Monday, 2 May 2011

Kathryn Price, Managing Editor of Cornerstones Literary Consultancy, talks about the benefits of editorial advice.

Several tall tales & short stories debut author interviewees have mentioned using Cornerstones Literary Consultancy and how their editorial reports have been an invaluable part of their writing journey. Quite often, a Cornerstones revised manuscript has helped these authors achieve that elusive agent and publishing contract. 
Cornerstones author interviews on tall tales & short stories:
Sarwat Chadda
Anne-Marie Conway
Ellen Renner
Harriet Goodwin
Janet Foxley
Jon Mayhew

Established in 1998, Cornerstones is a leading UK literary consultancy and also acts as a scout for agents such as: United Agents, Annette Green, Caroline Sheldon, Eve White, Greenhouse Literary Agency, Conville & Walsh, Celia Catchpole, Lorella Belli, PFD, Christopher Little, MBA, RCW, Felicity Bryan, Andrew Lownie (and others).

tall tales & short stories spoke to Managing Editor, Kathryn Price
about Cornerstones' Kids' Corner Editorial Service.

*Hi Kathryn and welcome to tall tales & short stories. Could you tell us a little about yourself?

I joined Cornerstones literary consultancy as managing editor about six years ago. I love helping authors to shape their work – there’s nothing as satisfying as seeing a story develop into something really special. I also write myself and am mid-way through the (hopefully!) final draft of my first YA novel. When I’m not reading and writing you can find me at the top of a mountain, playing my piano (not at the same time) or singing in a choir.

* What inspired you to become an editor and how did you prepare for this career?

I have always loved books and writing – so much so that at my recent wedding my dad read out a story I’d written when I must have been about five (featuring a murderous owl, but that’s digressing a bit too far…). But I’ve always been interested in how stories are shaped; how the smallest alteration in words can change the whole feel of a sentence or scene; why stories are so important to us as humans. I studied literature at university and went on to work in literary agencies before joining Cornerstones.

* Which authors/stories did you enjoy reading as a child? What do you think children of today want to read?

I loved all the classics – Roald Dahl, CS Lewis, Brian Jacques – but my favourite author was Joan Aiken when I was younger. I loved her way of giving history a fantastical twist and she writes beautifully atmospheric, pacy stories. I also loved (still do) Gillian Cross who does cracking tension.

I think today’s children are more demanding readers than ever and they have so many other things competing for their time that books have to be really amazing to capture the imagination. But they also have to reflect contemporary children’s lifestyles and world-views. It’s no good writing the stories we used to read when we were younger - the world has moved on and so has fiction.

* Could you tell us about the ethos behind Cornerstones and the kind of working relationship you aim to build between you and your clients?

We love writing and stories, that’s the bottom line, but we also love launching authors, giving sparkling manuscripts that extra push. Publishing is a business – I think authors often forget that – so the more professional you can be, the better.

Our aim at Cornerstones is to arm authors with the skills – editorial and professional – that they need to survive in the competitive and success-driven publishing arena.

* When looking at a new manuscript what are the main things that grab your attention and makes a piece of work stand out in a positive way?

I think every editor has different things they look for in a manuscript. For me, it’s character and voice – how the character speaks to me, whether I care about them enough to read on, what is it that they’re striving against or to achieve. If I care about a character then I’m immediately involved and I want to keep turning the pages to find out what happens to them.

* When looking at a new manuscript what are the main things that grab your attention and makes a piece of work stand out in a negative way?

The basics are a big deal; at submission level typos, grammar problems, punctuation etc. can be off-putting. It’s partly the sense that if an author is serious (as they should be) then they should know these things, but also it distracts from the story itself.

Then I’d be looking for too much telling – lots of exposition and summary as opposed to strong, pacy, dramatic scenes which draw me into the action.

* When reading submissions what would you say are the most common mistakes made by aspiring writers?

See above!
But other common mistakes are submitting too early, not knowing your genre or target market (for instance, pitching a novel as 7-9 when it’s 50,000 words and the main character is an adult), wavering viewpoint (a really tight, intimate character viewpoint can make or break a book), saying ‘my husband/kids/neighbour loved it’. Professionals will want to make their own mind up and your book should be strong enough to sell itself.

* Does Kids' Corner offer editorial advice across the age ranges?

Cornerstones handles all fiction - adult and non-fiction - and Kids' Corner is the children's division of that.

We have over 60 editors; and for children's fiction specifically, we have editors whose expertise ranges from picture books through to YA/crossover.

* Would you ever decline to work with a client and if so, for what reasons?

We actually regularly turn authors down. We’re (I believe) the only consultancy to have a filtering system in place so that we aim to only take on authors who are at a level where they’d benefit from feedback. We often turn an author down because they’re really at creative writing stage, where they should be experimenting and exploring rather than trying to rein everything in and exercise control, which is what self-editing is all about.

* What is one thing you wish every beginner writer knew?

What a good question! I think if I could stress anything it would be the benefits of getting editorial feedback (this will sound like a plug for Cornerstones but it really isn’t). As a writer myself, I know that I couldn’t have brought my book through 3 drafts without having it critiqued along the way – and I’m lucky to have colleagues and friends who are in the business and have time to help me.

Everyone – no matter what level they’re at – will eventually get to the stage where they need a fresh pair of eyes. If a consultancy isn’t right for you, then join a writers’ group or online forum and get used to assessing others’ work and having your own assessed; there’s nothing like it for developing technical skills and the ability to work with feedback which will be so valued by agents and editors further down the line.

* Words of wisdom and advice to aspiring writers?

Learning to write can be a long and challenging process – I’ve heard it compared to the length of time it takes to become a brain surgeon – but don’t give up!

Everything you write will teach you something, even if it doesn’t go on to get published.

And, if you’re not yet published, that doesn’t mean you’re not a writer. Just completing a novel is a massive achievement.

* What advice do you have for anyone interested in working with Cornerstones Kids’ Corner?
*I’ve decided I’d like to approach Cornerstones Kids’ Corner for a report. What should I do first? And what happens when I send you my ms?

I’ll answer these two questions together.

Just give us a ring! We have a free advice line 0208 968077 or email
We’re always happy to talk things through, find out what stage an author is at, whether we can help, and what service would be best for an author.

We need to know that you’re ready to come to us – getting feedback too early can be counterproductive – but if we do find that you’re at creative writing stage we’ll try and recommend an alternative option.

We’ll read some sample material, get a sense of your story and style, and if we feel we can help we’ll advise what type of report you should go for and take it from there. We’ll assign you an editor who specialises in your genre and target market and they’ll produce a candid, constructive critique that guides you on what’s working, what’s not, and what you can do about it. And then we’ll steer you through the revision process and answer any questions.

And, if your editor flags up your manuscript as outstanding, we may request to consider it ourselves with a view to finding an agent. That’s when things get really exciting…

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