It made me start to think about awards and contests and I wanted to share my views. I'm well aware you talk to two different people - two different opinions will come, but here are mine.
Art is very subjective. But just like we send off our books to be reviewed, it is wonderful to know your work is being read/reviewed by a panel of judges who are looking for what they presume to 'rise to the top'. Just like a five star rating on Amazon, one judge may like your work and then another could be like a three star rating that makes its way onto your reviews - you know the ones that cut like a knife (but it does happen to every writer at some point: or at least most every writer). For me, having my book on a short-list or making it as a finalist (as I did with the USA "Best Books 2011" Awards) means there is potential for more readers to learn about who I am and possibly pick up the book and talk about it with their own friends.
Choosing which contest to get involved in is a whole other story. There are many: from short stories to poetry to novels. Many of them have entrance fees (and they are not always cheap). So plan wisely. Do your homework. And know that paying a fee does not constitute paying for a win. (Though society does show us paying gets you things. I hope readers understand that stars do not magically appear on the Hollywood walk-of-fame: the honorees pay for that 'honor'.)
That said. Here are a few suggestions I have:
- Make a list of awards/contest that interest you and mark down their deadlines.
- Make sure you are interested in the right contest for your book. (I'm not going to put my chick-lit novel into a Texas Westerns contest.) But you can do multiple categories with the same story.
- Investigate the contest. Does everyone that is nominated become a finalist simply by entering? You can see a list of previous noms and finalists to get that information. (Personally, I prefer to stay clear of those as to not 'cheapen' the excitement of making it to a finalist list.)
- Don't spend a fortune. Look for ones that do not have entrance fees. Yes the pool will be larger, but your wallet will be happier.