Monday, October 5, 2009

the Unhanged Arthur - one month to entry deadline

The Arthur Ellis Award
for Best Unpublished First Crime Novel
(the Unhanged Arthur)

Is the Great Canadian Crime Novel tucked carefully away in a drawer or even languishing under your bed?

Well, here's your chance to pull out that manuscript and enter it for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Unpublished First Crime Novel (the Unhanged Arthur).

The Arthur Ellis Award for Best Unpublished First Crime Novel, sponsored by McArthur & Company Publishing Ltd., was first awarded by the Crime Writers of Canada in 2007 as part of the CWC mandate to recognize and promote the careers of promising new crime writers. The competition is open to (1) Canadian citizens, no matter where they are living, and to writers, regardless of nationality, who have Permanent Resident status in Canada, and (2) who have never had a novel of any kind published commercially.

Contestants should have a completed manuscript and should submit the opening chapter(s) – no more than 5000 words – plus a 500-word synopsis of the rest of the novel. "Crime novel" is defined as crime, detective, espionage, mystery, suspense, or thriller, and can be set in any time period and crime-related sub-genre.

From these initial submissions, up to ten (10) authors will be asked by the judges to submit their completed manuscripts. A shortlist will be selected from these completed manuscripts. The winner will receive a special Arthur Ellis Award along with a cash prize from McArthur & Company. In addition, the winner’s completed manuscript will be read and critiqued by publisher Kim McArthur, who will have the right of first refusal to publish the novel.

All judges are professionals working in the Canadian publishing industry.
The award will be presented at the 2010 Arthur Ellis Awards event in Toronto in May; details will be sent to the shortlisted authors.

NOTE: Winning this award does not guarantee you will get published. It does mean, however, that your work will come to the attention of publishers and agents, both members of the CWC and others involved in Canadian crime fiction publishing.

Competition Rules

Definition of a crime novel

"Crime novel" is defined as crime, detective, espionage, mystery, suspense, or thriller, and can be set in any time period and crime-related sub-genre.


The contest is open to all writers who fulfill the following eligibility requirements:

1. You are a Canadian citizen, regardless of place of residence, or a writer, regardless of nationality, who has been granted Permanent Resident status in Canada.

2. You have not had a novel of any kind published commercially, whether:
* in print or electronically (i.e., e-book or published on the Internet) or self-published
* in any genre, including literary
* under your given name or a pseudonym, and/or
* written alone or jointly with another author

A novel that has an ISBN is considered to be published commercially. However, anyone published in the areas of nonfiction, short stories, poetry, or plays/screenplays is eligible to submit to the Unhanged Arthur.

3. In addition, if you currently have a contract from a publisher for your manuscript, you are ineligible to enter this contest.

You are welcome to submit the same manuscript in subsequent years, provided that it did not win an Unhanged Arthur Award and that criteria 1 to 3 are still met.

If you are uncertain whether your manuscript is eligible, contact us at The decision of Crime Writers of Canada as to whether a manuscript is eligible for the Unhanged Arthur Award is binding.

Submission procedure

1. Entrants should submit three (3) copies of the opening 5000 words of their completed crime novel, together with three (3) copies of a 500-word synopsis describing the novel’s further development. The synopsis should be of the entire novel. The synopsis must be double-spaced. The synopsis is a crucial part of the submission; it is the only way the judges can see the plot development, so take time to write it.

2. Manuscripts and synopses must be in English, typed double-spaced on 8.5" x 11" paper or A4 paper using 12-point Times New Roman or Courier, with 1 inch margins, and unbound.

3. Each page of the manuscript must have a header in the upper left-hand corner, containing the title of the manuscript. Do not include your name as part of the slug line because the judges will be judging blind. Make sure that each page is numbered. Do not include your name on the synopsis; but do include the title of the book.

4. Each submission must be accompanied by a completed entry form and an entry fee of $25.00. Only cheques or postal money orders in Canadian funds, made out to Crime Writers of Canada can be accepted. Writers may submit any number of entries provided that each is accompanied by an entry form plus the entry fee of $25.00.

5. Each submission must be accompanied by a short biography (no more than 150 words) and a "blurb" of 100 words about the plot of your story.

6. The judges will come up with a shortlist from the initial submissions. These authors will be notified in mid-January and asked to submit three (3) copies of their complete manuscript. The winner and runners-up will be determined from this complete manuscript. The decision of the judges is final.

7. Entries must be postmarked by November 6, 2009.

Other important information

1. The Unhanged Arthur shortlist, along with the other Arthur Ellis Awards shortlists, will be announced at the end of April. The winner will be announced at the CWC Arthur Ellis Awards Ceremony in May in Toronto. All shortlisted authors will be sent details about both events.

2. The winner will receive a special Arthur Ellis Award as well as a cash prize from McArthur & Company. Kim McArthur of McArthur & Company will critique the winning manuscript within six months of the dinner. McArthur & Company will have first refusal on the work.

3. There is no commitment on McArthur's part to publish the winning entry, nor is the winner obligated to accept McArthur's offer to publish.

4. Copyright will remain at all times with the entrant.
Entries and manuscripts cannot be returned

Entries should be sent to:

Crime Writers of Canada ,
2010 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Unpublished First Crime Novel
3007 Kingston Rd.,
Box 113,
Toronto, ON
M1M 1P1

Submissions must be postmarked by November 6, 2009.

To contact us, write to

In case this is the first writing competition you've entered (or even if you're an old hand at the game), following is some information on how to format and present a submission and how to write a synopsis.

Crime Writers of Canada's
Arthur Ellis Award
for Best Unpublished First Crime Novel

Style Guide

This page addresses various issues to do with formatting and presentation.

There are a few official rules to do with presentation. Entries must be typed and double-spaced, and submitted on 8.5 X 11 inch paper or A4 paper. Use either 12-point Times New Roman or 12-point Courier. Ignoring these rules may disqualify the entry.

Beyond these, however, there are all sorts of presentational elements which won't disqualify you if you get them wrong, but will make it much easier for us to read and enjoy if you get them right.

Formatting and Layout

The best way to format text for fiction, used in just about every novel ever published, is as follows:
* Start new paragraphs with an indented first line.
* Don't use blank lines between consecutive paragraphs. They just break up the flow of the text.
* Do use a blank line or three asterisks to show a break between scenes or a break in the flow of the narrative.
* Use a new paragraph each time a different character starts to speak.

Make sure you include the title of the entry and the page number – but NOT your name – on each page of your submission.


* Check your spelling meticulously. Mis-spellings break the reader's concentration; they also make your work look sloppy and amateurish. If you can't trust the author to spell properly, how can you trust the story they're telling?
* Beware malapropisms and homonyms; words can be spelled correctly and still be terribly wrong. Some examples include a particularly 'viscous murder,' a 'burlesque policeman,' and – in a supermarket – an 'isle of chips.' Do not rely solely on your computer's spell-checker.


Punctuation can be a bit of a minefield, and many of the rules are unclear. Three things in particular to beware of are:
* Apostrophes: It's a shame that many people can't put an apostrophe in its proper place. 'It's' is a contraction of 'it is'; 'its' shows that something belongs to 'it' (whatever 'it' may be). Apostrophes should never be used for plurals – no 'bag's of orange's.'
* Quotation marks: Always use quotation marks around speech. Standard North American usage is to use the “double quote.”
* Exclamation marks! Try not to use exclamation marks. If a sentence is witty, funny, or dramatic, the reader will notice anyway. If it's not, you won't make things better by drawing attention to it.

What to Write

Obviously we can’t tell you what to write – the whole point of the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Unpublished First Crime Novel is to find fresh and original contributions to the genre. But hopefully this page will give you a better idea of what we’re looking for in the opening chapter(s) and the synopsis.

A successful first chapter should draw one in, introduce one to the main characters and subject matter, locate one in a chosen world, intrigue, and surprise. The synopsis should indicate the proposed narrative arc, and the judge should feel that the author will be equal to the task ahead. The synopsis shows you’ve got a story worth telling, and the excerpt shows that you know how to tell it.

Hoard your characters

Characters are the key to the story: if the reader doesn’t care who people are, he won't care what they're doing. Try to give each character a solid introduction, and don't overload the reader with too many characters at once. As the author, you've probably spent months or even years with your characters and you know exactly who they all are, but the reader doesn't have that advantage. This is particularly true for this Arthur Ellis Award, where the judges are having to meet whole new casts of characters at bewildering speed.

Build tension

Many of the entries that work best grip the reader with a genuine sense of tension. This isn't just about overt danger or violence: it's amazing how dull a gruesome murder can be made to seem if it's written badly. Effective tension comes from a sense of menace and anticipation, built up with mood, little clues and tell-tale

Avoid clichés

There are any number of clichés associated with crime fiction – grizzled cops, hard-boiled PI’s, sexy dames and psychopathic villains, to name but a few. Part of the fun of working in the genre is being able to play with these stereotypes, but you’ve got to do something new with them. One year an editor made the plaintive - or pointed - observation: 'Why are all innocent female victims invariably blond and beautiful?'

The warning against clichés applies equally (or even more) to language. Unless you're writing for a tabloid, avoid really common terms: 'emotional rollercoaster'; 'heart-stopping surprise'; or, a pet hate, 'feisty'.

The WOW factor

For any chapter to count in a competition like this, the reader must put the material down thinking ‘Wow!’ and then, ‘I need to read more’. It's not enough for the reader to want to read more, he or she must put the excerpt down feeling they need to know what happens next.

The Synopsis – Don't Sweat It

For many entrants, writing the required synopsis may be more daunting and difficult than writing the initial 10,000 words of their novel. You are not alone! Experienced and published writers balk in exactly the same way when faced with writing one. Feel better? You should.

Why is a synopsis necessary?

It shows:
1. that you are professional enough to know what you are doing.
2. that you can tell a well-constructed story.
3. that you have the technical and imaginative skill to produce an interesting and marketable book, with well-rounded characters and a logical and believable plot.

What makes a synopsis stand out?

1. The synopsis should be of the entire book.
2. Use the same narrative style that you use in the book; if the book is 'chatty' don't change to formal in the synopsis.
3. Be clear. Show plot movements in order, introduce new characters as they appear, if they are major characters show us the 'why' of their actions as well as the 'what'.
4. Never offer meaningless sentences such as: “Something dreadful was about to happen.” or “What happened next would devastate him.”
5. Show how sub-plots interlink with the main plot and its characters.
6. Do not include physical descriptions unless it is absolutely essential.
7. Always use present tense, never past.

These pages incorporate material written by Michael Jecks, Kay Mitchell, and Edwin Thomas, members of the CWA who have coordinated the Debut Dagger Awards.

We thank Margaret Murphy and the Crime Writers Association of Great Britain for their generosity in allowing us to adapt material from their Debut Dagger Award Website in describing the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Unpublished First Crime Novel.

And thank you to Louise Penny and Michael Whiteside for adapting the CWA rules to use for the Unhanged Arthur and to McArthur & Company for their generous support for the Unhanged Arthur.

And, lastly, thanks from this reluctant blog shepherd go to Liz Brady, Executive Director of the Crime Writers of Canada, for sending out this information.