It's a $55 entry fee with critique.
If you get into the finals with this contest, there's a lot of agent/editor exposure that goes with it.
First of all, an agent or editor from the genre judges all finalists, so you're guaranteed a read of your first 20 pages and summary.
Second, all finalist attendees of the conference get a free extra pitch appointment with that agent or editor.
Third, you get an exclusive cocktail reception with the agents, editors and convention speakers for networking on the evening before the conference begins.
Fourth, if you win, you get the prize, the prestige, etc.
Finally, the judging agent or editor almost always requests a full manuscript from the winner, and about half the time, requests the same from all finalists. I don't have any kind of information as to how many of these requests have led to publication, but getting the full manuscript in the door is a pretty significant step.
I've been watching other authors enter, final and win in this contest for over a decade, and I know I write as well or better than a lot of them. My one weakness is that my book is urban fantasy, and it gets lumped in with the whole Speculative Fiction genre - which historically has more entries than any other in this contest. Last year, they didn't even have 5 finalists in some of the categories because there weren't enough entries scoring over 130. If I wrote mainstream or action/thriller, my score would have made the finals easily.
"If you can't do something smart, do something right." --