The Crime Writers’ Association

After 20 years, would-be crime novelists find it more rewarding than ever to enter the CWA Debut Dagger Competition

Amended 8.12.17

The CWA Debut Dagger for the opening of a crime novel, established in 1998, is renowned within the crime writing world as a way for unpublished authors to get known, with former winners and shortlisted entrants going on to win publishing deals and enjoy careers as crime novelists.

The Debut Dagger is open to any writer who has never had a traditional publishing contract for a full-length novel, even if they have self-published their work. The competition offers significant rewards, not only to the winner who receives £500 but to all the shortlisted writers, as the entries are circulated to UK literary agents, and agents sometimes ask to see the longlisted entries too. Published novelist M W Craven, shortlisted for the Debut Dagger five years ago, writes:

The CWA Debut Dagger competition gave me a career. I can draw a direct evolutionary line from being shortlisted in 2013 to the two-book deal I signed with Little, Brown in January 2017. Being on the shortlist opened a door with my first publisher Caffeine Nights (they told me this) and, although I still had to walk through the door, in 2015 they published a collection of short stories introducing my characters for the forthcoming novel.

‘At a writers’ event in Gretna (the excellent Crime & Publishment) I met literary agent David Headley and gave him a copy of the short stories as a calling card. He asked me to send him my next full-length novel and at the back end of 2015 I submitted the second novel in the DI Fluke series, Body Breaker. On the basis of this he offered me representation although he asked me to write a brand-new series he could sell to a different, bigger publisher. In May 2016 I sent him Welcome to the Puppet Show, the first in the new Detective Sergeant Washington Poe series and in January 2017 I signed a two-book deal with the Little, Brown imprint, Constable. I’m now a full-time author with a hardback novel coming out in June 2018 (The Puppet Show – The ‘Welcome to’ was ultimately dropped), with TV and foreign rights deals to look forward to.

‘And it all leads back to a decision I took in January 2013 – to take a week off work and write 3000 words for the CWA Debut Dagger competition . . .’

Debut Dagger winners – including Amer Anwar from ten years ago, the winner of the 2008 competition – and shortlisted writers tell their story on the Debuts page on the CWA website: Authors, editors and Debut Dagger readers themselves contribute writing tips, which can be read here: The judging panel comprises literary agents and publishers from major publishing houses.

The novel opening to be submitted must not exceed 3,000 words and entrants must also submit a synopsis up to 1,000 words. The deadline is 28 February 2018 and the entry fee is £36. Entries must be made digitally and full details are on the website:

The CWA receives hundreds of entries every year, all of which are read and scored carefully by at least two readers.

The CWA have introduced a Mini Critique service specially aimed at Debut Dagger entrants. A Mini Critique briefly assesses writing up to 4,000 words and costs just £87. While this is obviously going to be of major interest to Debut Dagger entrants, it can be used for any crime writing submission, including short stories, such as the CWA Margery Allingham Short Story Competition, which also closes on February 2018. For details of Criminal Critiques, visit:

Writers interested in the Debut Dagger and who enjoy social media are encouraged to join the CWA’s special Facebook group: Competition entrants from current and previous years offer support and encouragement and the competition’s organisers step in to answer questions and provide tips as the deadline nears. Writers can also sign up for the monthly Debuts/CRA eNewsletter from the Debuts page, which contains news about crime writers, crime writing and competitions.

For more information, email


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