Yesterday I received the most heartbreaking rejection, and find myself again questioning how to know when to take an agent's feedback to heart.
This MS has been through webinars, bootcamps, workshops, multiple face-to-face agent critique appointments (where they've received 50 pages in advance), multiple charity-auction-won critiques from published authors I adore, and countless extensive revisions with 4 critique partners. I feel it's in the best shape of any of my manuscripts, and I'm genuinely pleased with where it's at -- which is something for a Type-A perfectionist to be able to say. I'm at the tweaking-words stage, seeing no major changes required. It feels polished. I still laugh, I still cry. It feels very much like the book I set out to write.
I've queried in batches, and have had 10 full requests and many partials. Recently, I had a full request within 2 days from a rock-star agent at the top of my list. I felt a bit awkward that she skewered my book title in her request email -- but I certainly didn't point this out. Just replied, "Attached is TITLE OF MY BOOK, per your request," kind of thing.
In the rejection, she said my book was too like two of her other series, which I thought odd because I actually used one of those as a comp title -- her series is in a different age category and I feel very different in nature, but with one shared element that I thought might grab her (it seemed to, since she requested the full based on my query and opening chapters). The other series is absolutely nothing in tone like mine, and I feel, if she'd really read mine, she'd have known that by about chapter 4 at the least, if she couldn't tell it from the opening chapter. But... okay. That's fair enough -- maybe she hated it and didn't read past chapter 3!
The most difficult part was when she said that regardless of that, it needs "a lot of development work," including "worldbuilding, plot, and pacing."
Whoa. So, that's basically the entire manuscript.
This makes me feel as though I'm being told you don't know what you're doing. Although she said, "This is very much the kind of story I enjoy," I feel like I've just been informed that 10 years of writing, and 3 years on this manuscript, and countless conferences, studying and analyzing successful books I love, agent one-on-ones, etc. have all barely pushed me from square one to two. I know we as authors get wobbly and take things personally (and blown out of proportion) in the face of rejection -- and I'm the worst -- but I had a bit of a breakdown.
I don't know what this means, or where to go next. I consulted my CPs, and they are honest, non-smoke-blowing folk, I believe. They said they would've certainly flagged up these rather major issues if they'd seen them in any of the drafts they read. None of the authors/editors/professionals who've laid eyes on the MS or synopsis suggested any major issues like these. I don't know whether to shell out for a developmental edit (seriously considering it), or sit down with My First Craft Book 101 and go through the whole arc and structure with a seam ripper.
On top of all this is the wonder whether the agent actually read any of it. She clearly was excited about the premise and opening. But in all her emails to me, she CCed an assistant. I know it doesn't matter because no is no. But it makes me wonder if I was rejected by the assistant or the agent herself... especially since the title was skewered again in the body of her rejection email. I know agents are human, but I guess I'm surprised by the error, twice.
My question is, when you've worked with this level of workshopping and critiques and feedback that makes you feel overall pleased with the pillars of a manuscript, do you take a rejection like this to heart or not -- if no one else has ever said similar? My heart says no, but my brain whispers, "What if this is the reason you haven't been offered rep yet, and she's the only one who's shared the secret with you?"
I just wish she (or her assistant) had offered even one concrete example from my story to link to these problems.
You're giving too much power to this agent. You don't know if she read it. If she did, you don't know how much.
You need more Shark Salt on your popcorn. My first response would have been"Yer maternal unit, which is clearly not human, wears Army boots!"
You are not stupid. You are not slap dash. You worked hard on this novel. It may not be what Agent Shinola thinks she can sell but that's not the same thing as a novel that needs work.
Frankly this kind of criticism shows the agent doesn't know how to talk about writing very well. If a manuscript needs world building, it's much more helpful to say "I need to smell the horse manure on the streets in Helena Montana in 1878." (Say what you will about Helena Montana, back when
If someone tells you the plot doesn't work, it damn well better be accompanied by an example of a plot hole or two.
If the pacing is off, you say why: nothing is at stake by page 50; or, the ending of this short story happens too quickly. Absent that kind of concrete suggestion or example, it's just yammer.
In other words, I can't just say "your plot sucketh the big one" without examples, and expect you to take me seriously.
Agent Shinola didn't offer any examples to bolster HER OPINION. Why would you invest any kind of confidence in what she says?
If an agent can't tell you what's wrong with your novel, I'm hard pressed to think she's going to be able to talk about what's RIGHT with it if she takes it on and goes out on submission. "Read this, it's really good" is not a good pitch most of the time.
Your takeaway here: If I tell you the moon is made of green cheese, I better serve you up a slice of Neil Armstrong pizza.
Penultimate bottom line: quit making lists of rock star agents; pay attention to critiques with specifics.
Bottom line: you dodged a real bullet here. Think about if Shinola was your agent and you turned in this ms. If this was the kind of "edit note" you got, you'd be holding up the bar five days a week at the Writers Regrets Saloon and Synopsis Store. Count yourself lucky and get back to querying.