The Crime Writers’ Association

2023 Debut Dagger Competition Opens for Entries

The most hotly contended competition for would-be crime novelists is now open for entries.

Aspiring crime novelists have until the end of February 2023 to enter the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) Debut Dagger, renowned for opening doors for aspiring writers.

Shortlisted authors often get representation by literary agents, with some going on to achieve publication deals.

The competition for the best new voices in the genre has been going for over 20 years and helped launch the careers of established crime writers, including M W Craven, who entered in 2013.

Craven went on to win the CWA 2019 Gold Dagger for Best Crime Novel of the Year for The Puppet Show, and more recently the 2022 Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for Dead Ground.

M W Craven said that, “The CWA Debut Dagger competition gave me a career. I can draw a direct evolutionary line from being shortlisted to the two-book deal I signed.”

The decision to take a week off work and write 3000 words for the competition he said, “would go on to change my life.”

Created in 1955, the CWA Daggers are the oldest and most regarded awards in the genre, and for over two decades the CWA has been encouraging new writing with its Debut Dagger competition for unpublished writers.

The Debut Dagger is awarded every year by the CWA for the opening of a crime novel and a synopsis. Budding authors are invited to submit the opening 3,000 words and a synopsis of the full novel of up to 1,500 words before the competition deadline of Tuesday 28 February, 2023.

Maxim Jakubowski, Chair of the CWA, said: “The winner of the Debut Dagger receives £500, but the main motivation to enter is that shortlisting ensures that your work will be brought to the attention of leading agents and top editors, who have to date signed up over two dozen winners and shortlisted Debut Dagger competitors.”

Submissions are judged using a range of criteria including quality of prose, originality of plot, execution of plot, narrative voice, plausibility, characterisation, setting evocation, and good read factor.

From the hundreds of entries from around the world, around a dozen will be longlisted in April 2023. Longlisted authors are asked to submit a further 3,000 words from their novel. The shortlist is announced at CrimeFest in May 2023, and the winner at the Daggers event held in early July.

Judges comprise top crime fiction editors and literary agents, as well as bestselling author, Leigh Russell, who chairs the Debut Dagger competition.

The competition is only open to writers who have never had a publishing contract for fiction over 20,000 words, or self-published fiction more recently than February 2018. Authors of published short stories are eligible, as are authors of published non-fiction.

Also now open for entries is the annual CWA Margery Allingham Short Mystery Competition. Entrants have until Tuesday 28 February 2023 to enter.

The Margery Allingham Society, set up to honour and promote the writings of the great Golden Age author, works with the CWA to run the writing competition. Submissions have a limit of 3,500 words and stories must pay homage to the author’s definition of a mystery. The winner is awarded £500 and two passes to CrimeFest the following year.

Dea Parkin, Secretary of the CWA and competitions co-ordinator, said: “Crime continues to dominate as a fiction genre, and whether it’s celebrity authors such as Richard Osman or established, much-loved writers such as Elly Griffiths who make the headlines, crime and mystery stories are a key touchstone now for publishers. This short story competition is a fantastic way of developing your crime-writing craft and raising your profile.”

Whether you’re writing suspenseful psychological noir, historical crime or traditional whodunnits, the trend has resulted in hit books in the genre from authors such as Nicola Upson, Martin Edwards and Vaseem Khan.

Dea added: “These stories provide familiarity and comfort in an uncertain world as they offer clues, great characters and locations, with the mystery solved in the end and justice served.”

For writing tips, case studies of shortlisted and winning Debut Dagger entrants, and full details on how to enter both writing competitions, go to To receive a regular enewsletter in the run-up to the deadline, join the Debuts

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