E.L. Wagner said...
I've heard these kinds of comments before, and as someone who is out in the trenches querying a novel, of course, it's hard not to get discouraged when an agent says they liked your book but it wasn't quite what they need for their list at the moment, but they're sure someone will end up repping it.
Out of curiosity, why would an agent feel that they personally couldn't sell a well-written and marketable novel (or get it a deal that does it justice), but another agent might be able to? It may seem like a naive question, but it's one that I've wondered about.
I get the "this is promising but it needs a lot of work yet" rejections some people get. All else being equal, who wouldn't prefer to take on a manuscript that needs a minimum amount of polishing before shopping it to publishers? But all else being equal, what makes an agent think they personally can't sell a given manuscript when someone else might be able to?
There are a ton of reasons an agent might personally feel she couldn't sell something. It could be that she likes it, but doesn't have the vision for it (I think I'll talk more about this tomorrow), it could mean that she sees the potential marketability in it, but also worried it's not quite there yet and doesn't have the time or enough enthusiasm to take the risk.
Different agents have different specialties and strengths. One might love editing and working on revisions while another feels she's better at selling and working with the author on the back end of things. Both might do mysteries, but one might feel her strength is historical while the other is a female protagonist. It could be a connection with the voice or a certain knowledge of just two editors who happen to be looking for this thing. Or, it could just come down to level of enthusiasm and how full an agent's list is.
There are so many different things that come into play when an agent rejects a work and its rare an author will ever know them all which is why it's best to take the good news when you can and run with it.