I'm trying to find a word for something meaning not explosively popular or successful, yet not a failure. It should not be intended as criticism and should represent something not necessarily new but more forthcoming or predicted to be destined for eventual greatness.

Alphie's _______ novel Xyz is a ....

  • It's not entirely applicable (and I can't find a citable definition, so no answer) but consider the phrase sleeper hit. (Unfortunately you'd probably only use this after the fact, when you know it's a hit, as opposed to immediately at release.) Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 9:29

7 Answers 7


Middling comes to mind, but there is a slight negative connotation to it, even if the meaning is very close to "average".

  • It's good enough for me. For most it's probably vague enough that the negative connotation doesn't take root. Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 3:42
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    @DaemonOfTheWest- I disagree- if something is described as "middling" it is taken to be mediocre- which is definitely something no one wants to be. I'd go with Coty's respectable or perhaps ahead of its time
    – Jim
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 5:20
  • @Jim Certainly a valid point, but "mediocre" (to my ears at least) carries an even stronger negative connotation than "middling" (which really just means average as in "middle-of-the-road"). By right, "middling" should be a neutral expression, but it's acquired a negative connotation because nobody wants to be "just average" (even though statistically, half of the population would be exactly this or worse). "Respectable" carries less pejorative baggage than either "middling" or "mediocre", so it may be a better choice, but a lot of people would still regard it as "damning with faint praise".
    – Deepak
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 17:00
  • 1
    @Deepak "statistically, half of the population would be [average] or worse." This is a common fallacy but it's completely untrue. For example, vastly less than half the population has a below-average number of legs. Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 18:41
  • @DavidRicherby ....and yet vastly more than half the population has an average number of legs, rounded to the nearest leg. Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 22:46


Alphie's novel Xyz was well-received.

It doesn't claim undue respect, and emphasizes that the novel was not a failure.

"Respectable" is another option.

There is a saying, 'damned with faint praise,' that comes into play here, but I believe that these two options show due appreciation to the actual accomplishments of the work without insulting or embellishing.

  • I don't think this works. A "well-received" novel is one that the critics like; it may or may not be particularly popular. Likewise, "respectable" more addresses the quality of the novel than it's popularity. Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 17:59
  • @DavidRicherby I don't think well-received necessarily means well-received by critics, though that's probably the most common usage. Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 22:47
  • "Creditable" is one I often hear in a sports context. "Xyz put in a creditable performance" Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 23:00

trending, aspiring, up-and-coming, promising, worthy, (respectable)

  • "Aspiring" doesn't work: it means wanting to improve itself. "Worthy" sounds like damning with faint praise, to me. Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 18:03
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    i think promising is pretty good. it's the first thing that came to mind for me.
    – user428517
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 18:06

If you don't demand a single word, you could use something along the lines of "fairly popular", "reasonably popular", "decently popular", "somewhat popular" or "respectably popular". Moving farther from the fill-in-the-blank format, you could describing it as having had "good/decent/respectable sales".


"Enjoyable" seems like it would fit. Not too positive but not negative either.


"Popular" by itself seems to convey what you want. If you wanted to single it out for extra praise you'd usually add to that.

I'd rate Tom's "promising" as about as good as any.

"Well liked" may serve.

"Better than average" or "better than many" or even "better than most" all convey a sense of noticeable or notable but are clearly not what you'd use in a 'rave review' so may suit your need.

Maybe "aspiring", "trending"(yuk), "up & coming", writer or story 'to watch'.

FWIW I'd rate "middling" in the "damned with faint praise" category. I'd be disappointed to have that rating applied to anything of mine (whether deserved or not :- ).


"likable" seems to fit.

"likable" (adj) - easy to like, having pleasant or appealing qualities. Merriam-Webster

"He isn't exactly popular but those who know him say he is a likable kind of guy."

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