by Helen Corner-Bryant
Twenty-one years ago, on a rainy November evening, I was in Penguin editorial looking at piles of unsolicited manuscripts. On my desk was a submission from an author that hinted with real promise but wasn’t there yet. I scribbled a note: ‘Keep going – have you thought of starting at chapter two? Chapter one is mainly backstory’. Moving on to the next submission I scribbled another note. And so on. We weren’t supposed to write notes – we were supposed to reject automatically as individual feedback was (and still is) just not feasible; editorial departments are so busy publishing their own authors that they don’t have the time or the resources to write bespoke turn-downs for manuscripts that don’t come via an agent.
However, I couldn’t bring myself not to – I was a writer at heart, I felt for these authors, and I wanted to be of some help along the way. One author I wrote feedback to, John Matthews, went on to become a number one bestseller for his book, Past Imperfect – published by Penguin no less! – so I knew I was on the right track.
I had this shiver of an idea; a belief that giving feedback to authors and raising their chances of becoming a better writer (and maybe even published) was what I most wanted to do. And so, Cornerstones was born. I gathered five editor friends to provide the feedback – with myself as the co-ordinator – and I worked from my bedroom. Cornerstones grew organically by word of mouth, authors responded well, and we began to see results. We expanded into all genres, our editor list grew from five to eighty, we launched in the US in 2016, and all the while we ran workshops and taught. I also co-wrote a book, Write A Blockbuster, and this was published by John Murray for many years. I then reverted the rights and spent a year or so rewriting it with my colleague Kathryn Price. We delved deeper into editorial techniques and how to land on the agent’s desk – to my delight John Murray bought it back. It went on to become the lead title for the creative writing list, now named On Editing: How to Edit Your Novel the Professional Way.
We’re a teaching based company – we like to share what we know, and do this through workshops, festival talks, guest lecturing at universities across the UK. We also run our online course, How to Edit Your Novel the Professional Way, which is designed to help writers perfect their submission package. So far we’ve seen through fifty students since launching in 2018.
It’s now twenty-one years after I had my idea to set up Cornerstones and our ethos has not changed. We have a free advisory service where we give feedback on the opening pages and synopsis with no obligation to come to us. If we really feel we can help we’ll suggest next steps on what type of professional editorial feedback the writer needs. We don’t take on every author, and there has to be some potential beyond the creative writing stage, but if they’re keen to learn how to self-edit then we can guide them towards raising their writing to the next level and occasionally through the submissions process.
Ultimately, we know what works and how to get a writer to publication. If you trust your editor and the advice (based on years of industry experience on knowing what works and what doesn’t with proven results), you’ll get there quicker than if you were left floundering in the dark. Of course, it’s important to note that whether an author gets published – if that is their goal – will come down to their talent and ability to apply our feedback to their revisions.
We rely mainly on word of mouth. So, if you have an idea and you’re not sure if it works, or you’ve written a novel and you want to know of its publication chances, drop us a line. Or if you know an author who might benefit from coming to us, please help to spread the word.
And in the meantime, thank you for reading the story behind Cornerstones and for celebrating our coming of age – twenty-one years of helping authors on their journey to publication.
With special thanks to:
I couldn’t have got here without our amazing stable of editors in the UK and US. And in the early days, Lee Weatherly who set up the children’s division of Cornerstones and Liz Kessler who took that over, both of whom are now bestselling writers. Kathryn Price, who worked with me for many years and is now my editor in chief and primary tutor for our online editing course. Ayisha Malik, a core member of the Cornerstones team for many years and who is now a bestselling author. And of course my lovely team, Michele Rubin, Sarah Rouse and Isobel Leach. Thank you for all your shared belief and commitment to what we do at Cornerstones.