Tuesday, 3 February 2015

The Benefits of Bespoke Mentoring, with Ayisha Malik

Cornerstones provides editorial feedback on all manuscripts, scouts for agents and specialises in launching first time authors. It’s a teaching-based skills company and has just launched a one-to-one bespoke mentoring package. We asked Ayisha Malik, managing editor at Cornerstones, a few questions about the new scheme.

What criteria do potential mentees have to meet before being accepted onto the programme?

We read sample pages and a synopsis from all first time authors in order to establish whether they're ready for a report (as well as to get an idea of their style and what writing stage they're at). We don’t take on every manuscript as the self-editing process can have a negative impact if the author’s not ready. The great thing about mentoring is we're now able to help authors who need that one-on-one attention – whether they're at creative writing stage and need help with core technical issues, or at a more advanced submission level.  

How does mentoring differ from a critique or editing of a person's manuscript?

Mentoring is more bespoke in many ways. Each author struggles with different aspects of writing: Show Don't Tell, structure, POV, writing a synopsis and plotting their story, for example. A mentor will be able to develop exercises and provide guidance based on what they feel the author needs most help with. The author will have ongoing access to the mentor's support on a one-to-one basis, whether that's asking them to re-read some revised pages, thrash out plot ideas or address style issues. 

What are the main benefits of working one on one with an experienced mentor, rather than in a group?

Peer feedback can be very useful and has its benefits. However, it's no real replacement for professional advice from someone who's been in the industry and has experience helping authors. All our mentors have a background in teaching writers as well as either having industry experience or being published writers themselves. They also have the added benefit of market knowledge, which should help inform the author's writing if they're geared towards finding an agent. 

A worry for writers working one on one is that the feedback is an individual person's opinion. How do mentors overcome that?

It's true that there is always an element of subjectivity with any MS. However, advising an author on whether the structure isn't right, or highlighting weak characterisation is very different to saying they don't like the way, let's say, a certain character comes across. It is our mentors' job to be candid – there'd be no benefit to the author otherwise – but we also ask that authors stick to their gut instinct if something doesn't quite resonate with them, (though often a mentor will pick up on what an author's already aware of). Whatever the author's final decision for revision we ask they consider why a mentor might have highlighted a certain issue. And of course, because of the nature of mentoring the author might find a brainstorm with the mentor about any doubts for their revision helpful. 

How do you match mentors and clients so they're a good fit?

This is one of the benefits to reading a sample of writing and a synopsis in the first instance. We know our editors inside and out in terms of their literary experience and preferences and it often occurs to me while reading a sample, which mentor would be the perfect match for a certain MS. We'll soon have our mentor and team page up on our website so authors will also be able to see for themselves their expertise. We also send the sample and synopsis to the mentor (if they haven't worked with the author before) and tend to assign the MS to the one who's most excited about the project. 

Do you provide mentorship for fiction, non-fiction, or both?

Both and all genres.

Would this work for writers living in other countries, or is much of it face-to-face?

We're global and already work with authors abroad so the mentoring will also extend to them. Many authors use phone or Skype, which can work just as well as face-to-face, for any discussions with the editor, or they can take place via email. Again, it's very much what the author feels happiest with. 

What do your clients go on to do after the programme?

It's quite a new programme so we're excited to see where it might lead for each author. Whatever they go on to do, it should be a useful and rewarding experience, the result of which should be stronger writing and perhaps even a finished manuscript ready for submission to agents!

Cornerstones is offering a one hour free consultation to launch the mentoring scheme until 16th February. Visit http://cornerstones.co.uk/mentoring/ for more information.

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