Top Awards for Crime Fiction Writers

by Stacy Woodson
published in Community

It’s award season for crime fiction writers. In this piece, I’m going to discuss the national-level crime fiction awards, their selection process, and why being crowned “winner” may or may not be a big deal for writers and readers.

Awards Sponsored by Genre Groups

The Edgars

The Edgar awards, named in honor of Edgar Allan Poe, are presented annually by Mystery Writers of America in New York City. Both publishers and writers can submit stories for consideration. Committees select nominees and winners for nine award categories: Best Novel, Best First Novel, Best Paperback Original, Best Fact Crime, Best Critical/Biographical, Best Short Story, Best Juvenile, Best Young Adult, and Best TV Episode Teleplay. Additionally, there are two specialty awards: the Robert L. Fish Memorial Award which honors the best published mystery short story by a previously unpublished American author; and the Mary Higgins Clark Award which honors an author who writes in the Mary Higgins Clark tradition.  

Nominees are announced near Poe’s birthday (January 19th) and winners are announced during the Edgar Week Symposium at the Edgar Banquet. The award presentation is the last step in a year-long selection process that averages 2000 submissions and involves approximately 68 judges.

The Thriller Awards

The Thriller Awards are sponsored by International Thriller Writers (ITW) and are presented at ThrillerFest. Both publishers and writers can submit stories for consideration. Committees select nominees and award winners for six award categories: Best Hardcover Novel, Best First Novel, Best Short Story, Best Paperback Original Novel, Best Young Adult Novel, and Best E-Book Original.

Additionally, there are three special service awards: ThrillerMaster—presented to a thriller author with a legendary career who made outstanding contributions to the thriller genre, Silver Bullet recipient—presented for meritorious achievement in philanthropic endeavors, and Thriller Legend—presented for extraordinary contributions to ITW.

The Daphne

The Daphne Du Maurier Award, presented for excellence in mystery/suspense, is named in honor of Daphne Du Maurier, author of Rebecca, a precursor to romantic suspense novels. The contest is sponsored by Kiss of Death—a national level chapter of Romance Writers of America (RWA). The contest has both published and unpublished divisions and includes a mainstream mystery/suspense category. There is an entry fee. Committees nominate and select winners for six award categories: Series Romantic Mystery/Suspense, Historical Romantic Mystery/Suspense, Inspirational Romantic Mystery/Suspense, Mainstream Mystery/Suspense, Paranormal Romantic Mystery/Suspense, and Single Title Romantic Mystery/Suspense. Winners are announced at RWA’s national conference.

The Derringers

The Derringer awards, named after the pocket handgun, is sponsored by the Short Mystery Fiction Society and recognizes excellent short mystery fiction. Members submit stories for consideration. A committee selects the final nominees through a blind selection process and members vote for the winners who are recognized at Bouchercon. There are four award categories: Best Flash Story, Best Short Story, Best Long Story, and Best Novelette. There is also the Edward D. Hoch Memorial Golden Derringer for Lifetime Achievement.

The Shamus

The Shamus Award is sponsored by the Private Eye Writers of America (PWA). Stories are submitted by PWA members and must feature a main character paid to investigate work, but not employed by the government. There are four award categories: Best PI Hardcover, Best First PI Novel, Best PI Paperback Original, and Best PI Short Story. There is also a lifetime achievement award. Committees select the final nominees and winners which are announced at the PWA banquet at Bouchercon.

Awards Sponsored by Conventions or Conferences

The Agathas

The Agatha awards, named in tribute of English crime fiction writer Agatha Christie, are sponsored by the Malice Domestic—a fan convention which honors the best in the traditional and cozy mystery genre. Registered attendees nominate stories for six award categories: Best First Novel, Best Contemporary Novel, Best Historical Novel, Best Non-Fiction, Best Short Story, and Best Children/Young Adult. At the convention, participants receive a ballot listing the final nominees and they cast their vote. Winners are announced at the Agatha Awards banquet during the convention.

The Anthony

The Anthony Awards,are named in honor of writer and critic Anthony Boucher, and sponsored by Bouchercon—an international mystery convention. Registered convention attendees nominate stories for awards in five categories: Best Novel, Best First Novel, Best Paperback Original, Best Short Story, and Best Critical/Non-fiction Work. There is also a Special Service Award. Much like the Agatha Awards, attendees cast their final vote at the convention where the winners are announced.

The Lefty

The Lefty Award is sponsored by Left Coast Crime—an annual mystery convention held annually in Western North America. Nominees and winners are selected by registered convention attendees. There are four award categories: Best Humorous Mystery Novel, Best Historical Mystery Novel, Best Mystery Novel, and Best Debut Mystery Novel. Winners are announced at an awards celebration during the convention.

The Claymore

The Claymore is sponsored by Killer Nashville—a crime fiction conference. Although the Claymore is primarily considered a crime fiction award, Killer Nashville now accepts submissions in other genres. There is an entry fee. A committee of publishers and writers choose the top 20 finalists which are announced before the conference. The final manuscripts are sent to a committee of editors and publicists at Kensington Books, and they select the top three finalists. The winner is announced at the Killer Nashville Awards Dinner.

The Silver Falchion Award

The Silver Falchion Award is also sponsored by Killer Nashville. Authors or their publishers may submit stories for consideration in sixteen fiction and seven nonfiction categories. Like the Claymore, there is an entry fee to submit, unless you are a conference attendee. Then the fee is waived.

Awards Sponsored by Publications

The Barry

Named in honor of American mystery reader and reviewer, Barry Gardner, the Barry award is presented by the editors of Deadly Pleasures, an American quarterly publication for crime fiction readers. There are four award categories which include: Best Novel, Best First Novel, Best Paperback Original, and Best Thriller. Winners are recognized at Bouchercon during opening ceremonies.

The McCavity

The McCavity Award is named in honor of the mystery cat in T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Mystery Readers Journal subscribers nominate and vote for their favorite mysteries in five categories: Best Novel, Best First Novel, Best Nonfiction, Best Short Story, and Best Historical Novel. Winners are announced at Bouchercon.

Do These Awards Really Matter?

Of course, there is prestige that comes with winning. For the unpublished, awards are an opportunity to get an agent’s attention and may even lead to a book deal. For published writers, it increases their exposure. But do these awards lead to a huge increase in book sales? It’s tough to say. I haven’t found data that directly correlates between these specific awards and sales. Certainly, award winners receive a marketing boast, and this may help. I know for me, when I want something new to read, I often use the Edgars or the Thriller Award nominee lists as a starting point. It doesn’t mean I will ultimately select a book from these lists and if I do, there’s no guarantee I will like it. But with a crowded market place and so many titles available, it helps to have a trusted place to begin my search.

So what do you think? Are crime fiction awards important for writers? Do you they drive your choices as a reader?


Stacy Woodson writes romantic suspense and crime fiction. She is a U.S. Army veteran and memories of her time in the military play a role in her stories. A Daphne du Maurier winner and Publishers Weekly contributor, her recent story, “Duty. Honor. Hammett.,” appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. She loves staying connected. You can find her at

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