Writer’s diary: stardate: 15.11.2013
This week I received an email from the Crime Writers Association (CWA). My reaction was something approaching a cocktail of excitement and smugness. At last, finally, they’ve come to their senses. They realise their error. The recognition overdue to the Romney and Marsh Files has arrived like the good old second post. (Why does that memory make me tearfully nostalgic?)
So, I made myself a tea in my finest bone china, shrugged on my Noel Coward replica smoking jacket – something I got cheap on ebay some time ago for just such an event – fitted a tailor-made to my ivory cigarette holder and clicked open.
Debut Dagger Now Open
Welcome to the CWA Debut Dagger
For fifteen years the CWA has been encouraging new writing with its Debut Dagger competition for unpublished writers. The submissions are judged by a panel of top crime editors and agents.
The 2014 competition is open from Friday 1st November 2013 until Friday 31st January 2014. The Debut Dagger is open to anyone who has not yet had a novel published commercially. The first prize is £700 and is kindly sponsored by Orion. Short listed authors receive a professional assessment of their entry.
Winning the Debut Dagger doesn’t guarantee you’ll get published but it does mean your work will be seen by leading agents and top editors who have signed up over two dozen winners and shortlisted Debut Dagger competitors.
Over the period of entry we will be sending out regular emails with updates and writing tips. But we also have a new Facebook Group “The Debuts” where members of the CWA are on hand to answer your questions. We will also be sharing more tips.
I stubbed out my cigarette in the Earl Grey threw my jacket into the corner of the room, crossed my arms and brooded.
Let’s get something clear: this IS a sour grapes post so I don’t need anyone telling me that. My writing clearly wasn’t good enough to get noticed in last year’s competition so I don’t need anyone to tell me that either. This post will be dripping with unprofessional jealousy, tainted by the scorn of the overlooked, infected with bitterness at the slight of the Crime Writers Association. Think thirteenth fairy in Sleeping Beauty. And double it.
Last year I entered my three books in the R&M Files in the Debut Dagger 2013. And I am not embarrassed to admit that I had high hopes for at least one of them making the short list. (All of them actually. I dreamed about being the first author to have more than one title singled out for special mentions rather than end up in the CWA office toilets as emergency bog paper.) I really did. Not one of them did.
I took it badly. I still am.
I had entered three books at £25 a throw – that’s £75. A fool and his money and all that – and invested more hope than was probably decent or healthy.
I won’t be entering again. And this is why.
I so wanted this post to be far more comprehensive than it is. But I haven’t found the time to do the necessary homework and because the 2014 competition is here my hand is forced. I’ve run out of time. Where I don’t have the information to back up a point I’ll do what I did for my university degree dissertation – I’ll make it up with an uneducated guess. (Come to think of it, it was probably the great marks I received for my largely invented essays at uni that encouraged me to try my hand at writing fiction for money.)
I wanted to investigate things like exactly how many people who have been on the short lists of recent years actually go on to get picked up by agents and subsequently published.(This is the dazzling diamond encrusted carrot that the CWA allude to without actually guaranteeing in the spiel for suckers like me.) I had a bit of a scoot about the Internet on that but could find very few names who had made short lists of recent years and now had traditionally published books to their name.
I did do some background. In June I contacted the CWA with the following questions:
I am preparing to write an on-line article about the CWA Debut Dagger competition for a leading crime and thriller website that has asked me for a contribution (that’s actually true).
Would you be able to supply answers to the following questions?
1) How many entries were received for 2013’s competition?
2) How many readers do you have sifting through the entries?
3) What number, or percentage, approximately, of entries were not considered for reasons to do with breach of entry rules and guidelines? (Any general details here would be very helpful.)
4) When the closing date is reached, what is the process and time-scale involved for entries received, up until the short-list is announced?
5) It is well-known that some entries go on to be picked up by literary agents and then find publishers. How do literary agents become aware of manuscripts that they might be interested in?
6) How does the CWA use the money generated by the entry fees?
If you are able to assist me with the answers to all or any of these questions I would be most grateful. If you have anything else regarding the Début Dagger competition to share that you think readers and prospective entrants would find useful, or just be interested to learn, please don’t hesitate to mention it.
I look forward to hearing from you.
I was particularly interested in the answers to questions 1 & 6.
According to the responses I received from a most helpful and friendly lady at the CWA there were four hundred and fifty six (456) entries for the 2013 Debut Dagger. If not an avalanche of entries, certainly a decent slush-pile. (Maybe that could be the collective noun for entries in a writing competition – a slush pile of entries.)
In response to question six – How does the CWA use the money generated by the entry fees? – the following response was provided:
‘This goes on administration for the awards which, as I am sure you can imagine, is very labour intensive. As a non profit all of the CWA’s monies go towards our mission.’
There is one cash prize for the Debut Dagger. It is £700. But no one is entering for the money. Everyone’s there for that diamond encrusted carrot. I think that the least the CWA could do would be to provide every fee paying entrant with a set of cardboard cut-out donkey ears.
£25 x 456 = £11400
Take the £700 prize money away from that and you are left with £10700. £10700 for the administration of the awards. £10700 for the administration of the awards. (I know I’m repeating myself.)
It strikes me that the CWA Debut Dagger, as much as anything, is simply a fund raising initiative. A net of hope and vanity that shoals of berks like me swim into dreaming of fame and fortune and our very own tame literary agent. The lure of getting one’s work in front of agents and publishers who allegedly make up the judging panel (after the slush pile has been vetted by ordinary mortals) blinded me to what I see now as the reality – that the Debut Dagger preys on the hopes and dreams of the deluded (like myself) who think that for £25 it’s got to be worth a shot. You’ve got to be in it to win it! Sound familiar? Same shit different toilet.
On the Internet I saw some pictures of this year’s dagger awards ceremony – the one I wasn’t at. It felt like looking through the window at a party I hadn’t been invited to but should have been. Lots of people were wining and dining and laughing and joking and looking all dressed up and happy. As I mentally pulled up the collar of my coat, shoved my hands deep into my pockets and bent my head to walk off into the chilly night, alone, I vowed that never again would I fall for something like that.