It's relevant. It's edgy. Most importantly, you care about it. A lot. You can already picture readers holding your story in their hands, riveted, perhaps even enlightened.
You're going to be the next J. K. Rowling, or Stephen King. Bigger than that.
You spend months getting it down, maybe years, all the while trying to ignore your inner critic, who's getting louder. Telling you that everything you have so far is crap. Riddled with errors. Unbelievable. Trite.
You write the last word, and you feel...deflated. On paper, your novel looks nothing like it did in your head. The characters say silly things, there are lengthy world-building passages that bore even you, and the overwrought phrasing makes you gag.
It's okay. Believe it or not, this happens to pretty much every writer. Here's what to do.
1) Take a breath.
Here's the reason you know the novel you've written is bad: you have good taste. As someone who has read plenty of novels, you know what works and what doesn't.
This is good news. That means you are discerning enough to improve the jumbled mess that is your first draft.
And remember: it's not unusual that your first draft stinks. As Ernest Hemingway himself said, "The first draft of anything is shit."
2) Realize that editing is an essential part of the novel-writing process.
Not editing your novel is a poor choice, no matter your chosen publication path.
If you're planning to submit it to an agent or a publisher for consideration, a manuscript riddled with errors provides a good excuse not to read past the first few pages.
If you're planning to independently publish your book, not editing is an even more grievous error. As an indie author, if you don't see to editing, no one will, and it will be glaring once you hit publish. Reviews will pore in from readers disappointed with the lack of attention paid to proofreading. If it's bad enough, some will stop reading because of it.
3) Get editing
If you're submitting to a traditional publisher, I would recommend a thorough self-edit before you do. Do you have trouble with grammar and spelling? If so, consider asking a friend or two to read over your submission. If they're writers, maybe you could swap favours, and you could read their work to help them with areas where they have trouble.
If you're indie publishing, there's more pressure to make sure you get the editing right. There are different schools of thought when it comes to this, and recently I was surprised to encounter people who advocate simply proofreading your first draft, hitting publish, and moving on to the next project.
I wouldn't presume to suggest this is an incorrect approach, but it does run counter to what I believe, and also how I do things. I think a first draft can generally always stand to be improved, whether in terms of structure, plot, character development, consistence, etc.
That said, I do think it's possible to reduce the amount of editing necessary by spending more time on the planning stages.
4) Get more eyes on your work
One method of making sure your book doesn't disappoint readers - and in the end, that's what it's all about, for me anyway - is to cultivate a group of beta readers, who will read your book and offer you feedback. I normally send the penultimate draft out to beta readers, but recently I tried sending them the first draft, so that they can have a bigger impact on the direction the book takes.
I also recommend hiring a freelance editor, no exceptions. Of course, there are many types of editing - developmental editing, copy editing, proofreading, etc. - and it will be up to you to decide which your book needs.
When considering an editor, be sure to research him or her. Look for testimonials from other authors, and if you can't find any, ask for some. I have two editors lined up in the coming months for two separate books: one of them worked with an author for whom I have a lot of respect, and the other came recommended by a forum thread's worth of authors. As a result, I'm quite comfortable working with these editors, and optimistic about the outcome.
You should also expect an editor to provide a free sample edit of your writing, normally of around 1,000 words, so you can get a sense of his or her work. If an editor refuses to provide one, this may be a warning sign.
5) Don't panic
Let's say the worst happens: you've already indie-published a book, and you're getting reviews that say the book is riddled with misspellings, grammatical errors, and/or inconsistencies.
It's okay. The wonderful thing about being able to click 'Publish' and immediately have your work appear for sale online is the ability to click 'Publish' again - this time, on a draft you've proofread, paid a professional to edit, and/or sent to a group of beta readers for feedback.
Resist the temptation to publish prematurely. But if you've already succumbed to that temptation, it's not the end of the world. Properly edit the book, and publish again.