Originally Posted by blacbird on AbsoluteWrite Water Cooler:
Exactly how do you define "good" work other than by its being accepted for publication? And exactly how does any rejection (barring the unlikely event of useful specific critical suggestions from the rejecter) get you closer to acceptance?
I like what Uncle Jim said (okay I'm embellishing it a bit): "How do you know it's a good book? By the sound of rapidly-turned pages..."
Obviously, not all books are rapid page-turners (literary fiction, for example). My idea is that if your book draws your readers into a fictional world, make them believe the characters are real, and keep them there, then you have a good book. It's not about the elegance of prose, or the perfect use of grammar -- those are just tools. Good fiction is something that enthralls, entertains, and enlightens. Obviously, it depends on the readers. A romance novel reader probably regard something "good" differently than a sci-fi reader, for example. So, yes, it's subjective.
So how do you know your book is good? Use beta readers. Join a critique group. Compare it with the best books (not the worst -- always aspire to do better) in your genre. As I said before, a writer must learn to step back and objectively evaluate if he has indeed written crap.
So to come back to the question -- no, I don't think merely getting "published" means the book is good. There are always common sense and standards. But as a friend of mine said, "Art is great, but if you can't sell it and let someone else appreciate it, it's pretty useless." A published work (such as mine) might not be a good one, but the odds that a never-to-be-published work is not good is higher. That's why they stay in slush.
Now how does one rejection gets you one step closer to acceptance? First, let's make the important assumption that the book is indeed good, worthy of publication and not crap. Now, it's just a process of elimination. A rejection simply means: your book is not a good match with that particular agent or publisher. So by eliminating that option, your odds of finding a "match" is increased. It's a simple math problem.
Given there are X agents/publishers in the world. You need only one acceptance. So your chances of getting published is 1/X. Now, if you get a rejection from 1 out of X agents/publishers, your chances of getting published is now 1/(X-1). It's a better odd. The idea is to minimize the number X by targeting the right agents or publishers -- people who are more likely to appreciate your story/topic/genre.