Writing Contests: Should you take a shot?


It seems to be the time of year for writing contests. Besides the small ones on blogs for opening lines and such, there are dozens of more formal ones put on by local chapters of writer's groups. These contests usually involve submitting part of your manuscript (15, 25, 50 pages depending on contest) and a synopsis or query letter. In the first round, your work is evaluated by a panel of judges which typically includes published authors. Then if you final, you move on to another judge--and here's the exciting part--this judge is usually an editor at a relevant publishing house.
These contests cost money, which I know makes some think--wait, I'm paying for a contest. Aren't those usually free? But keep in mind that these are often put on by local chapters who have their own administrative costs to run such a venture and the fees are usually reasonable--usually around $25. If you enter at the national level, like RWA's Golden Heart, then the price goes up.
So is entering a contest worth that $20-$50 bucks you're shelling out? Well, I've been giving this some thought since there are a number of contests with upcoming deadlines and here are the benefits I see:
1. You get to see your score sheets and feedback from the judges. So basically a critique, in some cases, by a published author.
2. If you place, you now have something to add to that bio paragraph in your query letter.
3. Impartial feedback. These judges are not your mom, your friends, or even your critique buddies whom you already have a relationship with. The judges don't even know your name when they are looking at the manuscript.
4. There are usually cash prizes if you place.
5. Did I mention that if you final, your entry usually goes to an acquiring editor? Hello, nurse! No slush pile to sit in--your work in front of someone who can offer you a contract.
On the negative side...
--Winning doesn't guarantee publication
--Judging, like anything else, is subjective. I've heard of people winning one contest and then not even finaling in a another with the same exact manuscript.
--It costs money
--If you have a book that doesn't neatly fit into a category, it can be hard to figure out the right section to enter your manuscript in.
And just as a side note, many of these contests are run by romance writers chapters. However, that doesn't mean your book has to be straight up romance. Almost every contest I've looked at has a young adult category and a mainstream fiction category--as long your book has "romantic elements", you can enter. Of course, there are other contests for specific things like memoirs, screenplays, paranormal, horror, mystery, thrillers, etc. If you want a comprehensive list of a variety of contests, check out this link. Although this site lists last years dates, these contests are run yearly, so check out the provided links on the page to get updated info.
As for me, I've decided the benefits outweigh any drawbacks. It can't hurt to take a shot, right? I'm entering my romance in three contests this year. I've never done one of these before, so I'll be sure to let you guys know what the experience is like once I get my results sometime in Jan./Feb./March
How about you? Are any of you going to enter any contests this year? For those of you who have done the contest thing, what was your experience like? Was it worth it?

**Today's Theme Song**
"Hey Man Nice Shot" - Filter
(player in sidebar, go ahead and take a listen)