There must be a gazillion contests out there for pre-pubbed and published writers. I've entered a few and judged many as a first-round judge. So I know the frustrations and the joys of both sides.
As a contestant, I recall the scathing comments I received on my first contest entry. One judge said my heroine was TSTL. Heck, I was so new to the writing scene, I had no clue what those initials meant! My entry was torn apart by one judge who knew how to crumble a writer's ego with snide, condescending remarks. Another judge was less brutal and more instructional. Guess which judge I learned the most from?
Over time as my skill set improved, so did my scores in contests. I began to final and win. But the question remains, do contests help our writing careers? Sometimes, yes. An editor had read something of mine and liked my voice. The story was not quite right for their line, but the editor asked my agent if I had anything else she could read. My agent told her I was working on a paranormal that had won third place in the Golden Acorn contest. "Send me the first 3 chapters and a synopsis," the editor emailed immediately.
A Highlander's Beloved is now under contract with Random House. It was a whirlwind month as I worked like a writer possessed to finish the book for this editor, who'd asked for an exclusive. Would she have expressed the same level of interest if it hadn't finaled in a contest? Who knows, but I like to think it helped.
Yesterday, I received my paperweight prizes for winning first place with two of my novellas. The IDA's are for published authors. I think they're fabulous, don't you?