I don't usually enter writing contests. It's not that I don't think my stories aren't good enough. They are. I always feel validated with the strength of my writing when I get an acceptance for publication. When I started out on this journey to become a published author, I did enter several contests. I quickly decided they just weren't my cup of tea, for a combination all of the reasons below.
First of all, almost every contest, whether sponsored by an organization or a literary journal, charges a pretty high fee to submit. I don't blame them - it's one of the few ways a publication can increase its revenue. Usually any money raised through subscriptions or single copy sales barely covers the cost of production, if it does at all. It's not unusual for owners and editors to operate with a substantial portion of their own money. But, I can't afford to supplement the income of hundreds of magazines, or even a few, as much as I might like to.
Secondly, most contests have limited monetary prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place, some have even fewer. Occasionally, honorable mentions receive a token payment. The contest organizers use the argument that recognition and publication are valuable prizes in themselves. That is true, but again even that prize is limited in scope.
Thirdly, and just as important as the previous two reasons, these contests receive hundreds of submissions, and even though the judges vow impartiality, I can't imagine how they can decide which tiny handful of stories are better than all the rest. My own little story can easily get lost in the slush pile.
All that being said, I feel that direct submissions are a better value for my money and time. Every now and then, however, a contest comes along that captures my attention (like for free or low cost entry fee) and I am tempted to submit. The Strands International Flash Fiction Competition was one of those. The first time I submitted was to their Competition #11. My story made it to the long list (of 56 chosen) and then to the short list (of 23), and that's where it stopped. Still, I have to say I was delighted to get that far.
So, when I saw a notice for their Competition #13, I shrugged and said, "Why not?" I followed the progress of my story from long list, to short list and finally to an Honorable Mention (4th place with 3 other stories). I won! A small monetary prize was more than enough to cover the entry fee. But the thrill of the win, the validation of my writing, and the thought that of all the hundreds of submissions, my story was in the top 7, really made me proud of myself.
Did it make me want to run out and submit to more contests? Hell, no! But will I try another one again sometime? Of course!