I am currently submitting my first novel to literary agents and have had four standard rejections. The other day I received a personalised rejection from a prominent agent in one of the big agencies, enthusiastic about the premise of my book but briefly explaining why she didn't quite warm enough to the writing to represent me - and to quote her: 'I am sure another agent will feel differently, given how subjective reading is.'
Am I right to take any encouragement from this, given that she did not ask to read the rest of the book? Or am I clutching at straws?The unattractive core answer to this is: a) it depends what you mean by encouragement and b) it's impossible to say for sure.
On the one hand, certainly you should take encouragement from a personal rejection. It's good that the premise of your book is exciting, because that's a very important start. So, please do be encouraged by this.
On the other hand, "I am sure another agent will feel differently, given how subjective reading is" is somewhat trickier to take encouragement from, because it's too bland. It's also so common as almost to be a form rejection. Rather obviously, also, she can't really be sure another agent will feel differently enough to say yes; and rather obviously reading is subjective. You need to realise that this "reading is subjective" thing is one of the most common phrases used to soften a rejection. Yes, it does mean "I didn't like it enough" but it doesn't mean "I'm the only agent in the world who won't like it enough."
The real problem you have is that this answer cannot tell you whether the "didn't warm to the writing" bit is because it genuinely wasn't to her taste or because the writing simply and more profoundly doesn't do justice to the premise.
So, should you re-write or just submit to others?
Impossible to be sure. I think you need objective feedback as to what might be "wrong" with or lacking in the writing. You might consider paying for it - but be careful who you use. You might use your writing group of you have one - but be very careful who you ask to read it because you need to know what's wrong, not what's right. If you don't have a writing group, you could ask three friends for comments - but make sure they really do know what they're looking for and that they know you want to know what's wrong. And even then, you can only revise if you agree.
Or you might hope that another agent will tell you more. But, if it's the writing (as opposed to a character or plotline) then you need more than brief feedback from an agent.
I recommend you
a) send to two or three* more agents or publishers, in case it really was subjectivity that got you the rejection in the first place, and
b) get good quality feedback at least on the first three chapters and
c) see if you can work out for yourself where the writing might be lacking.
[*Edited to add: in response to a suggestion in the comments below of sending to many more agents, no, I don't advocate sending to too many all at the same time because what if the first three all give you the same piece of advice and you decide they are right and you want to make the suggested change? You've then got a problem because all the others have still got your first version. Yes, I certainly recommend sending your MS to loads of agents, but not all at the same time.]
I'm sorry that doesn't give you a yes or no answer - but I don't think you expected one, did you?!
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