I've been querying my upmarket/book club (I think!) novel for a few months now. Last week I had a full requested and the agent was very enthusiastic--so much so that she's already read it and turned it down.
My question is, is "wouldn't break out at a commercial level" code for something else.....?
"Thanks for sending me this -- I was keen to dig in as I thought the premise was very interesting. I liked a lot about the novel - your prose is really lovely - but I'm afraid in the end, particularly given that I don't have room to take on much at the moment, I thought this probably wasn't a work I'd be able to break out at a commercial level. I wish you great luck with it."
I'm wondering if that means it's too slow--which I can fix. Should I ask (but just yesterday you said don't ask)? Or are there multiple flaws this comment might encompass?
This means she thinks it won't sell enough copies, early enough, to be a book people notice.
There's no way to know if that means it's too slow, or not vivid enough, or the plot doesn't have twists to it.
BUT this is ONE agent's opinion, and thus should not be taken as some sort of edict from on high about your book, and even more important, what to revise.
Don't write back to ask what she means, or for elaboration on what she said: it does not matter.
I've passed on books that went on to do well.
We've all read published books that utterly mystified us about how the hell they got published.