One of my novels, upmarket commercial fiction, struck out in the query trenches, though it did get a dozen requests for fulls. The sparse feedback varied too much to give me a clear sense of what wasn't working, and in one case was simply “I can’t sell this novel."
At a sort-of-pitch-session event (more like "meet an agent and editor and chat about your WIP" organised by a local literary organization), an editor at a highly respected and local-to-me publishing house which takes unagented submissions expressed interest in seeing it when it was finished.
April 2016: Since I lived within walking distance of the publisher, I handed it in to save on the postage and spare myself the “maybe it got lost in the mail” agonies (they only take unagented submissions in hard copy and I had no email address for Editor). My cover letter clearly stated that Editor had requested the material. Heard nothing back, so I assumed she’d passed on it.
January 2017: Participated in a Twitter pitch day. Editor DMd me and said, is it still available, and if so, can I see it? Turns out that the editorial assistant who ended up with the manuscript never passed it on to Editor. I emailed Editor the full manuscript.
May 2017: Sent a polite follow-up. No response.
August 2017: Sent a polite follow-up, mentioning that I had revised the MS and cut 10,000 words (!) and would be happy to send the new version. No response.
December 2017: Sent a polite follow-up. No response.
February 2018: Withdrew the manuscript (being grateful for the opportunity, etc.) because it was clear she was never going to respond.
Fifteen minutes later: Editor apologised for not responding sooner. Her comments were “it has a brilliant pitch, great characters and your writing on the line is assured, but the narrative drive wasn’t strong enough and left me feeling that work needs to be done on the novels pacing.” (Ironically, I think I figured that out myself when I cut 10k without restructuring the plot at all.) She offered to give me some written editorial notes to “make up for [her] rudeness.” I said great, that would be wonderful.
April 2018: Sent a polite follow-up. No response. I'd also been doing a selective second query round with the revised manuscript - total stats: around 16 submissions, two full requests, no offers of representation.
July 2018: Sent a polite follow-up. No response.
August 2018: In order to prevent myself from sending weepy passive-aggressive emails, I fling myself on the mercy of La Reid for advice.
My ideal solution would be - well, it would be for her to accept the revised novel, but realistically, it would be to have the editorial notes. It’s clear that this novel has a lot going for it and it doesn’t sound as though the writing is the problem, so feedback from a respected editor about how to bring it up to ‘publishable’ would be invaluable. But should I just chalk this up to bitter experience and dream of how someday I will laugh while I am watching the sunset from my Caribbean island I bought with the royalties?
It just occurred to me that I have a good relationship with the local organization that set up that sort-of-pitch-session; would asking one of my contacts there for advice be a good idea, or obnoxious going-behind-Editor’s-back? There hasn't been a similar event recently, or I'd sign up for it.
You're not going behind anyone's back to ask for advice from someone you know. You're asking for advice, not trying to finagle anything.
Second, every editor and agent has good intentions about offering help to writers. We say things like what you heard "I'll get you some notes" but because it's a favor to you, and not linked to a project, or deadline, or even any prospect of such, it starts as a low priority in the Overall Scheme of Things, and probably gets knocked off the To Do list pretty quickly.
It's not malice, it's just lack of time.
This kind of thing happens more than you'd think, and it's not personal at all.
Chalk this one up to experience and move ahead. You know what needs work (pacing) and her notes may be of use, but waiting for them has an opportunity cost that's too high.