One of the best pieces of advice I received on my MA course was to get a track record (or writing credit) before sending any work to an agent. For me this meant taking the plunge and entering short story competitions, even though what I really needed to do was finish my novel.
Was it worth it? In short, yes because not only am I able to show agents that I am serious about my writing but also that my writing has been judged, on its quality, by others in the profession. I believe it is the difference between having your submission read quickly and it ending up in the proverbial slush pile (to be read when one of the overworked staff has a moment).
Of course there is also the thrill of finding out you’ve been shortlisted for a competition. For me this meant being able to justify the many un-paid hours I put into my writing, often stolen from family- time, and confirmation that I should start taking my writing more seriously.
Winning of course is fantastic (and helps to justify the entry-fees) but being short-listed is no less an achievement. Choosing a winning story from a short-list is down to the personal taste of the judge (we often chose ‘voices’ similar to our own) whereas to be part of a short-list, is a statement of quality.