Sunday 29 July 2012

Publishing Euphemisms

What those rejection letters, blurbs and reviews really mean.

Robert McCrum in The Guardian, 2009:
Cult novel: no publicity to speak of but it got a review in Time Out.
Word-of-mouth sensation: thank God for Amazon.
Multicultural phenomenon: no one can pronounce the author's name.
American bestseller: someone had a long lunch in New York.
Manga novel: a comic book.
Cult manga sensation: a comic book that's won a prize.
Bestselling manga sensation: DreamWorks has bought the film rights.
European sensation: we got drunk at Frankfurt.

Speaking of Frankfurt, the language of books is not exclusively English. To flash a bit of savoir faire, it doesn't hurt to go Euro:
Schadenfreude: deploy with caution; and certainly not to be confused with Weltanschauung or Bildungsroman.
Succès d'estime: we've put an ad in the London Review of Books...
Succès fou: sounds better in French, right?

Returning to these shores, the British book buyer must face up to the idiolect of blurbs:
Lacerating: excruciating.
Warts and all: a few dirty bits.
Authorised: deadly.
Writing at the peak of his/her powers: basically past it, but who knows?
Long-awaited: we sacked two editors and it's still overdue.
Her masterpiece: she's been around for years and with a bit of luck this one will click.
His masterpiece: we have reached the end of the line with this one, but fingers crossed.
Witty and profound: three jokes and an inexplicable reference to Wittgenstein.

If that wasn't bad enough for the harmless browser, there's that "reviewerese" to negotiate:
Delightful: the author's a friend.
I laughed out loud: this book has one joke.
Heartstopping: Hallelujah! There's even a plot.
In the tradition of X: the author has plagiarised X.
(And gently satirical: toothless)

More from The Guardian’s John Dugdale April 2012
We don't have sales numbers yet: trust us, you don't want to know
I loved the opening: boy, the middle needs work
National publicity and marketing campaign: there's no budget, so you're on your own
I've read the book: I've had it read
Ebook sales are strong, please don't worry: print sales are a disaster
This is too British for the American market: I have no idea what this is about
The translation is rather uneven: if it ain't from Scandinavia, we ain't interested
All our focus is on the paperback: the hardback tanked
There is such excitement in-house: my assistant loved it
Well-researched (for fiction):
maybe try writing non-fiction
Multi-layered: too many characters
Extraordinary breadth: too many scenes
Epic: too long
Too commercial for our list: I could have written it
Too literary for our list: too boring
At times exhilarating but tone is uneven: hysterical nonsense
Never quite reached the potential it promised: pitch better than book
I'm not sure I can get support for this wonderful novel in-house: a hotter manuscript has landed on my desk
I think we (agency) can improve the terms in your next contract: was your last agent in a coma?

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