I'm a devoted snarkling (more of a lurker than a commenter) and while you may have addressed this in the past, I'm curious as to what your thoughts are on queries/partial submissions that are sent to you that have been finalists/winners in contests sponsored by chapters of national organizations. Does it make you take a closer look? Or does it mean less
than the paper it is printed on?
First, I want to be clear: I read all my query letters and at least three pages of whatever you send unless it's just gibberish. Sometimes (as we saw on the crapometer in August) writers have claptrap up front and don't get rocking till further in. I'll invest three pages minimum. If it's not just utter dreck, I read all ten.
Here's what winning a contest can do for you: if it looks weird, I'll keep reading. In the back of my mind is the idea that someone, somewhere found this to be interesting so maybe it's not as weird as it looks at first glance. Contest wins buy you some margin.
That's the same thing that happens if you're referred by a client, or you met me at a conference or you have some sort of ‘connection’. You get a few more pages before I pull out the Snarkogram that says "here's your hat, have a nice day".
I don't have much respect for contests mostly cause I've judged a bunch and I hear what my fellow judges have done or said (think snakepit and you won't be far wrong). I notice them in query letters though, so it can't hurt. The ones to avoid are the ones with big entry fees. No more than $10 to enter unless you've got serious, respected judges and there's a decent reward for winning...like publication.
I look for short story publications before I look for contest winners just FYI.