A while ago I had the pleasure of working with Author Marilyn Pontuck on a book proposal–I did a copy edit of her cover letter and shared some information on the publishing world in general. She has kindly agreed to let me share a before-and-after of her work so you can see the difference that editing makes (I'm only include excerpts, to avoid making this post several pages long).
Her Query Opening Before Editing:
Suppose that despite physical deformities and a near brush with being abandoned as a child, you unexpectedly found yourself the most powerful man in the world – Pharaoh of Egypt during the powerful Eighteenth Dynasty? And then suppose you had a choice between the sure and steady path, guiding Egypt towards riches and power in the traditional manner for another generation, or taking a very risky path, threatening to ruin Egypt, but sowing the seeds of an eternal idea which would change mankind and the future forever?
Meet Pharaoh Akhenaton, protagonist of The Chosen One, an historical novel and the first book in a trilogy examining the roots of Judeo-Christian monotheism. The concepts propounded by Akhenaton resonate to this very day. Although there are no facts per se linking Moses with Egypt or Akhenaton, such a relationship would nevertheless match with known history.
My Copy Editing Feedback
A query letter needs to do three things: It needs to hook the recipient on the story idea - they should want to read more. Second, it needs to convince them that there is a market for this story. And finally, it needs to convince them YOU are the right person to write this book.
My first comment to her was that I liked the hook for her Synopsis more than I liked the hook for her query. While Marilyn’s first draft of her query letter did a good job of summarizing the book’s concept and why it might be an important topic, her synopsis did a much better job of convincing me the book is interesting. I suggested she adopt some of the tactics in her synopsis to strength her query letter.
I also suggested she show there was real potential to "sell" a publisher on her book based on the recent popularity of historical fiction. She had said that at the moment there was a lull in Egyptian historical fiction–a category her book definitely fell into. I suggested she combat this argument by pointing to the recent success of Philippa Gregory, and perhaps even Dan Brown, as indicative that the reading public is poised to dive deeper into the astrology and symbolism of ancient Egypt.
Finally, I helped her rework her own biography. One of the most difficult things to write about as a writer is yourself. Even if you write shining prose the majority of the time, when it comes time to write a bio, you may find yourself stumped. In Marilyn’s case, she needed to strengthen her argument that she was an expert in this field–which she’d spent her lifetime studying.
Her Query Opening After Editing:
Moses was not the first to be chosen… Before him, there was Akhenaton. Abandoned and hidden from the world in his childhood, Akhenaton was thrust into the daylight when his older brother met with tragedy, leaving him as the most powerful man in the world.
Akhenaton's story is one of faith, love, loyalty and betrayal. Raised in one faith, but forced to claim another, his life is a series of choices between the doing as expected and pursuing what his faith tells him is right. Finally, in the end, that choice is taken from him when he is betrayed by his best friend.
Written by a life-long scholar of Ancient Egypt, The Chosen One, takes a fresh look at the historical events of the Eighteenth Dynasty in Egypt….