I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about book synopses, and I assume most other readers don’t either. They’re just a little blurb on the back of the book telling readers the general idea of the plot so they can decide whether or not they might like to read the book. Sometimes, if the editor is being clever, the summary might be written in the same tone or voice as the book itself (most common for picture books), but generally it’s just . . . there.
However, a book synopsis doesn’t really just tell the reader what the main premise of the book is; it often gives them an idea of what genre the story is. It is an action-packed adventure? A swoon-worthy romance? A quiet but thought-provoking story?
This is significantly more important to marketing than telling the reader “what happens” in the story. When a synopsis misrepresents the genre of a story and readers don’t get what they are expecting, they rate the book low — because they aren’t rating the book on what it is; they’re rating the book on what it’s not.
A misleading synopsis was an issue for Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus when it was released in 2011. The publisher wrote a summary for the story that led readers to believe that the focus was on a magical duel or race between the two protagonists, that the story would be a fast-paced fantasy with challenges and competitions. What readers ACTUALLY got was a somewhat slower-paced story that revels in world-building and is more concerned with immersing readers in the magic of the circus than showing them a cutthroat duel between two master magicians. Readers were upset. Many rated the story poorly. But it’s possible they would have rated it better if they had been led to expect something different.
This happens frequently. If a book is marketed as romance, but the romance is actually a small part of the story and the real focus is on a mystery, most readers don’t say, “Well, there wasn’t much romance, but as a mystery this was excellent. 5 stars.” Instead, they rate what they were told the book was. They say, “There was practically no romance in this romance novel. 2 stars.”
Editors and others in charge of writing book summaries (which is a harder task than one might think, if you are literally looking only at a manuscript and don’t have an existing summary to work off), then, need to be conscientious about what they are implying the focus of a book is. It’s important not to think, “Oh, emphasizing the romance will help the book sell” if the book isn’t actually that romantic. Focus on what the book actually has, and it will find the right audience, and readers will be more likely to give it a higher rating.
Have you ever found a book summary misleading?