The Crime Writers’ Association

Rules and Submission Guidelines

CWA Debut Dagger 2022

The Debut Dagger, a competition organised by the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA), is aimed at debut writers.

The CWA defines a debut writer for the purposes of this competition as a writer who has no traditional novel publication experience and only limited experience as a self-published author of fiction, and who does not have a literary agent at the time the competition closes for entries.

  1. You must never have had a traditional publishing contract for any work of fiction over 20,000 words.

If you gain such a contract before the Debut Dagger is awarded, you must withdraw your novel from the competition.

Traditionally published authors of any novel or novella, regardless of genre, or of children’s fiction of any kind except picture books are not eligible to enter.

Authors of published works of fiction of under 20,000 words are eligible.

Authors of published works of non-fiction are eligible.

  1. You must not have had any work of fiction over 20,000 words available to the public in the last five years. This includes independently (or self-) published novels and novels published with a non-traditional contract; i.e. where the author contributes to a publisher’s costs.
  1. You must not have a contract with a literary agent by the time the competition closes on the last working day of February.
    If you do acquire an agent after that date, it won’t affect your eligibility, but as a courtesy we need to be informed.
  1. Writers can make multiple entries. However, no individual writer will be allowed more than one entry on the longlist.
  2. You must enter in your own name.
  3. No novel that has made the shortlist in the past can be entered again in the Debut Dagger competition, even if it has been substantially revised and retitled. If a novel has been longlisted and not shortlisted, re-entry is acceptable.
  4. Your entry must consist of no more than 3,000 words of your novel’s opening (excluding headings and page numbers). In the same file, you must provide a synopsis of the whole novel of up to 1,500 words. (NB You do not need to have completed your novel to enter.)
  5. Longlisted writers may be asked to provide a further 3,000 words from their novel shortly after the announcement. This section will be requested from later in the novel rather than subsequent to the first 3,000 words.
  6. Your name must not appear anywhere on the entry itself; only the novel’s title should appear. Your name should only appear in the accompanying form.
  7. No entry is eligible unless accompanied by the appropriate fee.
  8. Any entrant who submits a file or email containing a virus will be disqualified and forfeit their entry fee.
  9. The file cannot be amended or changed in any way once it has been submitted. At our discretion, and only where practicable, we may notify an entrant of an unreadable file or other problem and invite them to resubmit the entry.

The writer is responsible for ensuring their entry complies with the rules above. If it does not, then the entry will be disqualified and the fee forfeit.


Click through to the shop to buy your £36 entry fee. Please note: you can buy your entry in advance of submitting with a pre-paid voucher (scroll down to the bottom of ‘the shop’ page to find the link) . If you choose to do so, you will be sent a code which you’ll need to use when you submit your entry. Keep it safe. When you’re ready to actually submit, go back to Submit an entry and click on the Debut Dagger product in the shop (not the pre-pay). Go to your basket when prompted, and at the foot add in your voucher number and hit Apply. That takes care of the payment aspect. After that, you’ll have access to the entry form. Simply complete the form and upload your submission.

You must have both paid for the entry and submitted it by the deadline of 6pm GMT Monday 28 February 2022. 

You must let us know of any difficulties before the deadline of 6pm GMT on the final day of the competition (Monday 28 February 2022). If you’ve not made a payment or submission before the deadline, and then you report a problem, we won’t be able to help. It’s in your interests to make the entry before 5.59pm for this reason! 


Manuscripts must fall within the prescribed word limit and not exceed it, even by a few words. Entries where more than the first 3,000 words of the novel opening are submitted will be disqualified and the entry fee forfeit. (NB Headings and page numbers don’t count towards the 3,000 words.)

The synopsis can be up to 1,500 words. The synopsis should appear at the end of the novel opening and only one file in total must be submitted.

In the field where the word count is requested, this count should ideally be for the manuscript and the synopsis combined, excluding title and chapter headings. If you get this wrong, don’t worry as we check the word count anyway.

Files should be in doc, docx, txt, rtf or pdf format.

Manuscripts should be 12pt, double spaced, in an easily readable font such as Times, Arial or Helvetica.

Pages must be numbered.

Manuscripts must not include the author’s name or contact details; only the title of the work. There is no need for a title sheet.

Your name should only appear on the entry form. Manuscripts will be allocated a unique CWA reference number.

If you have any queries about your submission, please contact the Secretary:


The 2022 competition opens 1 October 2021, closing at 6pm GMT on 28 February 2022.

Late submissions cannot be considered.

The 2022 longlist announcement will be online with sponsor ProWritingAid on the evening of Weds 20 April, and on the Debut Dagger web page shortly after.

The shortlist announcement will be at CrimeFest in Bristol on Friday 13 May at 6.30pm and online shortly after.

The winners will be announced at a London ceremony on 29 June. Tickets are available, contact


£30 + VAT = £36.

Please note we can only accept payments via the CWA Shop and via the website submission process, except in special circumstances.

We will always do our best to assist with any difficulties experienced with either payment or submission. If these occur in the final hours of the competition, then providing we have evidence of attempted payment/submission before the deadline we will help the next working day and your entry will still be valid.


A longlist of entries, selected by professional readers, will be forwarded to a final judging panel chaired by the CWA Criminal Critiques coordinator and comprising crime fiction editors from major publishing houses and literary agents.

The judges’ decision is final and we will not enter into any correspondence about the result.


The winner will receive a prize of £500.
Shortlisted authors will receive a brief professional assessment of their entry.
Shortlisted entries are sent to UK publishers and agents.
Shortlisted entries gain public exposure on the CWA’s platforms and in national media.


  1. We reserve the right to amend any of the above during the competition. Any change will be notified on the website.
  2. There is no commitment to publish the winning entry.
  3. Copyright will remain with the entrant.

Join the CWA

Become part of a thriving community of successful crime writers with invaluable support, expertise and marketing opportunities for all our members.

Advertise with us