She pretty much had the same experience I had a while back. An agent (not W.H.) was VERY interested in her novel. With no "promise of representation" they asked her for revisions. In my case I did one start-to-finish revision over the course of a couple of months. Yes, it was a lot work. But after completing the revisions, I sent it back and was nicely rejected. I say "nicely" because, well, they were NICE. I received a personal letter explaining why they were rejecting it—not some lame-ass form letter which is pretty much what she got.
In my friend's case, though, she and this agent went back and forth for months. MONTHS. Not weeks. Agent would give suggestions, Friend would revise and sent back, Agent would deliver specific feedback--and then she'd revise some more. Agent displayed genuine enthusiam. Agent encouraged her. Agent, frankly, spent a helluva lot of time on this.
We are always warned not to make revisions without an official offer of representation. I learned my lesson the hard way--but after the initial
She's allowed to be sad. I think we should let her be sad for a while. To say she's “disappointed” after months and months of this is the understatement of the century. Yeah, you gotta be tough in this business, but...damn!
The question is, why do certain agents do this: work so closely with an author for months on end--multiple emails, phone calls, editorial notes, reading, changing characterizations, etc.--without a formal agreement? Agents tell us all the time they need to be IN LOVE with our stories. If they don’t love the story no matter how well it’s written, they don’t take it, right? And who wants an agent who’s only semi-enthused?
So the question is: why?
1. Because they do love the story but they think your writing sucks? Hypothetically, if your writing does suck, can the story be so riveting, so irresistible that the agent believes he/she can mold you into a much better writer?
This seems unlikely. There are plenty of good writers with irresistible stories. And this particular friend doesn't suck.
2. Because they see potential in a good but not great story and believe it can be improved, so they decide to help you improve it—and, if satisfied, take you on as a client? Or not.
This seems unlikely, too. Aren’t agents busy enough with the great stories already in hand?
3. Because it’s a slow time of year and they’re twiddling their thumbs?
*I* have no idea. Anyone else care to guess?