Every aspiring novelist's dream:
You float lightly on your long legs (it's my dream so I can if I want) to your computer where you see the email that has been sitting, waiting for you. Dear.... please send your full manuscript to....I really want to read the rest of it. Please let us know if you receive any offers ASAP. You try to contain your excitement as you reply, with an attachment (and that right there is a compliment because they won't think you're trying to infect their computer when they see an attachment). Then, you wait patiently, because in dreams, you're patient and really good looking. Then comes the email that says...wait for it....
And a variety of questions and comments cross your mind and may spurt out of your mouth:
1. Why not?
2. But you asked for it!!!
3. Did you read it wrong?
4. Did I write it wrong?
And then you just sit, crossing your beautiful and enviable long legs while you ponder what it was that made them go from wanting your manuscript to not wanting it. What drew them in and turned them off? There are a number of great blogs by agents that will answer those questions for you but the bottom line is, you're still going to be left wondering. Anything that is based on a subjective opinion is going to leave you wondering unless they said, "I did not like X or Y." So then you're left with trying to decide what to do with this manuscript that is garnering attention but not closing the deal. Do you rehaul it blindly? Maybe. Do you send it out to new CPs and ask for feedback? Possibly. Do you shelf it entirely and get to work on your next WIP? You could. None of those routes are going to give you the answers you want though and that's where it gets frustrating. To be fair to agents, they can't give feedback on every submission, especially the ones that didn't grab them by the throat and take their breath away.
When I'm marking papers or assignments, I sometimes give generous feedback that explains what I loved and sometimes I say, "B". Why? My mood, the length of the assignment, the grade speaks for itself, the pile of papers I've got in front of me, or something about the assignment itself. I have criteria that I need the students to meet, but sometimes it's just a subjective gut instinct. The times that I've second guessed myself and asked, 'Am I being to hard on them?', I'll go back with my criteria sheet, review it and 9 times out of 10, come up with the same result. Agenting, I'm guessing, must be similar. They've been doing it long enough that when they know, they know. Sometimes they don't have a specific reason. Sometimes they just know it was a B and they were looking for an A.
As writers, I think we get caught up in subjectivity as well and this can be dangerous. We need to be objective about our work and, when we can't, show it to others that can and will. Even if they say things you don't want to hear. Wouldn't you rather hear about it from someone who cares about you, who knows what your writing means to you, who wants what's best for you? This week, I had someone I trust tell me that I needed to decide if I was in this because I completely believed in my work and was willing to keep pushing and trying or if I just wanted to have a book published. They're two different things. If you believe in your work, if you've edited, revised, asked for feedback, utilized that feedback to the best of your ability, worked on your query letter, researched agents, and are willing to keep going despite rejection, then this is about more than just saying you published a book. So keep going, accept the fact that you won't always know why, but, as I was also told this week, it only takes one to say yes, regardless of how many say no.