I am hesitant to put down money to enter a writing contest. It goes much further than having little discretionary income on the outset. I am afraid of collusion.
Many writing contests have a code of ethics. A judge cannot select work he/she is familiar with. Entries are read “blind” (without anyone knowing who wrote what). Some even state students/colleagues/friends of a judge may not enter. So what’s the problem?
Just because most HAVE ethics “guidelines”, doesn’t mean judges and readers HAVE to follow them. And a fair amount don’t. A number of prestigious contests are well-known for less-than-stellar, conflict-ridden selections. One judge was even called out for selecting her own husband’s work! What are the chances she DIDN'T know it was her husband’s manuscript?
The majority of contests with a shaded history are not free to enter, either. Each of these contests collected fees from entrants to the tune of at least twenty dollars a pop. If you consider how many people submit hoping for notoriety from a well-respected source, you have thousands of dollars taken from writers who have zero chance of being selected from the outset. Unfair. And, after the ruse is exposed, writers do not get their fees back. It becomes just another lesson.
The lesson is, honestly, that one shouldn't submit to contests, period. If the ones who are looked up to as shining examples of virtue are scheming behind your back, where else do you go? (Some places publish the list of winners and all judges/readers after the contest so people may research and see the resulting winners were conflict-free.)
We shouldn't have to fear so-called “legitimate” contests, ones that are venerable and highly praised, are scamming us. We shouldn’t be concerned that a contest around for years in connection with a prestigious university or writing program is absconding with our money. Unfortunately, that is exactly what some contests are forcing us to do.
What’s worse? The people who do speak out to warn others are blacklisted, belittled, and discredited. Since most of these people are writers, it becomes career suicide to speak out, guaranteeing the cycle continues. (Notice how I am NOT naming contests here?)
Have you ever entered a bad contest? Have you ever had a suspicion that a contest was bunk? Would you speak out, risking everything you worked for?