What to Disclose in the Synopsis: Reader Reactions to Surprises

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Sheri Hoyte
Managing Editor

We received an email from one of our reviewers recently with the following message:

I was concerned that the synopsis of the book did not mention the part of the story in which the author is dealing with his gender identity. I read the book and am not reviewing it.

What was the first thought that went through your mind after reading the above message?

Every so often we get emails from reviewers indicating the synopsis didn’t specify content that was, in their opinion, adverse, or simply that the synopsis didn’t reflect what was inside the covers. This could be a huge issue for the reader, especially if they aren’t expecting something that turns them off.

That said, are there topics that should be disclosed in the synopsis? If so, what are they and where do you draw the line? Here are a few suggestions we received as the most controversial topics:

*profanity/expletives – even though our society is very lax in this department many are still turned off
*sexual orientation – anything to do with LGBTQIA+ themes
*politics – especially if you are blasting a party/establishment or pushing your own views
*religion – especially if you have a strong point of view on a specific religion and denounce others
*erotic sexual scenes – anything that would be censored or for adult reading only
*necrophilia – many readers would consider this as objectionable or inappropriate
*horror – blood/guts/beheadings

In other words, basically, anything that could be go against a person’s beliefs – which is…anything and everything?

So, what to do? While non-disclosure could certainly be grounds for a negative review, many items in the list above might also be considered to be expected, depending on the genre. For example if you select a book in the horror genre, you should probably anticipate some grisly scenes.

There is always the option of listing a warning just below the synopsis.  I’ve seen this message posted under the synopsis:  Warning:  Contains expletives. But, does that sound too much like a TV rating to you?

The specific reviewer quoted above refused to write a review,  but I’ve had reviewers that chose to go ahead and write the review and mention the adverse content and their experience.  Both are in their own right.  Some reviewers feel they need to warn potential readers so they wouldn’t be surprised or turned off  in the same way they were, some just refuse to even participate in giving a review.

The interesting part is I that if you try to find something online about what to disclose in a synopsis, there isn’t much information out there.  There are thousands of articles on how to write a synopsis but doing a cursory review, none of them addressed disclosure. This topic is an issue with readers, so it’s surprising there isn’t more buzz around it. 

Readers – Have you ever had the experience of being turned off by something in a book that wasn’t disclosed in the synopsis?  Authors – Have you received any feedback from readers on this topic? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Sheri

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