The magazine Poets & Writers has been running a series (up to #9 now) of interviews with literary agents. You can read all the interviews at PW.org/magazine. In the most recent issue, the editor, Jofie Ferrari-Adler, asks three agents about what they read from writers: the outline? the synopses? the pages of the book?

All of them agreed that they never read synopses.

  • Jim Rutman, an agent at Sterling Lord Literistic:  “It’s hard to write a synopsis well. And when we’re talking about literary fiction, it will probably not make or break an agent’s interest going into page one.”
  • Peter Steinberg who has his own agency (with clients like Alicia Erian, Keith Donohue, and John Matteson): “I think it’s important to stress the synopsis and the cover letter and all of those things are not really important. It’s the work, the work, the work. You have to focus on the work. I think sometimes writers get lost in getting the cover letter and the synopsis and those kinds of professional things right because they’re afraid of focusing on the work.”
  • Anna Stein, who worked for three agencies before joining the Irene Skolnick Literary Agency, puts it this way, “I don’t read synopses. I hate synopses. They’re terrible.”