I've had a little success in writing contests, reaching the quarterfinals or semifinals, finishing in second place once, receiving encouraging feedback, etc. But, of course, these contests only have one winner. I wonder how many successful writers (i.e. published, produced) began their careers by winning a writing contest vs. how many acquired agents via queries or sold spec scripts. In other words, are these contests helpful or are they basically just ways to get aspiring writers to drop fifty bucks a pop? I can't imagine there's any hard data on this, but any insights are much appreciated.