowadays does not mean having to go through the publishing giants’ hoops. But if you are considering going it alone remember the above.

That’s the unromantic view. The romantic and achievable side of being published is that nothing sounds sweeter than when you get an agent saying, ‘I like your writing and want to see more,’ or a publisher saying, ‘I’ve not read anything this good in years!’ to publishers fighting over your book, to receiving your first proofs before it goes to print, and your first royalty cheque. This makes the struggle worth while.

Next week part 2, where Helen talks about how the industry reacted to her company, explains how an author decides which consultancy to go with and tells us about some success stories from authors that have used Cornerstones.

Contact Helen on 0208 9680777 or email Helen@cornerstones.co.uk or look up www.cornerstones.co.uk to find out if she can help point you in the right direction with your writing. Please reference this article when you contact her.

For Part 2 click here.


Michael J. Kannengieser said...

Hi Mike, I always benefit from an interview with a publisher or an agent. I can't wait to read part II. As per your broadcast at Blogcatalog, I'll leave my thoughts on the four cornerstones of good writing here.

1- Well defined characters
2- A strong literary voice
3- appropriate and creative use of language. Examples: use of foreign languages or regional dialects, descriptive prose, technical jargon, or obscure occupational terminology.
4- A compelling story.
Keep up with the excellent blogging Mike. I look forward to coming here. Have a great day, and I'll catch up with you soon. -Mike (Mr. Grudge)

Helen Ginger said...

It’s good to have a professional look at your work before you start querying – if possible, someone who can do more than just copyedit. Your friends might be able to spell check for you, but can they, as Helen said, tell you to cut Chapter One and start farther into the story? Can they look at the overall work and tell you to completely restructure it? And if they did, would you listen to them?

Thanks for doing this interview session, Mike. And thanks to Helen for participating. I’m looking forward to next week’s post.

Mike French said...

Helen Ginger:

Good points! And glad you like the interview.