I just came across your blog today and found your honesty refreshing.
Speaking of honesty, I'm trying to decipher some agent rejection letters. They say many positive things about the story and writing followed by:
Agent 1: "After long consideration, though, I have to say I am just not enthusiastic enough to offer representation."
Agent 2: "I'm afraid, however, that I simply didn't fall in love with the work as I would have to, to take on a new project. "
Agent 3: "Unfortunately, however, I am being extremely careful about taking on new projects, and while I admired this a lot, I fear I didn't feel as enthusiastically about the manuscript as I need to in such a challenging marketplace.
Author friends tell me I should continue to contact agents but I'm wondering if the above replies are code for: "Give up now, you'll never get this book published."
Flattered but Confused
Unless the agent mentions specifics about your novel, there is no reason to believe it's anything but a form letter. If you get a reply letter that looks like it might have been photocopied 100 times, it's definitely a form letter.
Rejections are really frustrating. I get them now, but mostly from publishing companies, and sometimes they are personalized (depending on how well the agent knows the editor) and sometimes they are not.
A form letter means the following things:
(1) Your book is bad.
(2) Your book is good, but not really good enough.
(3) You submitted the book to an agency that doesn't handle that genre.
(4) Your book is too long or too short.
(5) Your book is thinly disguised Twilight fanfic. Hell, some people don't disguise it at all. They understand nothing of copyrights and we don't amazingly compelled to try to explain it to them.
(6) The agent you queried is not taking new clients.
For the most part, you're not going to know what it is (unless it's that Twilight fanfic thing). So send to every possible agent, and if they all reject you, take it as a sign that it's time to write a different book.