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I've been languishing in the query trenches for a few months, and have been lucky enough to score a few partial and full requests amid all the rejections. But when I've gotten feedback from these requests (once they've turned into rejections), they're all over the place. Some agents love the concept and the writing and think the plot doesn't work; some like the plot but think the story isn't high-concept enough. Some love the voice, some don't connect with the voice. Some just didn't fall in love with it enough to pursue representation. How do I reconcile all these different reactions?
In a Feedback Loop
Dear Feedback Loop:
Ah yes, conflicting feedback is one of the more maddening aspects of the publication process! One of the things that makes it particularly frustrating at the querying stage is you can't always be sure if the feedback is specific to your work, or if it's politely-worded form rejection language (the 'I didn't fall in love with it' language is a sure sign of the latter). Setting that aside, I've found using the following procedure can help:
First, make sure you're collecting all your feedback in one place. An email subfolder works, or you can cut-and-paste feedback from emails into a Word doc. Also, make sure you know which agent sent which feedback.
Second, create a chart (or spreadsheet) where you can compare all the feedback in one place. For example, if you make a chart, you can have the agent name in the first column, the outcome of your query in the second (rejected, requested pages/then rejected, etc.), and the specific feedback in the third column. Being able to look at a single document that has all the feedback organized like this will enable you to recognize trends and commonalities. If more than one agent is giving the same feedback (for example, not connecting to the main character), then you'll know that's something to focus on when you revise.
Third, if you really find that no two agents have the same feedback, and they're completely in conflict on some points, then it's time to send the manuscript to another beta reader or two and get their thoughts. Once you get their feedback, put it into the chart along with the agent feedback. Then take another look. At this point, you should be able to see some themes emerging.
Fourth, if you have the means to do so, you might consider hiring a developmental editor. They can work with you to pinpoint the weaknesses in your manuscript and help you create a revision plan.
Rejections are never easy, but remember, every rejection gets you one step closer to that eventual 'yes'! Happy Querying!