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Jessica Jarlvi talks competitions, celebrating each win and refining that first page to attract an agent

June 7, 2021

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It’s always good to listen to the advice of an international bestselling author and so when Jessica Jarlvi, a Scandi Noir number one best seller, talks about the importance of competitions, refining that first page until it shines, you need to listen. Jessica not only writes thrillers that are addictive and page-turning, she’s working on her third novel, she’s a speaker at universities and runs her own creative writing courses. In fact, Jessica’s website offers authors/writers many handy hints when it comes to writing. If you’re in need of an editorial make-over, Jessica also runs a manuscript appraisal business, including coaching, editing and assessing.

As a winner for the Emirates Montegrappa Prize Jessica talks us through how she secured her agent which led to a two-book deal and a successful career. It’s a pleasure to have an author like Jessica on the blog with us today, mainly to get her expert opinion about submissions, how to celebrate EVERY win along the way and how she made it there.

How long have you been writing?
I would like to say always, but it took forever before I even learnt to read. My best friend was an early reader and I was quite happy for her to read to me! However, by the time I did master letters and sentences, and was able to construct neat paragraphs in my lined notebooks, I was writing some quite suspenseful tales from the age of 10. The first one was about a stolen painting. Then I tackled bullying and love and even wrote some poems. Writing has always been my way of expressing myself.

What led to your offer of representation with an agent?
I entered a competition and was selected as one of the winners. This lead to a meeting with the agent, Luigi Bonomi at LBA, who signed me after I had completed the novel. I had done a ‘quick pitch’ with the same agent at a literary festival the year before, so he wasn’t unknown to me.

How long did you have to wait to hear back and was it a partial or full request?
Since this came through a competition, where I had submitted a synopsis and two chapters only, it was more a case of getting down to write the novel and then submit chunks of it. I think I submitted the novel in three parts, with some feedback after each submission.

How many submissions did you make prior to gaining representation/publishing contract?
I had written three books in my native language, Swedish, and had been very close to gaining a publishing deal, but in the end, the team at the publishers couldn’t agree whether to represent me or not (apparently the decision had to be unanimous). So, I dusted myself off, got back on the horse and began to write in English – after spending most of my adult life living and working in the UK and the US, this made sense.

After learning about the Montegrappa First Fiction competition, I worked really hard on my winning submission. I wrote several samples of the first chapter before I felt sure I’d started the novel from the right perspective and at the right time: from the husband’s POV, with his wife (the main character) in a coma after being brutally attacked in the school parking lot where she worked as a teacher. I incorporated characters from a previous novel but set the book in a suspenseful setting which worked better. The way I see it is, nothing is ever wasted. Every piece of writing teaches you something.

Any tips on cover letters/synopsis/pitches?
I can’t stress enough how important that first paragraph (and page) of your novel is – that’s what caught the attention of my agent. With so many submissions, he wouldn’t have kept reading, if the writing and the premise of the story hadn’t grabbed him.)

Your first reaction when they offered the representation/contract?
Where’s the champagne? :0) I literally celebrated every single step towards publication, from the competition win, to the agent signing me and eventually the publishers offering a 2-book deal. Then there was the e-book publication day, the hardback release, the trade paper back and eventually the paperback entering the world. If you look for things to celebrate, you can find many! It’s so easy to get stuck on the goal, that we forget to enjoy the journey. I still celebrate every single piece of good news that comes my way.

What’s next for you?
I’m working on my third adult novel, and I also have an idea for a Middle Grade manuscript that I want to develop in the future. It’s easy to get sucked into the publishing world where authors are expected to produce book after book in quick succession, but I want to make sure I enjoy the process of writing book three.

I love the idea of enjoying the process of writing and taking a step back. Jessica’s advice here is one to follow and I certainly have benefitted from it. Thank you so much for being here, Jessica. If you’d like to follow her process and journey, you can find our more about Jessica here and purchase her gripping thrillers, What Did I Do and When I Wake Up here.

Thanks for stopping by!

Holly

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