Dear Miss Snark,
I'm pulling my hair out. I've received several personal rejections with specific feedback on my partial. The problem is, they contradict one another. One agent felt that the pace of the opening was too slow and focused too much on character at the expense of the story. Another said that it was too fast paced and didn't give her a chance to delve into the characters! Aargh! What's a writer to do? (I swear they received the *same* chapters.)
We do this on purpose. We're alerted by your post office (all agents pay an annual fee to the post office for this service) that you've sent chapters to two or more agents. Once alerted we put your chapters aside for our weekly meetings on "Make the Authors Crazy" night. We draw random comments from the hat and put them in our rejection letters. Then we mail them back to you. This is also the night we burn SASEs to light cigars and cherries jubilee. It's really a lot of fun, and pretty much the reason I became an agent.
Well, ok, that's not exactly 100% true. When have you known any three people to agree on what makes a book suck, or makes a book great? You only have to delve through the comments section of this blog to see a HUGE divergence of opinion on books that are mentioned.
Another blogger and I periodically exchange emails with "you liked THAT???" as the subject line. She's a pretty fair reader and astute judge of books...mostly. Every time I disagree with her of course, she's wrong.
As for what to do with these varying comments: ignore them unless you can see they all point to an underlying problem. Or, think all of them are right and consider what the book would be like if you made the changes.
One of the things that most writers have a very very hard time learning is how to distance themselves from their writing. You can use rejection letters to help you learn that. Assume the criticism is spot on and read the novel to see why the editor thought that. Learn from it.
Or, just continue sending out chapters for our weekly meetings...once I post this, I fear our slush pile will drop dramatically.