Publishing Buzzwords, Cliches, and Euphemisms Decoded

  This was sent to me by a publishing friend. We don’t know who the “I” is, but it’s hilarious:

Ever wonder what editors, publishers and critics mean when they describe books as “lyrical,” “provocative” or “ripped from the headlines”? Let industry veterans explain it to you. I asked experts on Twitter to decode common publishing terms. Here are some of their answers:

“absorbing”: “makes a great coaster”

“accessible”: “not too many big words”

“acclaimed”: “selling poorly”

breakout book”: “Hail Mary pass”

brilliantly defies categorization”: “even the author has no clue what he’s turned in”

“captures the times we live in”: “captures the times we were living in two years ago”

“classroom-friendly”: “kids won’t read it unless they have to”

“continues in the proud tradition of J.R.R. Tolkien”: “this book has a dwarf in it”

“definitive”: “could have used an editor”

“an eBook original”: “still no proofreading and bad formatting”

“edgy”: “contains no adult voices of reason”

“epic”: “very long”

“erotic”: “porn”

“ethnic literature”: “stuff written by nonwhite people”

“frothy romp”: “funny book by lady” “Funny = funny book by a man”

“gripping”: “I turned the pages fast but didn’t read them”

“I’ve been a fan of Author X for a long time”: “I slept with him, regrettably, in
MFA school.”

“lapidary prose”: “I did not know what half of these words meant”

“literary”: “plotless”

“long-awaited”: “late”

“luminous” or “lyrical”: “not much happens”

“magisterial”: “long”

“meticulously researched”: “overloaded with footnotes”

“memoir”: “nonfiction until proven otherwise”

“the next Elmore Leonard”: “This book has criminals or Detroit or maybe Florida in it”

novella”: “short story with large font”

“a real tear-jerker”: “writing so bad it makes you cry”

“ripped from the headlines”: “no original plot line”

“rollicking”: “chaotic”

“sensual”: “soft porn”

“stunning”: “major character dies”

“provocative”: “about race/religion”

“promising debut”: “many flaws, but not unforgivably bad”

“unflinching”: “has a lot of bad words”

“visionary”: “can’t be proved wrong yet”

voice of a generation”: “instantly dated”

“weighty”: “I had to lug this dense historical monster all over town and I still can’t bring myself to finish it”

“wildly imaginative”: “wrote book high on mescaline”

“a writer to watch”: “as opposed to one you are actually going to want to read”


2 thoughts on “Publishing Buzzwords, Cliches, and Euphemisms Decoded

  1. Laughed out-loud. Makes you wonder what the industry might mean by “poignant” [Adjective definition one, people. There was physical pain. Mostly when I threw the book down and it landed on my foot] or “I couldn’t put it down” [I *wanted* to, goodness knows, but I was afraid I’d hurt my foot again]…

  2. Oh, very funny! Thanks for commenting!
    One of my editing company’s euphemisms is: “This book will be a treasured memento for the author’s family and friends.” Translation: “Nobody else in his right mind will be interested in reading it.” hehe

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