Irish Novel Fair Phase 1: Writing Your Novel

Posh pen.

I heard of the novel fair years before I entered, and had a ‘finished’ novel sitting around for most of those years, but somehow never quite got around to entering. Last year was different for 2 reasons:

  1. I figured out the answer to a question I’d never been able to answer in my own novel, which gave me the key to rewriting it – and the energy I needed to do this.
  2. I made entering the novel fair my writing goal for the year.

Most people I know have goals and most people understand the importance of setting SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound). Yet few people achieve their goals. Research has shown the best way for you to achieve your goals is to follow certain steps.

Step 1 – Write down your goal:

Writing down a SMART goal increases your chances of achieving it. Here’s my goal:

“I will spend 2 hours a day rewriting my novel so I have a polished manuscript of 100,000 words ready for submission to the novel fair on 5 September 2018”.

You can see my goal is

  • specific – it defines the who (me!), what (rewrite my novel), and why (submission to the novel fair).
  • measurable – I have a target word count and a set routine for achieving that target.
  • attainable and realistic – I divided my word count by took the number of days I had available to me before the novel fair. I factored in holidays and the inevitable sick days to make sure I had a goal I could reach.
  •  timeframe – I have a deadline (the novel fair submission date)

But even after writing down a SMART goal, many people don’t manage to achieve what they want. That’s because writing down a goal is only the start. Research shows that people who are successful at achieving goals go deeper.

Step 2 – define activities, required resources and identify support

You must define the activities, resources and support you need to reach your goal. To do this, answer these key questions:

  • What activities do I need to complete to achieve my goal and in what timeframe?
  • What resources do I need?
  • Who can help me achieve my goal?

Here’s how I worked out my plan for entering the novel fair:

Activities and Timeframe

Although my SMART goal had a timeframe – a deadline – I broke my goal down into daily targets. I created a spreadsheet that had my final target word count (100,000 words), and daily target word count. The spreadsheet allowed me to see where I was ahead of myself, and when I was falling behind.  This was a great way to keep on track and stay motivated. I can share that sheet if anyone’s interested – ping me on Twitter or in the comments here.

Resources needed

Luckily, I have a laptop with a word processor. But the real ‘resource’ I needed was time. I work 40 hours a week, and travel for another 10 hours (my commute, creche and school runs). I have 2 little kids, so time is always tight. I am a morning person, and struggle to write at night. So together with my husband, I worked out a schedule to give me my most precious resource – time. I tried to write 6-8am every morning before heading out on the school run and to work. To be clear – this did not always work. It didn’t work at all when my husband was travelling abroad for his work. It didn’t work when my kids were sick. It worked beautifully the 3 weeks my kids were in France without me, and my only commitments were work and feeding myself.

Who helped me?

For this goal, I relied on my husband’s support. He reminded me to my commitment, asked about my progress and supported me by ensuring I had time to write. His support wasn’t formal – we didn’t have a ‘check in’ or ‘official progress update’. That’s something I didn’t need for this goal as I was incredibly motivated and my progress was solid.

I managed to reach my goal using this structure. But there is another step that is proven to help you stay on track and achieve your goal. It’s also got the added bonus of reducing some of the loneliness writers experience.

Step 3: Send your action commitments and goals to a supportive friend and UPDATE THEM ON YOUR PROGRESS ON A WEEKLY BASIS.

I’m using this step this year, to help me finish my second novel. It works well for me because I work hard when being held accountable to someone else, I respond well to deadlines, and I flourish with even light-touch support or encouragement. The weekly check in doesn’t have to be a 5 hour face-to-face meeting. It can be an email using the set format e.g. state your SMART goal, note your progress that week and overall, celebrate any successes – or add a quick appeal for advice/support/gin.

To summarise, here’s some evidence-based strategies that can help you reach your goal of entering – and ‘winning’ the novel fair:

  • Step 1 – Write down a SMART goal.
  • Step 2 – define the required activities and resources, and identify support.
  • Step 3: Send your action commitments and goals to a supportive friend and update them weekly on progress.

Of course this process isn’t just useful for entering the novel fair – it’s a great way to commit to and achieve a specific writing goal. Give it a lash and see how it works for you.

Next in the series – Entering the Novel Fair.

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: 

creative-proccess

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.