Hi this is the second part of my interview with Helen Corner, the director of Cornerstones a Literary Consultancy based in the UK. The first part can be found here.
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How has the industry reacted to Cornerstones and companies like them?
When we first set up there was only one other company like us and the reaction from the trade was mixed. Some embraced us, not least because we provide free feedback on the synopsis and first chapter to any author who comes to us. But also because they recognized that arming a writer with the skills to deliver a more polished MS saves time for everyone, including the writer, further down the line. But some in the trade reserved judgement, and rightly so, as there are a lot of cowboys out there. So, I knew that I wanted to mainly rely on word-of-mouth and a results-driven reputation. If authors, agents and publishers liked what we did then we would carry on. Now we’re an established part of the publishing rung and literary consultancies are springing up everywhere. This is a great thing for us because it shows that we’re needed.
Word-of-mouth is always the best – speak to writers, agents and publishers, look at author-based websites and forums, and you can call The Society of Authors for impartial advice. You can tell a lot by the LC’s website – if it promises you the earth or a fast route to getting published for lots of money then be suspicious. Look at author, agent and publisher testimonials, look at agent and publisher websites for advice or links. Writing magazines such as Writers’ Forum, Writers’ News and Writing Magazine and Mslexia are also good indicators. And then pick up the phone or email. We have a free advisory line so even if we’re not for you don’t worry; contact us anyway.
What has been one of your biggest success stories?
Any writer who’s written a full length MS is, in my mind, a success. In terms of Cornerstones & Kids’Corner, we’ve launched about 50 authors and we currently have a ‘hot list’ of talented writers that we promote to agents. Our latest success story has to be the SCBWI anthology competition to find 12 new voices, where six of the winners were our authors. We were jumping up and down in the office!
But my favourite story is Jane Yardley because it reflects what a lot of authors must feel and what they might achieve if they put their mind to it. Jane came to us before contacting agents and publishers. She received her first report from us and was so annoyed with it she chucked it in the bin. She fished it out 24 hours later thinking that she’d paid for our advice so she might as well act on it. Even though her MS had promise from the start it had a lot of issues that she had to master herself. She came back for five reports which is unprecedented as we normally put a stop to three per MS but she was insistent that she had it right each time! She was right in that by the fifth report I then passed her through to an agent, who then got her a healthy five-figure publishing deal two weeks later. By doing all the hard work herself before she submitted, the agent and publishing process was expedient and a joy! She’s now on book five and doing really well.
And a time when it has all gone wrong? I'm thinking of the story you told at the Editing workshop Helen, of an author that met up with an agent after you submitted their work to them. If I remember right, they never got to see the contract that the agent was holding ready for their signature under the table as when the agent made a couple of suggestions of some minor word changes the author point blank refused to change a single thing.
Not really. We prime our authors well before meeting an agent so it’s quite smooth-running. The story above was our worst - we didn’t see it coming and don’t plan to repeat it!
Yes, we constantly have ideas on how to improve things and to expand. We quite often run competitions and make announcements to our authors about industry news and who’s looking for what so it’s worth getting on our email round-robin for this alone.
Next week part 3, where Helen talks about the book she co-wrote with author Lee Weatherly and gives her tips on approaching agents.
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 3 click here.