To break it down: I have 2 completed romance manuscripts. My first, Bringing Delaney Home, I entered into a contest in February. It was my first contest ever and before I had anyone read/critique my m/s. I must say the judges were very kind and generous with their critiques. Not only did I not place in that contest, but I don't even think my scores were very good. But, boy, did the judges comments give me a lot to think about so I could edit and improve my manuscript. That was invaluable.
Next, I entered the *new and improved Delaney* in its 2nd contest. I found out in the beginning of Oct that it has finaled. (Yay! My first final!) And again, with some wonderful comments and critiques from the judges, (can you believe writers carve time out of already busy lives to judge voluntarily?! Fricken amazing!) once again I was able to make Delaney a stronger manuscript before sending it back in for final judging. Delaney is now the bionic woman at this point. (And if you had read the m/s, you'd think this was funny. Trust me.) Now, of course, Delaney is the m/s I entered into SYTYCW, which as you know, did not make it past the first cut. It's possible my voice is not a good fit for a series line. Delaney and I are still trying to figure this out.
The opening chapter of my other romance manuscript, Why Can't This Be Love?, has caused havoc from day one. (See posts We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Program...and My Wonderful Critique Partner for the full gory details.) I made a few changes hoping to fix some of the problems with chapter one and entered it into a contest in August. Because, at this point, I really just needed an unbiased read and opinion of this m/s and my writing. Well, guess what? This week I found out WCTBL? has finaled. Totally unexpected, but so wonderful because I was beginning to think I'd end up a crazy lady writing only for myself. Like I said, I write with a quirky, humorous voice and until this contest not too many people seemed to dig it, let alone love it. Well, these latest judges did. Woohoo! And these lovely judges, who again, donated their time and expertise to read not just my manuscript but many others, also included comments that helped me improve my writing and my manuscript. And yes, they may be the only two people in the world who find enjoyment in my writing, but it was fun to make someone smile. I finished the edits on the contest entry and emailed it back this afternoon.
So, that is my contest experience. Not a lot, but what a great learning curve. My two cents: If you enter writing contests to win, it will probably be disappointing half of the time. Maybe more. But if you enter contests to learn...you can't lose.
Footnote: Just because SYTYCW is over for me, it's not over! Almost 650 great chapters are still posted for your reading pleasure. And next week they'll post the list of Top 50, some of which I know for a fact are brilliant chapters by some of my new friends. So, go on over and read! http://www.soyouthinkyoucanwrite.com I'll be there rooting on the Top 50!