Novel Fair 2019 outcome: I got a book deal!

After the novel fair, I stayed in touch with several publishers who were considering my novel while I tried to imagine who would be best fit for me and the book.

I started to read Elmet – Fiona Mozley’s debut novel (which was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize 2017). After a few chapters, I knew I wanted to work with the team who had helped bring such a striking and atmospheric novel into publication. I hoped the team at John Murray Press would feel the same about my work. And they did. One Friday morning, an email from Becky Walsh popped into my inbox. The subject line included the word ‘Offer’.

I was thrilled. And terrified. As I’ve said before, I have an irrational belief that bad news shadows good. My husband was in San Francisco. I tried to erase the picture of his plane falling from the sky on his way home and responded to the publisher’s email as quickly as I could, asking for time to process the news. And to find an agent!

I thought first of Marianne Gunn O’Connor. I’d felt intimidated before meeting Marianne in person at the novel fair – she has a mighty reputation and had already said no to representing me twice before we met. But when we spoke in person for the first time, Marianne said something that handed me the key to finishing my second novel. We connected over authors she represents whose work I love. Then she declined to represent me (again!)…

But the creative dynamic I’d experienced when we met, coupled with my respect for her deep professional experience made me approach her a fourth time. After talking, Marianne said she’d think things over the weekend. She needed time to process things, to make sure she was the right person to take me further in my career.

Later that day I was ambushed by celebratory flowers sent by a friend and mentor – which made the offer feel real. So I let myself celebrate getting this far with 2 friends I do not see enough of (the stars aligned so that these people – who have supported my writing for years – were both in town). But it was only when my husband’s plane touched down in Dublin airport the next morning that I breathe again.

I rang Marianne Gunn O’Connor back the following Monday. She reminded me that this was the fourth time I had knocked at her door. I said that this time it was different – this time I had a book deal. Marianne then said that she doesn’t represent authors just because they have a book deal – she has to believe there’s a good fit between her and the author – a very strong policy that I respect.

A silence stretched out between us as Marianne thought things over. Then she said that she’d loved the last version of my manuscript, but felt it was too close to another book she had been trying to place (one she’d just sold). She said that she was moved by my tenacity in coming back to her. And she said that this time she’d felt a rush of adrenaline and knew in her heart that she wanted to represent me: there was no way she could say no this time. I thanked her for saying yes, and she thanked me for not giving up. Then we got down to business.

I was worried that Marianne would consider my desire to work only with Becky from John Murray naive and limiting. Clearly, in order to get the best publishing deal, we should have tried to whip up a bidding frenzy between publishers. But Marianne supported my decision to go with the team at John Murray. Three days later, she sent the deal she’d negotiated.

That was April. All through May and June I’ve had my head down, working with Becky on editing the manuscript of Big Girl, Small Town. The novel is due for publication on 20/02/2020, which is just about one year on from the Irish Novel Fair 2019 pitch day.

Entries for the Novel Fair 2020 close Friday 27 September. I highly recommend entering. I believe there is value for writers at every stage of the process not just the later stages. And I know from hearing about other book deals and agent contracts from this year’s alumni, that being selected as an Irish Novel Fair finalist gives you a very real opportunity to achieve your writing dream.


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