The question this week at WordWhores: Is it all right to charge a submission fee for a contest?
This is a bit of a strange one for me, in part because I've never been in a book contest of any sort so it isn't something I've really thought about. It's not quite the same as submitting to be published, so the standard refrain of "money flows TO the writer" doesn't necessarily apply.
Also, I know that in the theatre world, paying a submission fee is standard for playwrights. Contests or open calls with no fee are actually uncommon.
That said, it doesn't sit right with me, and I think it comes down to wondering what the contest is for. Like, if the prize is "publication", then you're paying for the right to be read, and that's bullshit. And if the prize is the award itself, then the award itself is also kind of bullshit. I know saying your book is "award winning" can seem like a nice perk*, but when you make that claim, people are going to wonder what award you won, and if it's something that smells like 'an award that you paid for', it'll come of as worse than not saying it at all.
Now, if you're looking at this whole thing as, say, a marketing expense-- you're paying to get the book looked at by a taste-maker of some sort who will talk it up in a widely noted forum-- then that could be considered worth it. But, again, you really have to look at the "impact factor" of that contest. Is it something that could bring you some notice, or is it mostly a small thing that would only get you noticed by the people who run the contest?
Short answer: no. I don't think it's worth doing, and I don't think it's right to do. I wouldn't do it.
*-Especially right now, since I'm in a stage between being named for the short list on an award and waiting to hear the results. I am thinking about this stuff all the time right now.