A Finalist’s Guide to the Irish Novel Fair

It’s been a hectic few weeks since I pitched my unpublished novel to 15 agents and publishers from Ireland and the UK at the Irish Novel Fair 2019. But I’ve finally got around to writing up the experience. I’m creating 5 posts to reflect the 5 distinct phases I experienced in the Irish Novel Fair process:

  1. Writing a novel
  2. Entering the novel fair
  3. Preparing to pitchPart 1 and Part 2
  4. Pitching to agents and publishers
  5. Following up with agents and publishers

My actual experience of creative projects to date has gone an awful lot like this: 


But things went differently this time. So I’ve written this blog post series to show the process I followed to help me meet the requirements for each deadline. 

The first (sort of obvious) thing to note is that the various phases in the novel fair are not equal – they require different level of time and energy. Here’s how that worked out for me:

  1. Writing a novel
    • 13 YEARS of on-off manuscript development (not to mention 40+ years of reading, writing, grinding teeth, wishing on stars…).
  2. Entering the novel fair
    • About 1 DAY of formatting and form filling.
  3. Preparing to pitch
    • You will have around 2 MONTHS between finding out you’re a finalist and pitching. This time is precious. You should be polishing your manuscript throughout the period, developing a stellar pitch and researching the agents and publishers.
  4. Pitching
    • 5 glorious HOURS of hanging out with other writers in the IWC as you pitch your novel to agents and publishers.
  5. Following up with agents and publishers
    • How long is a piece of string? This is where the waiting game begins…I’m at 4+ weeks. The London Book Fair came shortly after the Irish Novel Fair – an event that we were warned would swamp the agents and publishers we spoke with. Some agents and publishers gave an indication of when to expect follow up contact. Most didn’t. Some novel fair finalists wait years to get a book deal. I believe some are signed up inside a year. Some have yet to get offers.

Regardless of the outcome of entering the Novel Fair, I believe there’s a tremendous value in entering. Here’s why:

  • Even if you never make it to the final or feedback stages, having a deadline for a real and valuable opportunity can help you complete your novel – the goal can help you through the process.
  • If you make it to the shortlist, you’ll get personalised feedback on your novel.
  • If you are lucky enough to be selected as a finalist, you will have ‘the rare and unique opportunity to come face-to-face with some of the most influential names in publishing from Ireland and the UK’. The Irish Novel Fair gives writers the chance to vault over the slush pile, to compress the long slow and impersonal process of cold-pitching into one tightly-focussed, very personal event.

I know – regardless of whether or not I get a book deal – it was the best €50 I’ve ever invested in my writing.

Next in my Finalist’s Guide to the Irish Novel Fair is Phase 1: Writing a Novel.

I’m a novel fair finalist (2019)

I’m absolutely thrilled to be selected as a finalist for this year’s novel fair for my first novel. This platform is seen as a springboard for the literary career of the finalists – a career which would be a dream come true for me.

I can’t imagine the work put in by judges Catherine Dunne, Anthony Glavin and Anna Carey to whittle down the list of over 200 entrants to just 12 finalists – so many thanks to them (and the many people working hard behind the scenes in the Irish Writers Centre).

As a finalist, I get the opportunity to meet face-to-face with some of the most influential names in publishing from Ireland and the UK to pitch my novel and discuss next steps.

I’m looking forward not only to meeting the agents and publishers who’ve committed to the event, but also to meeting the other shortlisted finalists.

I don’t feel I would have achieved this without the support and guidance I received as a member of the xBorders literary programme, facilitated by the wonderful Maria McManus. This unique programme gave me the opportunity to spend time with other writers and the space to reflect that resulted in novel I submitted to the Novel Fair.