Enter the Novel Fair Contest!

lovely nametagEnter the Irish Writers' Centre Novel Fair Contest!

Seriously.  If you've got a book, do it.  I participated last year and I'd recommend the holy living %#@& out of it.  Here's what happened:

First of all I had a novel finished and drafted by September of 2011 (title: Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World ), and I'd edited the book for long enough that I felt fairly confident showing it to people.  I heard about the contest through a friend

(who will remain nameless except to say that it was Edel Corrigan) and sent my entry a couple of weeks before the deadline.

Then I found out that close to six hundred other novelists had also entered.  Oh, well, I thought.  That's the end of that.

But!  In mid-January I was in Canada on a post-Christmas visit, sitting in a diner in Charlottetown, P.E.I. and enjoying some lemon meringue pie with my mother.  The phone began to ring, with an Irish number displayed.  Yes, I had been chosen as one of twenty winners.  Yay!  I finished my pie.

lemonmeringuepie(And soon after finding this out, I got an agent – which made me less than popular with the other agents who attended the fair, but that's a whole other story.  Heh, heh.)

The fair took place in March.  I wasn't sure what to expect.  A novel fair.  How would that work, exactly?  Would we be stationed at booths where we'd sit hawking our wares to passing agents and publishers?  I pictured myself next to a tower of manuscripts, perhaps trying to get people's attention with free samples of jam on crackers.  (Hey!  You!  Read this!  And have some jam.  Please?)

Of course it was nothing like that.  Everybody had a desk and a schedule of people we'd be meeting with – a good mix of publishers and agents and someone new to talk to every fifteen minutes, with some breaks for coffee and comparing notes.  People showed up at our desks, asked questions, listened to pitches, and went on to the next writer.  A bit like speed dating.

We also got name tags that read 'novelist'.

This actually made a difference.  In my experience, one of the more difficult aspects of being a writer is telling others that you consider yourself to be one, without apologies.  I've met people who've lied about going to creative writing classes – they were embarrassed to admit that they were writing even as a hobby.  You live in fear, I find, of friends thinking you're trying to be some kind of artiste. And there's always the dread that 'the work' is going to seem ridiculous to an impartial reader, thus rendering you a poser and an idiot in the eyes of the world.  As for me, there was a time I found it impossible to mention my own novel without the adjectives 'stinky', 'dumb', or 'terrible' preceding.  When friends asked me what the story was about, I'd say, 'Oh, nothing,' and then I'd go and hide under the nearest couch.

On the day of the novel fair, I had to forget about all that stupid crap.  There were professionals sitting across from me who had given up a Saturday because they assumed that I had a good product to sell, and they wanted to hear about it.  I had to learn very quickly how to talk about my book with confidence.  To my surprise, this turned out to be easy, and became easier as the day went on.  I was actually disappointed when it was over and I realised I wouldn't get the chance to pitch the book to my husband or the cat.

But this was more than just a confidence building exercise.  It took a few months, but in May I got the news that Ciara Doorley of Hachette had read the three chapters I'd brought to the fair and was interested in seeing the rest.  By August I had an offer on the book. And in March, if all goes well, you'll actually be able to buy a copy. (That title once again? Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World! Woo-hoo!)

Many of the twenty winners have found agents through the fair, Niamh Boyce's The Herbalist is going to be published by Penguin Ireland in early 2013, Kevin Curran's Beatsploitation will be in shops this summer, and I'm sure there's more good news in store for everyone.  So, if you've got a novel ready, send it to the contest.  I had a great day, found a publisher for my book, and became a founding member of the infamous Library Bar Group.  What more could anyone ask for?

Add comment

Security code

Get your copy of Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World here

...in Ireland and the UK 

51U3E6BPgnL  SL500 AA300  Cinnamon Toast pb cover low res

In the U.S.A.

In Canada...or try here. Or go independent.

"...astonishingly good....a juicy coming-of-age story...also an important read." The Globe and Mail

"...poignant...heart-wrenching. This stunning debut will surely appeal to both teenage readers and adults." Quill & Quire, starred review

"Witty, devastating, with a melancholy humour..." Sunday Business Post

"...page-turning, top drawer stuff..." BGE Book Club

"...warm, witty, heartfelt and utterly engaging..." The Irish News

"A stunning debut. I loved it." The Irish Examiner