By Theresa Rizzo
Bio: Helen Breitwieser is a literary agent and owner of
Cornerstone Literary Agency in Los Angeles, CA. Her agency represents a wide
range of novelists with an emphasis on women's fiction, children's books,
romance and suspense/mystery. Clients include Katherine Center, Beth Fantaskey, C.S. Harris, Rachel Lee, Sophia Nash, Ursula
Vernon, Tracy Anne Warren and Ahmet Zappa. She is a
member of the AAR, the Author's Guild, Poets & Writers, RWA and PEN. Before
founding Cornerstone Literary in 1998, she was a literary agent at the William
Morris Agency in New York. She graduated Barnard College magna cum laude in 1990.
- Which categories do you currently acquire? Which category has a special/constant
place in your heart?
Answer: literary fiction, upmarket women’s
commercial fiction (think reading group), mystery and suspense, YA and
middle grade fiction, romance.
- What length synopsis do you prefer to
see with a partial? Single spaced
Answer: 1-3 pages, always
- In terms of submissions, what are you
sick to death of and what would you like to see more of?
Answer: I’ve seen too many serial killer plots, legal
thrillers and Harry Potter copycats. I love atmospheric historical or
contemporary novels with indelible characters.
Books I’ve read recently that were page-turners for me: Jennifer
Donnelly’s Revolution; Jaimy Gordon’s Lord
of Misrule; Jennifer Egan’s A
Visit from the Goon Squad; Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship
Breaker; Teddy Wayne’s Kapitoil.
are the most compelling elements you feel are necessary for a good
read? What particularly grabs your attention?
Answer: precise and vibrant language; a tense and dramatic plot;
dimensional, sympathetic characters drawn with insight, humor and wisdom
- For you, which elements in a fiction
submission are terminal problems garnering automatic rejections and which
are tempting and fixable meriting a look at a revision if a talented
author is willing to accept your advice?
- Voice (automatic rejection)
- Weak Grammar (automatic rejection)
- Common plot (automatic rejection)
- Poor character development (automatic
- Story is too controversial (ie rape, politics, religion—what else?) (not a
- Mediocre / uninspired writing (automatic
- Excessive use of violence or cursing (fixable)
- Lacking genre –specific requirements
like, suspense/sexual tension/ world-building (automatic rejection)
- Pacing is off—plot is too slow (fixable)
- Story starts in wrong spot (fixable)
- Ending is unsatisfactory (fixable)
- Does meeting an author face-to-face at
a conference make a difference in your response time, the submission
process, or the rejection process (ie. Form
letter vs a few sentences of advice)?
- Besides the writing, the story and the
talent, what are the most important elements you look for in an author, ie. contest wins, cooperativeness, affiliations to
writers organizations, knowledge of publishing industry, promotability, etc?
- Do you have any pet peeves?
Answer: query letters from
strangers that begin “Dear Helen”
- What are you addicted to?
Answer: conversation, tea,
libraries, suspense novels, the New York Post, Ireland
- What have you always wanted to do?
Answer: have lunch in Capri with
- Do you have a favorite quote?
Answer: “Do not hurry; do not