Are you struggling to get the attention of literary agents? Maybe you’ve sent your novel out on submission only to be met with standard rejections or, worse still, radio silence.
It can be hard not to get disheartened when this happens. Believe me, I’ve been there!
But there’s more than one way to grab the attention of agents and publishers.
Several of the authors interviewed on this site got their first big break into publishing as a direct result of entering writing competitions.
And the best news is that you don’t necessarily need to win these competitions to get agent introductions. Agents are always on the lookout for talent and will sometimes ask for more material from short- and long-listed entrants too.
By the end of this post, you’ll be fully up to speed on which writing competitions could land you an agent… or even a book deal!
(Note: The information in this post is correct at the date of posting – we will be updating it as competitions open for entries)
Irish Writers Centre Novel Competition
The Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair has become really popular over the 11 years it’s been running and rightly so, given the success of so many of its finalists.
You can find a full list of success stories here.
The Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair been described as a ‘Dragon’s Den for writers’ and it aims to introduce up-and-coming writers to top literary agents and publishers.
According to its website, it gives aspiring novelists the chance to “bypass the slush pile, pitch their ideas and place their synopsis and sample chapters directly into the hands of industry professionals”.
Who wouldn’t want that?
Lauren Mackenzie (The Couples) was a finalist in the 2021 Novel Fair and this led to a choice of two agents. She went with Grainne Fox of United Talent Agents in New York, and Grainne landed her a book deal with publishers John Murray.
We asked Lauren if she would advise aspiring authors to enter this year’s Novel Fair and this was her response:
“YES! It changed my life. The encouragement and exposure that the IWC Novel Fair brings to you and your work is priceless. And I avoided most of the torture of querying agents and submitting.”
Read the full interview with Lauren here: Lauren Mackenzie: “One day it could be you, but only if you keep knocking on the door.” – (myfirstbookdeal.com)
Niamh Boyce also found success directly through the Novel Fair. When we interviewed her about getting her debut novel The Herbalist published, she spoke very positively about her Novel Fair experience:
“You can see the honest-to-god interest the agents and publishers have in finding a good story… The majority were interested. At the end of every pitch, they would give very definite instructions, for example ‘Email me five chapters’. It’s very different to sending your manuscript off to a big office.”
Penguin Ireland made an offer for Niamh’s novel shortly after the Fair.
Read the full interview here: Niamh Boyce – “Penguin stepped in very quickly after the Novel Fair”
The 2023 Novel Fair opens for submissions on Thursday September 1st and will close on Friday September 30th. You’ll need to submit a 10,000 word manuscript sample.
Twelve finalists will be chosen to take part in the Novel Fair on February 16th and 17th 2024.
The entry fee is €55 which is the most I’ve personally paid for a writing competition, but given the success that so many winners have experienced, I think it’s well worth it.
Full details are available here.
Mslexia Women’s Fiction Competition 2023 – Adult Novel
I’m a big fan of www.mslexia.co.uk. It describes itself as an online meeting place for women who write. I decided to become a Mslexia salon subscriber in order to access their excellent online events.
After taking part in one of their Agent Extravanga online events, an agent from the Soho Agency got in touch with me to ask to see more of my work-in-progress, so I’ve always felt very positively towards Mslexia.
This year I’ve decided to enter the Mslexia Women’s Fiction Competition. The competition is open for submissions NOW until September 18th 2023. (You don’t have to be a Mslexia subscriber to enter.)
This year’s competition will be judged by best-selling novelist Sophia Hannah, associate editor of The Bookseller Natasha Onwuemezi and literary agent and MD of the C&W Literary Agency Sophia Lambert.
It costs £26 to enter and you’ll have to submit the opening 5,000 words of your novel which can be for adults or YA readers. The competition is open to women who have not yet been published as a novelist.
Their website says:
“Our winners and finalists go on to be published at the highest level – including Imogen Hermes Gower with The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, Polly Clark with Larchfield, Frances Perkins with The Seven Imperfect Rules of Elvira Carr, Laura McVeigh with Under the Almond Tree, and many more.”
The winner will receive (drumroll, please!) £5,000.
Not just that but the winner and three finalists will ALSO receive the following prizes:
- Manuscript feedback from The Literary Consultancy
- Pitch training at a day-long professional workshop
- Personal introductions to agents and editors at a Talent Party in central London.
A ‘Talent Party’ in central London, you say? Sign me up!
Jericho First 500 Novel Competition
The Jericho Writers website is one of my favourite writing resources and it has helped launch the careers of some of today’s best-loved novelists, so I would really recommend throwing your hat in the ring for the Jericho First 500 Novel Competition.
The competition is open NOW to writers across the world, giving them the chance to get their work in front of top literary agents.
Jericho wants to see the opening 500 words of your novel.
The deadline for entering is August 13th 2023.
It’s free to enter if you’re a Jericho Writers Premium Member. Otherwise it costs a very reasonable £10.
A shortlist of eight finalists will attend a live online event on September 1st where they will read their work and then receive feedback from a panel of agents. The audience will vote for their favourite entries via a live poll.
According to www.jerichowriters.com, the overall winner will receive:
- A Manuscript Assessment from Jericho Writers
- A lifetime Jericho Premium Membership
- A 15-minute one-to-one with a literary agent
- Eternal glory (priceless!)
Blue Pencil Agency First Novel Award
As a Blue Pencil Agency First Novel Award 2022 long-listee myself, I highly recommend going for this competition.
When my work-in-progress was long-listed for last year’s award, it led to introductions to FOUR top literary agents.
The prizes for the 2023 competition are as follows:
Winner: £1,000 + Agent Introduction
Runner up: £500 + Agent Introduction
Highly Commended: £150 + Agent Introduction
The Award is open to unrepresented and unpublished authors for a novel in any adult fiction genre.
The entry fee is £24.
Read more about the benefits of entering the BPA First Novel Award here:
Note: The BPA First Novel Award is currently closed but we will update this post once it reopens.
Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize
Many of its shortlisted and winning authors have secured publishing deals and gone on to great success, such as Gail Honeyman (Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine).
The Prize is open to women over 18. The judges look for entries that combine literary merit with ‘unputdownability’. They welcome literary and genre fiction equally.
Each year, shortlisted entrants are invited to an awards ceremony. The winner receives a prize of £1,500 but all shortlisted entrants receive one-to-one consultation with an agent.
They also receive editorial feedback and valuable publishing advice… and possibly representation!
Aoife Fitzpatrick (The Red Bird Sings) spoke to us recently about being taken on by her dream agent Nelle Andrew as a direct result of winning the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize:
“After reading about previous winners and short-listees of the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize, I didn’t think I had the slightest chance. But Nelle Andrew – my dream literary agent – was listed as a judge, and I figured I had nothing to lose.
Winning gave me faith in the book, and determination to make the finished novel worthy of the award. It also connected me with a network of brilliant, supportive writers associated with the prize, along with the ongoing support of the people at Lucy Cavendish College. The best part of winning, I think, has been these relationships.”
Read the full interview with Aoife here.
Note: The 2023 Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize is closed for submissions. We will update this post as soon as it opens for 2024.