(Congrats to 'Claudia In London' who won the drawing. Send me your personal information and as soon as I get an ARC - and it's a long ways away yet! - I will send you one. :)
But back to the topic at hand...
We've all had the novels that don't start out quite right. Sometimes it's dissonant as soon as you start putting words on the page. Sometimes it kicks you at about page 75 and says "Hey moron! What are you thinking?"
And sometimes you make it to the very end of the book before you realize that the thing of beauty has turned into a Frankenstein monster. What do you do?
Well, kids, some books just aren’t worth resurrecting. When things go wrong, there's usually a point to it. Some level of instinct has come through and thrown up the flashing warning signs, but even if you plow through to the very end, it still won't make the Beast into a Beauty. Sometimes the beast remains a beast.
Allow me to give you an example: my first novel. I stopped writing it about halfway through because I had an epiphany. What was I thinking? But I went back to the well, and I picked up that novel again. I ignored my good sense and finished the darn thing. And now I have a six hundred page monstrosity that has the following: time travel, puritans, Ojibwe Indians in New York (even though most lived nowhere near the area, but I wanted Ojibwe, darnit!), the IRS, a fairy godmother, hot sex, a massacre, scoliosis, a molesting priest, the Loch Ness monster...and there might have even been a cowboy's secret baby somewhere in there.
Where was I going with this novel? Hell, I have no idea. It sure seemed like a good idea when I was writing it, though. But I should have followed my instincts, and when they told me to stop, I should have stopped. Not all novels are destined to be winners, and this stinker sure wasn't.
So what do you do when you've gotten to the end of your book and you realize that you've birthed a monster?
Several things, really. I mean, so you wrote a bad book. No worries. We all do it. All is NEVER lost, and if you really love the core of the story, there are things you can do with it.
Reuse, Renew, Recycle - I’m serious. If you like a concept, use it again in a new novel. Can't get past the Loch Ness monster and have an endearing love for Nessie in your manuscript? Write another novel (but for god’s sake, put it in Scotland). Continue to steal and borrow from this manuscript until you've gotten your mileage out of it, and then toss it into your trunk.
Divide and Conquer - Sort out your elements and separate them. Do they necessarily go together? Can we remove some of them and streamline the story? If I had taken out the IRS, the fairy godmother, Nessie, and time travel, I would have had a story about puritans and Indians. THAT story would work. Likewise, if I set all the fantastic elements in a modern setting and went with the magical theme, I'd have a much stronger, completely different book. They're not bad ideas, they just don't go well together. Decide which ones you want to keep and rewrite from there.
Hack and Slash - Sometimes it's not the elements themselves, but the plot. Is it slow as all heck? Moves too fast? Rearrange your pieces. I had one novel that I was absolutely in love with that was well over 110k (long for me). The beta readers came back and said "Wow, this book is really good after you get past all that slow crap at the front." So, even though it broke my heart, I got rid of everything before page 100 - and added an intro chapter. The book was streamlined and a lot faster, and I've tucked away all the original stuff as something to use later on.
Sit on it - I'm serious. If you go back to it and it sucks, sometimes it's not the book itself. Sometimes it's just your opinion of it. Put it in a drawer. Forget that it ever existed. Hide it on your desktop in an obscure folder labeled "GRANNY PORN". I promise you won't be checking there often (or will you...). Come back to it in a few years and re-read it. You'll be impressed with what you came up with, and maybe all will not seem lost.
So while it's never fun to finish a book and realize you've created a stinkbomb, it's never the end of the world. Sometimes it's not even the end of the story. Consider it fodder for the mill, or just part of your million-words-of-shit journey, but it's never a waste.
And FYI - I still heart the Nessie/Puritans/Time Travel book. I'm going to sit on it for a few more years and see if it turns into Diana Gabaldon's OUTLANDER.