Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Quickfire Questions with... Cornerstones Literary Consultancy



Kathryn Robinson is Managing Editor of Cornerstones Literary Consultancy, where she works with Director, Helen Corner. Do visit the website for information on their book doctor services and workshops.



The author I wish we’d ‘discovered’ most is…..
Ooh where to start. There are so many authors whose work I would have loved to be involved in. Growing up, I was a huge fan of Joan Aiken - these were the books my mum used to read to me and I loved them so much I'd wait until she said goodnight and then read ahead. She has a huge range as an author - from chilling present-day ghost stories to gritty historical fiction with a fantastical slant. I also adored Gillian Cross who writes with fantastic warmth and wit and does tension as well as any author I've ever read. I find her depth of emotion and characterisation inspirational.

Left on a cliffhanger or told all?
Even books within a series ought really to have a good solid resolution – I’m not really a fan of books which end on a total cliffhanger (though ambiguity can be good) and I don’t think readers find them satisfying. But with individual chapters in a book – a cliffhanger, every time!

The perfect book deal is…
One where the agent, publisher and author all feel as though they’ve made a healthy investment for the writer’s career, rather than a deal that’s all about promoting a one-book sensation then leaving the author high and dry.

You really must read…
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. It’s a children’s fantasy but a crossover success and the premise is stunning with a seam of menace and mystery running right through the book. Scary stuff. The sequel’s just come out and it’s on my must read list. I’m also reading Stephen King’s Dark Tower series at the moment and they’re unputdownable. I've also just read We Can't all be Astronauts by Tim Clare - it's a non-fiction account of his struggle to get published and it's laugh-out-loud, bitter sweet, with an uplifting message about how to enjoy the journey without worrying too much about the destination.

I get most excited by…
A really strong voice, a character who I feel I’d like to know (or be!), and an author who knows what they’re doing technically so I’m not distracted by niggly editorial details.

My biggest tip for a writer is…
Take time to learn your craft. Don’t rush to submit before you’re ready. Remember publishing is a business and treat your writing professionally, and those in the industry will respect you for doing so.

An author should never…
Lose heart. Try not to be frustrated if you’re not being snapped up; your timing may be wrong or you may be pitching your work slightly wrong or approaching the wrong agent; you may be doing something fundamentally problematic with the style or structure (in which case services like Cornerstones are here to help). Every finished piece of work is a success and if you’re loving writing and always striving to improve then this is an achievement in itself.

My pet hate in a submission package is…
A rambling synopsis where I can't pick out the story or character arcs. Dense, 5-page synopses are daunting to read and put even the most dedicated editor off a submission. On the other hand, a well-written and gripping synopsis means I'm going into the book excited and expectant and prepared to make allowances for minor technical problems.

Favourite desktop snack?
Apples for a healthy day and chocolate for every other day (four out of five, ahem…)

Best thing about my job is…
Reading something different and surprising every day; the satisfaction of seeing an author go from the beginning stages right through to publication.

Email or phone?
Either. We like to chat to authors as it helps us gauge what stage they’re at but email is fine. The hardest part of my job is… Realising that an author whose work I had been excited about hasn’t managed to revise successfully and may not go on to get published, at least with this book. Telling an author that they need to move on to a new project is hard and it isn’t always received well, but sometimes it’s the best possible step and allows an author to really fly.

The most common mistake I see is…
Poor grammar, punctuation and spelling. Many authors don’t get these things right, or think that they don’t matter. They do!

Cornerstones is first and foremost…
A teaching service, helping authors to find the right way forward with their work.

If I didn’t work in the literary business I would be a…
Beekeeper. Or a mountaineer. I’d love to climb Everest…

12 comments:

Samantha Tonge said...

Some great points, Kathryn.

Hmm, hands up, guilty of subbing too early, it is something i'm really trying to work on!

CarolineG said...

I recently read the Patrick Ness book, Kathryn, and agree that it is stunning!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with Strictly.

Gillian McDade said...

Interesting answers, Kathryn. My heart sank at this point!!:
'The hardest part of my job is… Realising that an author whose work I had been excited about hasn’t managed to revise successfully and may not go on to get published, at least with this book.'

Helen Black said...

It's very hard though, isn't it, not to sub? When you're full of enthusiasm for your work.
HB

Samantha Tonge said...

Very hard, Helen.

Fionnuala Kearney said...

Really insightful post. Thank you Kathryn for taking the time. Have to confess the writing process itself can feel like an Everest climb!

Caroline R said...

Really interesting answers - thanks, Kathryn.

I like the sound of that Tim Clare book - must look out for it.

Derek Thompson said...

Great post. Incidentally, I used Cornerstones (Hello, Kathryn!) for my wip novel Standpoint and it really helped me to look at my novel more objectively, and to kill a few darlings. By the way, Tim Clare wrote a brilliant article in July's Writing Magazine about the realities of being a writer. Right then, back to the editing equivalent of Rumble in the Jungle.

Stroppy Author said...

Funny, isn't it, how you spend all that time forcing yourself not to submit early and then a few years later your editor is demanding your revised MS yesterday and you HAVE to submit when you still think you could improve it.... Ho hum.

Samantha Tonge said...

I've used Cornerstones too, Derek, and was very satisfied.

I know, Stroppy! But then the world of writing is full of contradtictions, i find!

debutnovelist said...

"Every finished piece of work is a success."
On a day when I feel my second 'baby' disappearing into the drawer where my firstborn is languishing(yes, I could revise but other life matters are getting in the way), I am truly grateful for this observation. If only more people knew the truth of it!
AliB

Liane said...

Great interview, great person. I use Kathrn and Cornerstones and they've been phenomenal for me. :)