Mike Interviews: Helen Corner. Part3

Mike Interviews
Part 3 of 3

Hi this is the third 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, and the second here.

& don't forget to enter Cornerstones competition here on this blog: Click here.

You recently released a book, How to Write a Blockbuster together with Lee Weatherly. What was it like to put that together and how was it received?

It was a natural progression of all that we do and is based on our workshop teaching. It was a relief to get all our knowledge – a combined 35 years of experience - down on paper! At the risk of blowing our own trumpet I happen to think it’s the best book out there on how to write and submit.

Can you give us some tips on approaching agents?

There is an etiquette on how to do this, so any author will want to read our book for more information on how to get a MS into a publishable state, and approach agents and not get turned down! But here are a few key points to remember.

Make sure your MS is really polished, and your submission is professional, where there is no room for an agent to turn it down. Remember, you have about 30 seconds of an agent’s time before they make a decision.

Target specifically and aim for the agent’s desk and not the slush-pile.

Thorough research is the key. Have a list of agents, contact details and any information you can find on them via the web, writers’ handbooks, writing magazines etc.

Call or email and aim to check the contact details first and then speak to the agent. Have details of your story to hand in case your mind goes blank.

Personalise your cover letter: ‘I read an interview in Writers’ Forum and I see that you’re looking for thriller writers…’, ‘We met briefly at the Winchester Writers’ Conference…’, ‘We spoke on the phone today and you kindly said you’d look at my first three chapters. I hope you enjoy reading it…’

Make a follow-up call to check they received your submission and try to get an idea of timing. Remember that you’re only submitting to one or two agents, as you’ve targeted specifically, so you can’t afford for an agent to hold on to your ms for longer than a month before you try someone else. If you haven’t heard from them after a month make a gentle prompter phone call or email. If you haven’t heard anything after six weeks then move on. Never be rude or pushy.

Keep all rejection letters so you learn the difference between a positive turn down and a general blanket turn down. And then try again.

Good luck, and give us a call and let us know what you’re writing about. We might be able to help.

And that's it folks. Thanks Helen, have a great Christmas!

Quick footnote from me:

Helen talks above about targeting a few agents rather than mass mailing to a load all at the same time. I believe this is good advice. I have had some good chats with agents over the phone, which whilst haven't lead to any offer to represent me, did mean they gave my submission their attention and I got personalised letters back on my novel rather than standard rejection letters. It's scary ringing, especially when they ask you questions over the phone about your book, but if you prepare and are willing to go for it, you drastically improve your chances.

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.

Picture: Helen Corner & Lee Weatherly with their book 'Teach Yourself How to Write a Blockbuster' £9.99,Hodder.


Paul said...

Lovely series of interviews, Mike, which provides some very useful information in a great format. You obviously have an additional 'calling' as an interviewer. Enjoyed Helen's comments---the whole concept behind these three pieces worked superbly. Thanks.

Mike French said...

Thanks Paul, I am enjoying myself!

My next interview is lined up and ready to go in Jan, with an author of a book reviewed recently on this blog.

Watch this space!

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Mike,
Well done, good show, and you're a great interviewer. This was a worthwhile read, this series, and it is a feather in your cap. I keep coming back to "The View From Here" because you care so much about your readers. Thanks. -Mike.

Helen Ginger said...

Thanks for sharing this interview, Mike. It's been very informative. I agree with both you and Helen. It can be scary to call an agency and get the actual agent on the phone. Helen's suggestion of being prepared in case that happens is such a good one. Have your short synopsis in front of you, along with your two sentence logline. This will help you avoid stumbling over yourself.

Mike French said...

Thanks Mr Grudge and Helen, I am very pleased with the way the blog is heading.

And good advice Helen, I always phone agents with sheets of paper surrounding me in case my mind goes blank on the phone. Doh!

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Mike,
I remember sending a query letter to an agent once, and when she called me on the phone, I was so tongue-tied, that I couldn't think of a thing to ask her. She caught me in the middle of dinner with my family, and I had a mouthful of spaghetti (I'm such a classy guy, I couldn't swallow before I answered the phone). It turns out, she was one of those agents who "charged" for representation and I declined. Still, I carry on with my quest for representation and publication. Thanks for the article again, Mike.

Anonymous said...

Really interesting series of interviews and I agree with much of what Helen says...not sure about the phoning though... I'm naturally very confident on the phone but because the whole agent thing felt so loaded/important to me on the occasions I did chat/chase up a submission I know I came across as a bit motormouthed/needy..... aaargh! Others might find they mumble, dry up or whatever and not give that good an account of themselves!

all best

Maria McCarthy

Mike French said...

Hi Maria

Welcome to The View From Here! Thanks for taking part in the thread at writewords about Helen's interview.

I found it helped having everything written down in front of me in case I got 'Agent fright' on the phone!