Entering contests was an important step in developing my writing skills. In the eighties I took a sabbatical from my teaching job and was published with Harlequin and Warner. When I lost both editors, the new editors weren’t interested in my writing and my career came to a sudden stop. My husband convinced me to return to teaching and finish out that career. When I retired from teaching, I started writing again only to find out that the styles had changed dramatically. Also since I’d had a life changing experience and renewed my relationship with God, I wanted to change genres. I began writing, but wasn’t getting anywhere with the publishing houses. I decided to enter contests to get feedback and find out if the problem was the writing. Comments from judges were invaluable. They helped me see the areas I needed to revise. Then I started winning contests. This gave me confidence in my writing ability and craft and I began submitting again. Now the trick is to find the editor who is crazy about my writing style—but that is another topic.
So the question is, do the comments from judges help a writer improve their style? In my case they did, but mind you, I was careful to glean the comments and analyze them. I entered the same manuscript in several different contests so that I would get different judges. If an area was mentioned by more than one judge, I knew it was a problem area. If it was only mentioned once I took that comment and looked it over, but used my own judgment on whether to make any changes. If in doubt, I’d present the comment to my critique group. They could help me see if it was a legitimate critique or not.
So yes, if you’re trying to break in as an author, contests can be very helpful. Let me know how it has worked for you.