Two years ago I attended Malice Domestic and during the Saturday banquet heard one of the winners of the William F. Deeck Malice Domestic Unpublished Manuscript contest give a short thank you speech.
It was a lovely gracious speech that touched on how much the writers at Malice meant to her, and how thrilled she was to learn she might now be on her way to joining them.
I knew I was looking at a star. I leaped over the table and rushed to accost her. Fortunately she did not summon les gendarmes to escort me out of the ballroom by mon oreille.
Instead, when I asked if her novel was ready, she said "yes it is." I read it, signed it and sold it. She came that year as a contest winner, the next with a deal, and this year with a published book.
The contest only required three chapters. But if all you have is three chapters, it's hard to snag an agent. And if you win a contest, there's a golden opportunity to be in front of some people who might want to help you reach the next level.
Be ready for the next step.
If the contest is three chapters, finish the novel and then enter. If you win, you're ahead of the curve.
If you're querying on your first novel, have a second one ready. If you hear "I like your book, but it's not right for me, what else do you have?" you've got something else ready to go. You're ahead of the curve.
Here's the rule: Get ahead of the curve as much as possible.