The short answer: It depends.
Okay, that could be the shortest post in the history of blogs.
If the judges provide useful feedback, if your skin is thick enough to take criticism, if you want to improve as a writer, rather than have your work rubber stamped, if you've worked at the writing craft and want validation that you've achieved a certain standard of writing, then entering contests can be valuable.
I recently submitted a first chapter to a contest because a category was in jeopardy of being canceled due to a shortage of entries. My chapter had been critiqued dozens of times and rewritten more times than I could have imagined when I began this writing journey. Frankly, I love the story, but I'm tired of the chapter.
One of the judges only gave me a 4 out of 5 on voice. Really? I thought that was one of my strengths.
Sigh. Not getting all the points for voice wounded my pride. I went through the manuscript line by line seeking ways to interject my personality onto the page.
Another judge liked the hero but gave me a low score for not mentioning his goals. Well, he's pretty preoccupied rescuing the damsel in distress. I didn't think he had time to stop and explain his life.
Well . . . there was one place at the very end where he stops and takes a breath. What if he wonders what would have happened if he hadn't been there to save the heroine? Oh, maybe I did have a chance to sneak in his goals.
All in all, I'd say the entry fee was worth the price. I now have a better chapter than I had last week.
An Opportunity for You!
Here's a brand new contest: Susan May Warren at MyBookTherapy is sponsoring The Frasier. The deadline is March 31, so it's not too late to enter. Regardless of whether you're ready to submit your manuscript to a contest or not, Warren has posted a wonderful checklist by which you can judge your first chapter.
First Chapter Checklist
The Frasier Contest