A few years back, when I first started writing seriously, I dove into contests every other month or so. I thought, how great that I can get feedback from very wise judges on my WIP! And if I win or place, I might actually get that WIP in front of an agent or editor.
5 or 6 contests later, disillusionment set in, and here's the reason I rarely enter contests anymore: they're WAYYYYY too subjective.
By that I mean that, without fail, I get one judge who loves my entry and one who can't stand it. One says it's the best entry she read, that it's ready for publication, while the other struggles to find something positive to say at all. I've had one judge say the characters were interesting and likable, while the other said they were cold and the dialogue stilted.
After awhile, I figured I was spending too much money to get a split decision every time. And I got irritated, really. This past year, I decided to be a judge for RWA's Golden Heart contest. Figured it would be good to be on the other side, for a change. I got my 7 manuscripts in the mail, settled in for an afternoon, and read my little heart out. I'd say 4 were pretty average, in story and style, 2 were close to publishable, and 1 was below average: awkward writing, grammar problems, interesting story but too many convoluted plot twists and coincidences. I sent in my scores and waited to see the results. Of the 7 I read, one actually finaled. Guess which one?
I spent about a week questioning the whole point of writing, when the whole business is so damn subjective...and then I realized, wow! How great! The whole business is so damn subjective. That means that for every person who doesn't like my story, someone else might. There are a zillion different literary tastes out there, and from what I've seen so far, there is enough disparity in what's published these days to please a lot of them.
I'm still not sure I'll enter a contest anytime soon. But it's worthwhile to remind myself that the beauty of literature is the variety of styles, of writers and readers and publishing houses. Somewhere out there, if I work hard enough, I still believe there is a niche for me.
Remember that the next time you're feeling low about the whole business...