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Debut Dagger Tips: Joanne Spain

Joanne Spain’s life was changed by her decision to enter the CWA Debut Dagger competition in 2013. She credits her experience with the CWA contest with helping to shape her now-flourishing writing career. Now, having secured a two-book deal with Quercus, Joanne is preparing to release her debut novel With Our Blessing in the UK in 2016.
What made you decide to enter the CWA Debut Dagger contest?
I was writing my book at the time and looking for advice about how to get it published. One of my favourite authors, Louise Penny, has a section on her website about how to get published, and she said in there that you should enter a competition. She had entered the Debut Dagger competition, and so I went online to find out more.
What was the most useful piece of advice you got from the CWA?
I avidly read all the advice I could about the competition. When I found out you could only enter the first 3,000 words, it made me think about the start of my book more carefully. I knew it had to grab the judges, so I went back and wrote a prologue and a completely new first chapter. I only submitted it when I was happy it would grip any reader. When I was eventually shortlisted in Richard & Judy’s Search For A Bestseller contest, they told me those first three chapters had grabbed them. So it worked! I truly believe that advice is going to stand me in good stead for life.
How did you get your publishing deal?
I had to pull out of the Debut Dagger competition when I was shortlisted by Richard & Judy. I didn’t win their first prize, but I got an e-mail to say that Quercus, the publishing house, are big fans of crime, and they wanted to talk to me. So within two weeks, I’d got a two-book deal. In fact, I just submitted the second book to Quercus and the whole experience has been phenomenal.
What advice would you give writers considering entering the Debut Dagger this year?
Think through your whole novel and plot. Don’t just write three chapters without it because those three chapters will show that you are going nowhere. Then make sure every single word counts. There is no room for fluff. Every word has to be capturing the imagination of that judging panel and given the volume of applications they get; you have to be special from word one.
Would you recommend the Debut Dagger competition to aspiring writers?
Yes, it was great to have that discipline of knowing I had to finish my first draft in time for the competition. I love finding out who has won the Daggers because I know that all the shortlisted and winning books are really good because they’ve been picked by the CWA. It’s now my life’s goal to win a Dagger!

Enter the CWA Debut Dagger 2016