Novel Fair

Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair 2025 is a literary competition that awards twelve first-time novelists to sit down and pitch their novels to leading publishers and agents. Described by The Irish Times as ‘A Dragons’ Den for writers,’ Novel Fair winners gain access to a two-day speed dating style event (one day in-person and one day online) where they will bypass the slush pile and place their manuscripts directly into the hands of industry professionals. Some winners have even gone on to sign contracts with literary agents and publishers.

We all know that the path to publication can feel bewildering and mysterious. The Novel Fair mission is to facilitate first encounters between unpublished (and unsigned) novelists and members of the publishing industry. At the Fair, these encounters will take the form of a series of 15-minute meetings with publishers and agents where the 12 winners are given the opportunity to pitch their novels.

As a first-time novelist it can be difficult to know what an agent or publisher wants. In preparation for Novel Fair, winners will participate in a half-day workshop where they will learn how to craft the ideal pitch and what to expect from their encounters at Novel Fair. The workshop will be facilitated by the Novel Fair judges and a previous Novel Fair winner.

Novel Fair has been attended by representatives from: Curtis Brown, Penguin Random House, Conville & Walsh, époque, Fletcher & Co, Poolbeg Press, Harper Collins, John Murray, Hachette, Lilliput Press, New Island Books, The Book Bureau, The Bent Agency, Greene & Heaton, Storyline Literary Agency and many others. 

Selecting the winners 

  • The competition opens each year in September when first-time novelists can submit a 10,000 word novel sample and a project synopsis
  • Your submission is blind read and selected by our judging panel. Last year’s judges were Sharmilla Beezmohun, Eoin McHugh, Éilís Ní Dhuibhne and Susan Tomaselli
  • The 12 Novel Fair winners will need to prove they have a full novel (of a minimum of 50,000 words) to gain access to the two-day event (Novel Fair)
  • Applicants who are longlisted and who do not proceed to make the shortlist of twelve winners will receive a short critique of their work by the judging panel.

For full details see How to Apply section and terms and conditions below. 

Finding Success through the Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair

Former winners Michelle Gallen and Caitriona Lally discuss their journeys to publishing their debut novels through the Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair.

Application Process

How can I enter Novel Fair 2024?

  • The submission period runs from 1st – 30th September 2024.
  • Entry fee for applications is €55*. (Members of the Irish Writers Centre can enter for a discounted fee of €45)
  • This competition only accepts manuscripts for novels. Memoirs, short stories and works of non-fiction will not be considered.
  • There is no limitation on genre, or target market, for the novel. The only requirement being that the writer has not published a novel before i.e. has not previously published a novel with an ISBN (see Terms & Conditions for exceptions and more detailed information on eligibility)
  • Applicants are required to send a project synopsis of max. 300 words (+/- 10%) and up to 10,000 words of their novel (+/-10%).
  • You will be asked to submit your manuscript online via Submittable.
  • There is a limit of one entry per applicant per a year.

*Each year, we have 20 free submission places for writers from backgrounds typically underrepresented in Irish literature.

Terms & Conditions

Entries are welcome from anywhere in the world, however, in order to be eligible, applicants must be available to attend the Novel Fair two-day event in February 2025, either remotely or in-person.

Before entering the competition, please ensure that you have read the Novel Fair Terms & Conditions 2024-2025 very carefully.

Please see a PDF list of Frequently Asked Questions.

If you have any questions about the application process, please email novelfair@irishwriterscentre.ie.

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Success Stories

Please note Novel Fair does not guarantee that first-time novelists will secure a publishing deal. However, there have been success stories. This competition has been a life changing opportunity for writers across the island of Ireland and worldwide, with Novel Fair winners going on to win or be nominated for the Rooney Prize, Costa First Novel Award, Irish Book Awards, Carnegie Award, Kate O’Brien Award, Great Reads Ireland Award, The Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award, Arthur C. Clarke Award, The Yoto Carnegie medal, Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize for Literature, Comedy Women in Print Award, and many others. Since its inception in 2011, 37 winners have found a home for their debut novels as a result of Novel Fair.

 

There have been a huge number of success stories since the Novel Fair has been established, including:

Published

  • Niamh Boyce, The Herbalist (Penguin Ireland, 2013)
  • Janet E Cameron, Cinnamon Toast at the End of the World (Hachette, 2013)
  • Kevin Curran, Beatsploitation (Liberties Press, 2013)
  • Alan Timmons, Here in No Place (New Island, 2013)
  • Susan Lannigan, White Feathers, (O’Brien Press, 2014)
  • Daniel Seery, A Model Partner (Liberties Press, 2014)
  • Andrea Carter, Death at Whitewater Church (Constable, 2015)
  • Catriona Lally, Eggshells (Liberties Press, 2015)
  • Faith Hogan, My Husband’s Wives (Aria, 2016)
  • Orla McAlinden, The Accidental Wife (Sowilo Press, 2016)
  • Rachel Kelly, The Edge of Heaven (NewCon Press, 2017)
  • RM Clarke, The Glass Door (Dalzell Press, 2018)
  • Breda Joy, Eat the Moon (Poolbeg Press, 2018)
  • Marion Reynolds, A Soldiers Wife, (Poolbeg Press, 2018)
  • Kealan Ryan, The Middle Place (Mercier Press, 2019)
  • David Brennan, Upperdown (époque press, 2019)
  • Michelle Gallen, Big Girl, Small Town (Algonquin, 2020)
  • Eoin Lane, Beyond the Horizon (Blackstone Publishing, 2020)
  • Marianne Lee, A Quiet Tide (New Island, 2020)
  • Alice Lyons, Oona (Lilliput, 2020)
  • Gráinne Murphy, Where the Edge Is (Legend Press, 2020)
  • Sue Divin, Guard Your Name (Macmillan, 2021)
  • Fidelma Kelly, Sweet Lemons (Poolbeg Press, 2021)
  • Laura McKenna, Words to Shape My Name (New Island, 2021)
  • Neil Sharpson, When the Sparrow Falls (Macmillan, 2021)
  • Olivia Fitzsimons, The Quiet Whispers Never Stop (John Murray Press, 2022)
  • Aingeala Flannery, The Amusements (Sandycove, 2022)
  • Bryan Moriarty, Sounds Like Fun (Hodder, 2023)
  • Declan Toohey, Perpetual Comedown (New Island, 2023)
  • Lauren Mackenzie, The Couples (Hachette, 2023)

 

Soon to be published

  • Alison Langley, Ilona Gets a Phone (Dedalus) Febuary 2024
  • Miki Lentin, Winter Sun (Afsana Press) March 2024
  • Anne Hamilton, The Almost Truth (Legend Times) April 2024
  • Orla Mackey, Mouthing (Hamish Hamilton) Spring 2024
  • Hesse Phillips, Lightborne (Atlantic Books) May 2024
  • Estelle Birdy, Ravelling (Lilliput) May 2024
  • Rachel Blackmore, Constanza (Renegade Books) August 2024

“It’s changed my life and catapulted me into the literary world in a way that would have taken some time on my own. That’s if I would’ve broken in at all.”

Lauren Mackenzie

“The Novel Fair really did change my life. I had a novel I’d been working on in various forms for twenty years, which I was all but ready to give up on. Just weeks after the Fair, Brian Langan contacted me with an offer of representation. My novel was picked up by Atlantic Books several months later, and I’ll soon be able to call myself a 2024 debut author. Because of Novel Fair, I’m getting to live out a dream that had seemed practically impossible just hours before signing on to my first agent/editor meeting. But as a writer, I’m also more confident and informed because of the Novel Fair experience. I feel immensely fortunate to have been a part of it.”

Hesse Phillips

“The Novel Fair final is an incredible, intense, experience. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime as an emerging writer to pitch directly to so many agents and publishers. The months afterwards are an emotional rollercoaster. Be prepared for ‘Your work is great but…’ On the other hand, when you get an email that says ‘Yes! Can I represent you?’ it’s pure gold. I was thrilled to pick up representation from Laura Williams in the Greene & Heaton Agency. That then led to a two book YA deal with Macmillan. My début, Guard Your Heart, was Carnegie shortlisted, is being taught in schools in Switzerland and Germany and is beginning to be translated. Truth Be Told shortlisted in the UK Literacy Awards, the Irish Book Awards and the KPMG Children’s Book Awards Ireland. What I love most is hearing feedback from readers – some who feel ‘represented’ in literature for the first time and others who are understanding N.Ireland and peace building through empathy. None of this would have been possible without that breakthrough from the Novel Fair.”

Sue Divin

“Taking part in the Novel Fair was a privilege and a treat: not only an opportunity to find a home for my novel, but also an invigorating two days among like-minded people for whom novels are everything. I take heart in knowing that, in the near and distant future, other novels will be published thanks to this wonderful initiative.”

Declan Toohey

“The Novel Fair was the first time I called myself a writer. Even though the novel I entered was never published, the fact that it was good enough to pitch to publishers gave me the confidence to share my work. People were interested and curious about my writing after the Novel Fair. It definitely opened doors that I would’ve been too self-conscious to knock on before.”

Aingeala Flannery

The 2019 group of Novel Fair winners were an exceptional bunch and lots went on to sign with publishers and agents shortly after the Fair. Even though I didn’t sign with anyone immediately, it was really heartening to see the good news stories coming in by email in the weeks and months after the Fair – it kept hope firmly alive. At the same time as the Fair, I was shortlisted for two UK novel competitions (Caledonia Novel Award and BPA First Novel Award) and the three together sparked interest from Legend Press. Having been at the Fair, I had more confidence in my work and when Legend asked to see one manuscript, I sent them two, and explained why they should also read the second. I signed a two-book deal with them in autumn 2019, and also signed with an agent a couple of months later. When I had the offer, the first person I contacted was Marianne Lee, another 2019 Novel Fair winner, who had signed with New Island directly, to ask for her advice. That remains my takeaway from the Novel Fair experience – it’s all about the people, on both sides of the table, and everyone is there because they love books, hopefully yours included!

Gráinne Murphy

Novel Fair will forever stand out as one of the highlights of my life. It’s only since Novel Fair that I’ve dared to call myself a writer. And even now, that word sticks in my throat a little.

Orla Mackey
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