Judging Guidelines: Unpublished Manuscripts

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The judge’s guidelines cover two aspects of judging:

  1. What to look for when evaluating the quality of this year’s submissions
  2. How the judging process works


Evaluating the submissions

What is a crime book?

The Awards are for excellence in crime writing, not just mystery writing. Mysteries are certainly a major subgenre within crime fiction, but they are by no means the only one.

Broadly speaking, you can look at a crime as any kind of offence or potential offence against the person or the wider community. Crime is at the core of a crime book, whether the premise of the book is to solve the crime, prevent the crime, perpetrate the crime, try the criminal in court, understand the criminal, etc. As long as there is (1) some kind of crime that is a major element  in the book and (2) someone who has something to do with this crime – e.g., wants to solve it (whodunit), wants to prevent it (thriller), is the criminal (psychological suspense, caper), etc. – you have a crime novel. Conversely, if you can remove the crime from the story and the book can still stand on its own, the book is not a crime story.

The crime does not have to be murder. There are plenty of crimes that are not, such as, theft, fraud, and terrorism. In the nonfiction category, economic crimes, fraud, conspiracy (real or alleged), and the like are just as likely to be addressed as murder and other violent crimes.

Moreover, the setting can be anywhere and any time in history; you can even have a crime novel set in a fantasy or science fiction world.

Please consider each book/story on its own merits. There is no reason why an excellent cozy or humorous mystery shouldn’t win the best novel award. An award-winning book does not have to contain a message nor does it have to change the reader’s life. It does, however, have to be well-written and well-executed, and an exemplar of a book in its subgenre, whether it’s a police procedural, a thriller, a traditional mystery, a caper or a cozy.

NOTE: Don’t compare a piece of work written by an author this year to work they have written in the past. Only compare the work to other works submitted in the category.

Points to consider
  • Does the book fulfill the “promise” it makes to the reader? This promise may range from illuminating the dark side of human nature to providing a rollicking entertaining read, but the readers should feel satisfied when they shut the book.
  • Does the author balance show and tell (action versus exposition)? Does the author involve the reader in the characters’ lives and actions?
  • Is the puzzle or central problem presented in the book interesting and challenging?
  • Is there an internal logic/consistency, and believability to all the elements (plot, characters, dialogue, facts, etc.) of the book? Do all the elements hold together and make the book greater than the sum of its parts?
  • Does the book have a spark that elevates it above other similar books? Is the book memorable (in a good way)?
  • How much work do you think the manuscript will need before being publishable?

Judging Process

All submissions will be in digital PDF format and be accessible through a Dropbox account. The Awards Manager will e-mail the judges with the details.

There are two rounds of judging for the Unpublished category, first to determine the longlist, then shortlist and winner. Each judge for this category is asked to fill out a scorecard for each submission, for every round. A copy is to be given to the Awards Manager who will total all the scores.

First Round

Judges will read the first 5,000 words of the manuscript and the 500-word synopsis. Judges will score each entry using the scorecard provided. Completed scorecards will be sent to the Awards Manager and based on the submission scores, a list of 10 entrants will be selected for the longlist.

All scorecards must be given to the Awards Manager, no later than Jan 10, who will contact entrants to submit full manuscripts to go on to the second round of judging.

Second Round

After reading the submitted longlisted manuscripts, judges will fill out and return a scorecard for each entry. Based on the submission scores, a list of 5 entrants will be selected for the shortlist and the winner will also be determined.

All Scorecards must be filled out and returned to the Awards Manager on or before April 1.

Important Points

  1. In the event of a tie, a jury discussion will decide the tiebreaker for the entries involved in the tie only
  2. Judges are not to post reviews on books submitted in the category they are
  1. No author or character should be dismissed because of gender, culture, religion, or origin


Unpublished entries will be judged on the following:

  1. PLOT: do the opening pages pull you into the story?
  2. PLOT: does the premise have something that makes it fresh?
  3. PLOT: does the plot have the potential to sustain an entire book?
  4. PACE: is the pace working for the story?
  5. SETTING: does the setting give a sense of time and place and does it fit the tone of the story?
  6. DIALOGUE: is the dialogue purposeful, plausible, free from info- dumping, and is it clear who's speaking?
  7. STYLE/VOICE: does the writing have a certain something that keeps you reading?
  8. CHARACTERS: are the characters compelling and are their actions and reactions believable?
  9. POINT OF VIEW: is the POV clear at all times?
  10. PUBLISHABILITY: how ready is the manuscript to be published?


Click here for pdf of complete guidelines with forms.