What do you do with a contest entry that didn't win?
- Edit it one more time. Take another look at your work. Really scrutinize it, find that lingering word that slipped by, that rogue comma, that passive voice, etc.
- Find a place that will publish it. Use a resource like duotrope (I wrote about it here) and see if anyone is looking for writing of the same theme/genre/length of your piece. You may need to tweak it here and there. I did this and have taken two "losers" to print (although one is just online). A modified version of "The Butler's Waltz" will be appearing in The Binnacle. A revised version "The Open Box" will be featured on Marco Polo literary online magazine. (I'll update to actual links when published)
- Use it for inspiration. If you don't want to rework or re-purpose the thing, what about the story really intrigued you the most. Was it a character, a line, a theme? take that element and write a new story from it.
- Enter it into another competition! There A LOT of competitions that are open genre/open theme. Cast a wide net and give your piece a chance. If you believe in it, get it out there. Just make sure you read contest policies on publication/concurrent submissions.
- Burn it. If indeed you are so disappointed by the work that it is too painful to read/rewrite/think about, use it as a therapeutic exercise. Print it out. Set it on fire. Tear it up. Feed it to a goat. Whatever it is that will help you move past your loss and get on to the next competition.