Dear Miss Snark:
Three agents (all AAR) have passed after reading my manuscript (topical literary fiction/family saga) and a fourth is now reading it. Any day I'm expecting a response that I'm guessing will mirror the first three: "Great story, but I'm not taken in by the writing (translation - good story but your writing sucks) -- signed, You're Dead to Me Forever (Miss Snark's interpretation of Best Wishes.)
I flinch as I ask the following question: Can I assume that reports of my death are premature and write the agent requesting the name of a topnotch, legitimate writing coach (as if somebody like that would take on my sorry ass) since the agent will never represent the work?
Note: The film rights to the ms were optioned early on to a legit film company so I assume the agents aren't BS-ing me about the quality of the story. However, because the story is very topical (and I'm not getting any younger here) time is of the essence.
Thanks in advance for the Beat Down,
If you've only queried four agents you need to query 96 more before you stop. You're not getting much more than a form rejection letter here so you don't know what they think of your novel, you only know that they aren't going to take it on.
If you've queried more than four, and four is the number who requested the full ms, and then passed with a form letter, yes, your writing needs some attention.
However, no legitimate agent is going to hook you up with a writing coach particularly if they are members of AAR. The Canon of Ethics for AAR is pretty clear about referrals to editors and it's not something they take lightly.
You need to search the archives for the posts about writing groups, and critique groups and get involved in one of those. I can hear you right now saying "but I don't want to waste time doing that, I just want my manuscript fixed right now". Impatience is the one thing that stalls more writers at the submission stop than anything else. They get impatient and send things out too soon, they get impatient with the process and quit querying too soon.
If you are hell bent on hiring a writing coach or an editor, cough up $20 and join Publishers Marketplace and search the site for people who do that kind of work. READ the books they've worked on before you make a choice. And expect to pay through the nose if you want good work. Good editors aren't cheap.