I look at offering to judge writing contests as paying back now that I have two books published and two more under contract. Every year, I take on Golden Heart entries and always volunteer to read and grade the works submitted to my chapter, Heart of Louisiana. Because judging is very time consuming, I do limit myself to these two endeavors just in case anyone out there is lurking to find judges. In the name of honesty, I will confess I never won a contest and did enter many over a period of three years trying to get some kind of credibility that I could claim in a query. Closest I ever came was finaling twice with Goals for a Sinner and once with Queen of the Mardi Gras Ball. And I might add after Goals did so well, I entered it in the Golden Heart and got one beautiful perfect nine out of nine - and also a three at the very same time. Goals did turn out to be my entry into the publishing world and Queen will be out next year. I do try to judge fairly without personal predjudice and attempt to give good, sound advice.
That said, I will divulge my secret sin. I like seeing how far I have come from most contest entrants. I find myself mumbling, "Doesn't anyone know how to use a comma or colon anymore?" as I read. Jeez, would you get rid of all those "was-es", and dangling "ings"? Spell check is not to be trusted entirely. He didn't do everything rite. He did do everything right! In essence, I am revisiting every mistake I ever made when I started out and before I had professional editing to show me the way. One thing I have never written on any scoresheet is "You should leave this one under your bed", as a was once written on one of my entries, although I did have an entry several years ago that truly deserved it. The poorly written thing was so bad, I thought it might be a joke. Regardless, at the very end I left the author with these words, "You need to do a lot more work on this. Hone your craft. Don't give up." I hope the author found those encouraging words amid all the red ink I splashed over her pages.
As for me, I never enter contests anymore. I only judge them.