Way back, back when I was Cathy C., I loved contests. Technically, I loved winning contests. So when I discovered writing contests, well, naturally, I couldn't wait to win 'em all!
Except that I didn't win any of them. At least, in the beginning. I had to learn what not to do when it came to contests. Today, I offer the very first lesson I learned about contests. I mean, besides learning to lose graciously.
One of the first short fiction pieces I wrote was called "The Trouble with Fran." I'd probably call it speculative fiction. Not terribly great spec fiction, but that is not the point. Unfortunately, I entered the story in a terribly literary writing contest (with an entry fee, no less). And the real Trouble with Fran was that it was not at all literary. It was, and this is the point, all wrong for that contest.
Had I spent a little time reading past entries, I would have realized that Fran's troubles were not at all suited to that contest. So now, I read those winning entries whenever they're available. I read all about the judges, too (not to be nosy, just to check out a judge's writing background. And to be a teensy bit nosy). A little research goes a long way if you're serious about Fame and Fortune (and winning contests).
And sometimes, I just get really lucky (which is more than I can say for Fran).