Most writers wonder after a rejection if they're good enough. My question is a twist on that anxiety. I met an agent at a writer's conference and really connected with her. She was excited about my query and premise and invited me to send my first 20 pages. A couple of months later, she responded with a rejection. It was a personal response, acknowledging our connection and conversation, and complimenting my writing, but saying that ultimately she didn't connect with the manuscript.
This rejection matters more to me than most, because we'd already gotten past the premise, genre, etc., so for her to not even request a full has me wondering if there's something wrong with the manuscript and if so, what I should do about it. Before querying, I had the manuscript reviewed by a developmental editor (a former editor at a major publishing house), who certainly didn't say it was a loser - and she would've if she'd thought that. The editor had suggestions and I revised the manuscript accordingly. I guess what I'm saying is that if I get past the usual query barriers and still can't wow a cool agent with my manuscript, should I keep trying? I don't want to publish something people don't connect with.
I'm not looking for the "every writer gets rejected, get over it" response, though I acknowledge that truth. I'm looking for (1) how to know when it's time to give up on a manuscript, and (2) what to do about it, either with the manuscript or with improving my writing or storytelling skills."
Let's step back here for a second and look at what you told me: one agent passed and you're wondering if your manuscript is a loser.
If someone told you this story in the bar, you'd smack 'em with that purse you have that I covet.
No matter how much you like an agent, connect with her, and NO MATTER HOW ENTHUSED she sound during in person conversation, in the end it's ONE opinion.
Meeting agents at conferences is helpful for learning how publishing works, and how to avoid the pitfalls of querying. It's not an advantage when I'm actually reading your work.
Personal connection doesn't help when considering a manuscript for rep. I've had to pass on manuscripts from people I like a lot; I've had to pass on manuscripts I didn't connect with that have gone on to do very well in the marketplace.
I will not take on a book if I can't sell it with enthusiasm even when I have met and liked the writer.
Bottom line: you're having a hiccup of insecurity here. It's entirely normal but don't let it stop you from pressing on.
But to answer the questions you actually asked:
1) how to know when it's time to give up on a manuscript, and
(2) what to do about it, either with the manuscript or with improving my writing or storytelling skills.
1. 100 rejections
2. Write more
The only way to get better is to keep at it.
I encourage you to consider if your book is fresh and new, rather than if the writing is subpar. Many of the queries I receive are well-written but they're for books I've already read.
Thus also consider
3. You've read enough books in your category to know what's been done before.