Is it fair?
I’ve done one or two with both Bridge House and The RedTelephone, and as a writer I’ve judged for other competitions. As a writer also I’ve entered them.
I have mixed feelings about them, though. They are hard work to organise. Whatever you charge it never seems to cover the costs and certainly never pays the first round of judges for their time. On top of that I feel a little mean; you’re taking money from people and not really offering anything in return. So, why charge at all?
One publisher I know actually charges enough for competition entries to cover the cost of a book including shipping. This guarantees a few sales of the book with enough profit to cover set up costs. My head tells me this is a good thing to do. My heart tells me this is cheating a little.
Nevertheless, I’m tempted … And morally it might be all right after all: the writer gets a good book by a publisher they obviously respect.