On Monday I went to a discussion/debate event, called "Judging a book: what makes good writing?", that was part of Brighton Festival. The people on the panel were: author Sue Eckstein, Myriad's Editor Vicky Blunden, literary agent Hannah Westland, Books Quartely's editor Ed Wood, and creative writing tutor Greg Mosse.
All of them said they were looking for something exciting and orginal. Something with a distinctive voice. Greg Mosse said that one of the things you can't teach is how to find your voice ...
It seems to be easier to talk about what makes bad writing. The panel agreed that bad books tell too much. A good book leave things out. That writing is about cutting and editing.
I don't think there is an answer. Writing is deeply personal and everybody's got a personal taste therefore all judging is very subjective. An agent is not going to represent you if she/he doesn't love your writing. How can you present something to publishers that you don't believe in yourself? It doesn't matter if a voice is original if it doesn't speak to you.
The last book I read that really excited me was The Bird Room by Chris Killen. It was interesting to read the very mixed reviews on amazon. Some people like myself absolutely loved it, while others didn't get the point.
The Bird Room is a short novel written in a very clever way. I was in love with the so-called voice of the narrator from the first chapter. The way he looks at the world and how his claustrophobic feelings are described. If someone had told me that Killen's novel is about an insecure guy who messes up his relationship and gets obsessed by porn I would probably not read it, thinking it sounded quite pathetic. So why do I like it so much then? It must be that damn voice. The way it's written: the sparse but beautiful descriptions and the use of modern technology like email and text messages and even the occasional drawing. But again that's not to everybody's taste.
So what makes good writing? It's up to you!