Just for the heck of it I decided to enter four writing contests this year (yes, 4)… and all charged a fee of some sort for my participation. I did this for two reasons: I wanted to see if they would read the books, and I wanted to find out what really goes on after you plunk down your hard earned cash. Well, I have already found out from one that I am — get this — a ‘finalist’. Should I be jumping for joy? I think not. This contest cost $69 and throughout the entire month (that was all the time they took to judge the entries) I kept getting solicitations to buy book services. Surprise, surprise. I just ignored the pleas and continued to wait for the results. Once I was notified, I was again solicited. This time for, of all things, stickers. Yes stickers. They don the little gold or blue medal that you put on your book to proclaim to the world that you were a finalist in their contest. No thanks.
A second contest also completed judging in record time and no, I am not a finalist. They sent out a press release with all the winners and that was that. The other two contests I entered are actually taking 6-8 months to determine a winner and none of them has asked me to buy anything, so I will assume these are legitimate.
If you are going to enter a contest, you should at least receive a critique; something to prove they read the book. The best contests do this. I did not get any feedback from the first two contests and will see what happens with the others.
I am not writing this to discourage you from seeking critiques via contests but very few are going to provide what you expect. Only one contest I’ve entered ever proved to be completely legitimate and that was the Writers Digest series. I entered the self-publishing contest and though I did not win, I got back excellent critiques and; in fact, two out of three were quite impressive. By the way you do have to pay a fee to enter.
That said, don’t be so desperate to get your book critiqued that you turn into a blockhead. Your readers are the best judge of your work, but if you still want to hear from writer types, I suggest you go to Authonomy.com, upload 10,000 words and start reading. The authors on that site are happy to give advice — both good and bad — and you will also see a lot of good writing, in a variety of genres.
Remember, if your work is good you don’t have to pay anyone to tell you so.