First, let me just say this isn't a post where I trash those agents who give forms on fulls. Really, it's not (do I like it? Of course not, but I get it).
Three years ago when I was querying my first novel, feedback on partials and fulls was the norm. Full requests were thrilling for writers, because even if the manuscript was rejected, at least they would get some feedback. However, these days it's not guaranteed that writers will get anything, as more and more agents make the switch to the form rejection. This means the guy who wrote a 150,000 word "novel" during NaNoWriMo and then sent it off December 1st is getting the same rejection as the carefully crafted project that was two years in the making. I totally understand why agents do it, and in all honesty, I don't think any less of those who do.
Submitting your work is a lot easier than it once was, which means agents are requesting more than they used to. Writing personal rejections not only takes time, but it also opens up a conversation between the agent and writer. I've heard stories of writers responding to agents, requesting "suggestions" or asking them to expand on their original feedback. I can actually attest to this from personal experience. Last year (when I was agented), I participated in an online contest that involved picking entries to move on to a second round. Since there was something like forty entries, I only left feedback on the ones I chose. However, one person (in my group of entries) tweeted that he hadn't gotten any feedback and was really desperate for someone to tell him what wasn't working. Having been there myself (many times before), I told him I'd take a look at it. I left the guy some feedback, he made changes, and then he tweeted me, "Is this better?" Feeling slightly annoyed but trying to be understanding, I took another look at it and left more feedback. THEN he tweeted me AGAIN. "How about now?" I can't remember if I took yet another look at it, but I do know that at some point I just had to ignore his tweets.
So like I said, I get it.
But this is why I appreciate feedback-giving agents even more. They're taking the time to to help writers, despite the time issue and the fact that some writers will view them as their new-found crit partners. Feedback from people directly involved in the publishing industry is so very, VERY important! Selling books is there job, therefore, they can easily pinpoint problem areas that sometimes even the best critters/beta readers can't. My latest project had garnered a lot of interest, but unfortunately, no offers. It had been critted and beta'd to an inch of its life, so I was at a loss as to what wasn't working, and as many of you know, it is incredibly frustrating to get rejection after rejection and have no idea why. It wasn't until I received some agent feedback that things starting clicking for me, and thanks to those handful of agents, I now have a pretty good idea of what needs work. A simple one-liner, like "Needs more emotion" or "_____ doesn't seem authentic" can get the wheels turning in a writer's brain, which can then lead to revisions, and in turn, lead to an agent and/or book deal.
So, thank you to all those agents who take the time and risk the aggravation to help writers. It means more to us than you'll ever know :)