Amy Cook has a recent article in Writer's Digest Complete Guide to Contests. She talks about the benefits writing contests bring the writer. She also discusses protecting thyself.
Up, Up & Away - Legitimacy is key. If the contest isn't, chances are you're win, place or show will mean nothing. Look for annuals, the established & the reputable. Amy advises that any contest stating they haven't found winners in previous years & didn't refund the entry fees is not a contest to enter.
Here comes the judge - Published authors, previous winners, editors & agents participate in the judging process. The other important element is whether or not there will be feedback. This alone is great impetus for paying the entry fee - the chance for quality, qualified feedback is well worth it.
Miranda who? - Know your rights. First North American, copyrights, multiple submissability. Be very careful when it comes to signing your rights away & make sure to read the teeny-tiny.
Ooh, ooh, Mr. Kotter, pick me - Voice, hook, unpredictability. And don't forget typos, grammar & formatting. Find out what their looking for, scour your work for errors & present the best possible entry. Make it stand out from both writing & professional perspectives.
What's in it for you? - Money, publication, agent/editor meets. Books, subscriptions, or other services. I like money; we all like money. And money is good, but what about the other better benies. Door # 1, 2 or 3? Only you can decide what it is you're hoping to get out of a contest - pick what is best for you.
Writing contests are a window into the publishing world that can lead to a door. And that door is the opening into a whole new world. The only way through it is to do it. But, do it with care.