When to toss an agent’s response to your manuscript in the circular file

Interesting and useful post here from Janet Reid, in response to a question she got at her blog.

Yesterday I received the most heartbreaking rejection, and find myself again questioning how to know when to take an agent’s feedback to heart. … 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. …

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.

There is a lot more to the letter, which does give me a firm feeling that the hopeful author has probably written a pretty good book. Here’s the red flag Janet point out:

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 gunslingers lit agents rode horses to the negotiating table there was a certain olfactory signature to most towns.)

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.

Again, there’s a good deal more in the post, so if this is something that interests you, click through and read the whole thing.

I believe, thinking about it, that my agent does give me very clear examples of problems when she is pointing out some kind of issue. I know that she fairly often says something like: this scene and that one seem repetitive, I wonder if they could be combined? Very specific.

Anyway, good post, especially if you happen to be querying agents, or planning to.

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