New prize hopes to discover ‘sorely underrepresented’ crime fiction writers

HarperFiction has launched a new competition to encourage submissions from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic writers. Killing It: The Killer Reads Competition for Undiscovered Writers aims to support crime writers who are looking to take the next step in their writing career.

Writers are being invited to send the first 10,000 words of their fiction crime, thriller or suspense novel (the book needs to be complete or near-complete by April to enter, as full scripts may be called in), a short synopsis (max. 500 words), and a short paragraph about themselves, to: by 7 April 2021.

For writers yet to start their novel, an optional opening sentence is also provided: ‘The body was lying in the snow, covered in a smattering of dead leaves.’

Three winners will be chosen to receive editorial reports from HarperFiction crime editors on their full manuscripts, covering pace, characterisation, pitch, and more, plus editorial mentoring (up to three one-hour sessions).

The judging panel will be comprised of HarperFiction Editorial Director Phoebe Morgan, Commissioning Editor Kathryn Cheshire, Assistant Editor Sophie Churcher, and crime reviewer and journalist Ayo Onatade.

Phoebe Morgan said: ‘The publishing industry continues to at times appear impenetrable, and we want to take steps to change that, starting with hearing from a new raft of talented voices who may not yet have been heard. At HarperFiction we are dedicated to seeking out and amplifying talent from all writers but this competition will focus on those who are currently sorely underrepresented in our industry.’

We put some questions to Phoebe Morgan who told us more about the prize and shares her top tips:

What makes great crime fiction? 

Brilliant crime fiction keeps the reader guessing, gives them a shot of adrenaline, creates believable, relatable characters and ends with a satisfying conclusion. Some of the best crime fiction features memorable, three-dimensional characters (for example, Susie Steiner’s Manon Bradshaw is a terrific example), and whilst it’s true most crime fiction is plot-driven, strong protagonists are also key. Crime fiction doesn’t have to be graphic – sometimes, less is more and it’s about creating that terrible sense of unease within a reader as the darkness unfolds! Readers love to be kept guessing (we all have a little bit of Poirot in us!) so good crime fiction lets the answers unfold gradually, rather than all at once.

How do you know your idea is worth pursuing?

If it feels like an idea you’re excited about! Writing a whole book takes time, as does the publishing process, and even post-publication you may be asked to continue promoting your novel for months! So it needs to be an idea that you’re happy to think about and talk about for a fair while. If you feel as though the idea is original, with a strong USP and a clear hook, that will help it stand out from the crowd. If you don’t yet have an idea, one thing I always like to do is to find an image that interests you (can be from anywhere – online, a postcard, whatever!) and think about the story behind it. Use that as a starting point and you might find your imagination catches fire.

What are your three top tips for a stand-out submission?

My first tip would be to think about the hook – what makes your novel unique and different from what’s already out there? That might be a character, a concept, a setting – ideally you should be able to pitch the book in one line. My second tip would be to ensure it’s in as good a condition as you can get it – try to make the manuscript clean, though don’t worry about small errors or typos if they do slip through – and ensure you are happy with it before you send it out! My third tip would be to read around your genre – this can really help with the writing process and you might find you get inspiration from reading other authors. Be able to mention two or three comparison authors in your submission letter (authors you feel your book is similar to) – that will help a literary agent position your book in their mind.

For more information about Killing It: The Killer Reads Competition and details on how to enter please visit the prize website.

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