I went through a contest phase when I first joined RWA (we won't say how long ago that was) and had some early success with the first book I ever wrote. I kind of wish I hadn't had success, to be honest, but that's another story. Basically, if I'd realized I needed to keep writing and improving and that first books don't typically sell, I'd have been better off.
Anyway, starting to look at the contests again for a variety of reasons. Though having bad things potentially said about my writing or my entry won't make me happy, it won't stop me either. I have reached the point where negative comments make me pause, but don't ultimately affect me. I know the secret to staying in the game now. The secret is to KEEP WRITING NEW BOOKS. There, I said it, so now you know. 🙂
As I look at the contests, I consider a few things. Cost, yes, but it's not the biggest factor. I love being able to enter electronically, and those contests get a harder look from me. Final judges are the biggie though. Prestige of the contest is a consideration, but lack of prestige won't stop me if the final judges are acquiring agents or editors.
Which brings me to research. Do you research the final judges? I do. I've noticed a couple of judges in contests lately who either aren't acquiring or who don't have sales to their name. I realize that a fabulous story can make a non-acquiring person take on one more. But what about the final judge who has no sales listed in Publisher's Marketplace? If it's a new agent, sure, that's okay. But one who's been around for a while?
If all I want is feedback, that's different. (But I have a great CP who does that for me, so I don't necessarily need contest feedback.)
On the flip side of the coin, I think judging contests is a good thing to do. I'm judging two right now, and it really opens my eyes to what works and what doesn't to see so many entries arrayed before me. Some shine. Others are painful. Most are well written. Very few are poorly written. But even when the language is good, you can tell when a story doesn't pop. When it isn't fresh and new, when it probably won't sell as written because there's nothing there to make it stand out.
I am a conscientious judge. Maybe I'm too easy, but I never give anyone the lowest score possible. I don't want to batter someone, though I give copious comments if it's allowed. And I never sign my comments, not because I don't stand behind them, but because you just never know how someone will receive what you have to say. If someone sends me a thank you note (which they rarely do, btw, even though we are told we should thank our judges), I might out myself. I have mixed feelings about not signing, btw. I want to stand behind what I say, but I don't want to get abused for saying it. It happens sometimes, unfortunately, which is why I remain anonymous for now.
Have you entered any contests lately? Do you also judge contests and have you learned anything from that experience?