The Crime Writers’ Association

Debut Dagger

About the Debut Dagger

The Debut Dagger opens for entries on 1 October and runs to the last working day in February the following year.

The international competition, open to anyone in the world writing in English, is for the opening of a crime novel (max. 3,000 words) and synopsis (max. 1,500 words). The crime novel – of any subgenre; including but not limited to thriller, noir, cosy mystery, suspense, police procedural; spy story and crossover of any kind – should be suitable for adults or young adults.

Entries are eligible from writers who have never had a contract for a full-length novel of any kind and who don’t have an agent when the competition closes at the end of February. Entrants may not have self-published their entry, and must not have self-published any novel over 20,000 words in the five years preceding the deadline.

CWA members are not eligible to enter unless their publications (to the date the winner is announced) have been entirely non-fiction, or unless they are Emerging Author members and otherwise meet the eligibility rules.

Sponsored by ProWritingAid.


The winner receives £500.

However, the shortlisted entries are sent to agents and publishers who regard them with interest,  and this is where the real value of succeeding in the competition lies. Many crime writers both shortlisted and longlisted go on to get representation and/or a publishing contract as a result of their listing in the Debut Dagger.

Why not join our Facebook community here and check out blogs about the Debut Dagger here?

You might also be interested in getting professional help through the CWA’s Criminal Critiques – the mini critique is aimed at competition entrants – and Criminal Editing.

The rules

Make sure you have read the full rules before you submit your work. Most queries we receive are answered there.

You can pay for your entry in advance and then apply the voucher token when submitting here. Make sure your file is correctly prepared according to the rules.

If you experience difficulties submitting or paying, or have a query about eligibility that’s not answered in the rules, contact us on If there’s no reply, contact Please remember we work office hours.

You must let us know of any difficulties before the deadline of 6pm GMT on the final day of the competition (Thursday 29 February 2024). 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!

Entry fee increase

We’ve been very pleased to be able to keep the entry fee the same for many years, but must increase it this year. We need to increase the fee we pay to our readers as well as cover increased admin costs – we hope you understand. Click through to the shop to buy your £42 entry fee. Please note: you can buy your entry in advance of submitting. 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 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 Thursday 29 February 2024.

You don’t need to have completed the novel to enter.


Announcements for Debut Dagger 2024

All announcements will also appear on this website shortly afterwards.


The 2024 Judges

Leigh Russell (Chair)
Leigh Russell has sold over a million books in her Geraldine Steel crime series which has been translated into several languages, including Chinese. Leigh has been shortlisted for two CWA Dagger awards, and has twice been a finalist for the People’s Book Prize. She has formerly served on the board of the Crime Writers’ Association, currently co-ordinates their Criminal Critiques service, and chairs the Debut Dagger judges. She is a Royal Literary Fellow.

Katherine Armstrong
Katherine is Deputy Publishing Director for crime and thrillers at Simon & Schuster. She has worked in publishing since 2005, first at Faber and Faber and then at Sphere (Little, Brown), before joining Bonnier Zaffre in 2016 and Simon & Schuster in 2021. She is also one of the co-founders of the First Monday crime nights in London.

Rachel Neely

Rachel Neely

Rachel Neely began her publishing career in 2016 at HarperCollins, before moving to Hachette where she worked as an editor for the next six years, most recently as a Commissioning Editor. Rachel then made the move from editorial to agenting in early 2022, joining Mushens Entertainment where she is a Literary Agent. Rachel is actively looking to find new crime and thriller writers for her list.

James Wills
James Wills is Managing Director at literary agency Watson, Little. He is always searching for strong storytelling and new, exciting material. “I’d particularly love to see upmarket crime, thrillers and mysteries and addictive, high-concept stories with incredible hooks that refuse to let go.”

ProWritingAid – Sponsors of the Debut Dagger

ProWritingAid was created by writers, for writers. Our primary goal is to help new writers get their stories and ideas across in the clearest and most effective way possible. We are passionate about language and believe good stories are intrinsically entwined with the words and phrases used to express them. ProWritingAid will never replace a human editor (our software can’t spot your plot holes!) Rather, our software helps you self-edit to a deeper level so that when you send your manuscript off to a human editor, they can focus on the content of your writing and not spend their time fixing basic writing issues like passive voice or emotion tells.

We are thrilled to sponsor the Debut Dagger competition. ProWritingAid’s primary goal is to help more writers get their stories out into the world, and the Debut Dagger is such an amazing opportunity for new crime writers to get their work in front of people that matter.

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