The Crime Writers’ Association

What Happened When I Won the Debut Dagger by Shelley Burr

When I entered the Debut Dagger, my wild dream was to make the longlist so I would have something to put in my almost bare author bio.

The day I won was surreal. Despite the CWA’s urging I didn’t fly from Australia to London for the ceremony, as I have a fear of flying, and I didn’t think there was any real chance I would win. I learned of my win on Twitter, and then got dressed and took the bus to work. I spent the day writing a report about meat export volumes, while feeling like I was about to vibrate into another plane of reality.

I loved my judge’s feedback, despite how brutal it was. I got a rightful kicking about my original ending, which resulted in me adding a scene that is now one of my favourite sequences in the book.

Several agents and publishers invited me to submit the manuscript. I nearly signed with one agent before deciding that we weren’t a good fit.

In early 2020 I put querying on hold to focus on the manuscript. It wasn’t the book I knew it could be. This was a scary decision, because I felt like a clock had started ticking. Surely those warm leads would lose interest if I didn’t submit immediately, and no one would care about a 2019 win by the end of 2020.

This was nonsense. A Debut Dagger doesn’t expire. In late 2020 I signed up for an online agent pitching session through the Australian Society of Authors. The change in agents’ body language when I mentioned the win was remarkable.

There I met my wonderful agent, Sarah McKenzie. Together we sold WAKE at auction. To the publishers it was a selling point that I hadn’t rushed out to market after the win—it showed a commitment to writing the best book possible.

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