The Benefits of Querying—Even If You Want to Self-Publish

By , July 25, 2011 12:00 am

 

The decision to circumvent the querying process and jump straight into self-publishing seems like a “working smart” move for many aspiring writers.  And who can blame them.  No one wants to lose weeks and months waddling through rejections when companies like Lulu and Amazon make it easy to shuffle through the self-publishing process and give a metaphorical middle finger to the “heartless” agents.

 

But these writers fail to realize that there are benefits to querying an agent that will assist with the self-publication process.

 

Querying Even One Agent

  • Forces authors to truly understand what they’ve written.
  • Helps them to familiarize themselves with marketing and publication standards.
  • Provides a much needed reality check.

"The Indie Bard" by MMRule

Better Understand Your Novel

Writing a query letter (and the often requested synopsis) is an exercise that no writer should bypass.  Querying forces an author in roughly one page to address the big questions that are otherwise too easy to avoid:

  • What are the most essential plot points of my book?
  • Is there a clear genre and hook?
  • Can others trust that I’m qualified to write this?

Answering these questions are essential when editing and polishing your book.  And querying not only forces you to think about them, but also makes you exercise your ability to do so concisely and professionally.

 

Familiarize Yourself with Marketing and Industry Guidelines

Query guidelines urge authors to consider issues like word count and target audiences.  If you want to take on selling your own book, you must know who wants to read it and whether it is a novel or really a novella or a series in disguise.  (It is never OK to have a 150+K debut novel!)

 

Get Real!

Finally, the likely form rejection letter (or silence) from an agent provides a necessary reality check.  It is too common for authors to use their imagination and talent to see the successful future they want in a less than worthy book.  Shattering the dream through even one agent’s rejection is helpful to pull authors back to reality.  The odds of success are against first time novelists.  The possibility of being the next King, Brown, Meyers, Harris, etc. are next to impossible.  If authors want to succeed, they should seek out some rejection and constructively turn that into added motivation to read daily, write more, and edit smarter.


Extra Bonus

Who knows what opportunities will present themselves once you query your book.  Maybe you will land an agent and a publisher, and someone else can worry about formatting your novel for the Kindle and Nook.  There is nothing wrong with having more than one option!

 

A Fang Banger’s Delight!

By , July 18, 2011 12:02 am

True Blood fever has us again wishing for fang marks and shifter romps.  Whether you prefer Harris’s books or HBO’s leave-nothing-to-the-imagination episodes, here is a recipe to sop up your drool the next time you’re indulging in your favorite supernatural crush.

 

Craving Eric Northman?

If you’ve read Dead to the World, you know that Season 4 of True Blood will give special attention to Eric Northman, the thousand+ year old, Viking vampire.  For this recipe, forget about cliché red fruit fillings and “bleeding” frosting vampire bites.  The Exception to the Rule relied on Eric’s confidence and aggression to inspire a cupcake that will satisfy your craving for this vampire-Adonis.

 

Photo by R. T. Jae

 

 

Chocolate-Cardamom Cake

 

Semisweet Chocolate-Cardamom Frosting

 

Fondant and “Fanged Mouth” Sugar Paper Garnish

 

 

 

 

 Surprise!  They Glow-in-the-Dark!

 

 

 

 

 

Chocolate-Cardamom Cake

Semisweet Chocolate-Cardamom Frosting

A cupcake that embodies a thousand years of vampiric experience needs to bring a contemporary twist to an eternal favorite.  Semisweet chocolate adds density and decadence to the cake, while cardamom delivers its delicious aroma and adult flavor.  The combination is bold and just as complex as Mr. Northman.  Plus black food coloring gives the cake an extra touch of midnight delight.

 

Fondant and “Fanged Mouth” Sugar Paper Garnish

The décor of this cupcake brings in Eric’s mainstream “American business owner” side with the sexiness and club atmosphere of Fangtasia: clean lines, lots of black, and plenty of glow.  I cut silhouettes of vampire mouths out of black sugar paper, and soda water painted on the fondant causes it to glow-in-the dark under a black light.  So if you’re feeling ready to invite the supernatural into your home, whip up this recipe, set your mood lighting, and let this cupcake take a bite out of you!

 

What You’ll Need

For the Cake

  • Red or black cupcake liners
  • 1 18.25 oz. devil’s food cake mix (not one with pudding added)
  • 1 stick butter
  • 5.75 oz. semisweet chocolate chips (Buy an 11.5 oz. bag to account for the frosting.)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ¾ oz. black food coloring

 

For the Frosting

  • 5.75 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
  • ½ teaspoon cardamom

 

For the Fondant and Garnish

I used this recipe from allrecipes.com for inspiration, and kneaded marshmallow fluff and powdered sugar until it was no longer sticky.

 

Cut the mouth silhouettes from purchased black sugar paper.  Small scissors work best.

 

The glow in the dark glaze is clear piping gel and tonic water.  Try mixing ¼ cup of untinted piping gel with one tablespoon of tonic water at a time until the mixture is smooth and gelatinous enough so it will not drip or run when painted on the fondant.  Test glaze under a black light to make sure the glow is satisfactory.

 

Directions

  1. Prepare your sugar paper “fanged mouth” garnish.  (This recipe makes 24 cupcakes.)
  2. Preheat your oven to 350° or 325° for dark or nonstick pans.
  3. Line two 12 cup cupcake pans with cupcake liners.
  4. Melt the butter and the chocolate on low heat until combined.  Stir constantly to avoid burning the mixture.
  5. Combine all of the ingredients for the cake in a medium bowl.  (Be careful when handling the black food coloring to avoid stains on your skin, clothing, countertops, etc.)  Beat on low speed for 30 seconds.  Scrape the sides of the bowl and finish beating the mix on medium speed for two minutes.
  6. Use an ice cream scoop like this one to evenly scoop batter into the cupcake holders.
  7. Bake for 15-20 minutes until cake springs to your touch.
  8. When cupcakes are finished baking, let them cool until they are safe to touch, and transfer them to a plate.
  9. While cupcakes cool, prepare the fondant.
  10. Roll out the fondant so that it is ¼ inch thick, and cut out twenty-four 2 ½ inch circles.
  11. Prepare the chocolate frosting by melting the remaining chocolate chips on low heat.  Stir the chocolate until it is smooth, and then mix in the cardamom.  Remove from heat.
  12. Use a butter knife to paint a 2 ¼ inch circle of chocolate frosting on the middle of a cupcake.  Center a circle of fondant on the cupcake, and press gently to make sure that it sticks to the cake.  You won’t want the chocolate to show.  Move on to the next cupcake and repeat.  Reheat the chocolate if it becomes too stiff to spread.
  13. Use the back of a spoon to paint the glow-in-the-dark glaze on the fondant.
  14. Press the sugar paper garnish onto the fondant.  Avoid getting glaze on the sugar paper.
  15. Serve immediately or cover and store in the refrigerator for up to three days.

 

Photo by R. T. Jae

 

This recipe is inspired by The Cake Mix Doctor.

Check out her book for delicious and simple cake ideas!

The glow-in-the-dark fondant was inspired by the girls at Georgetown Cupcake.

The products I suggest are the ones I use in my kitchen.

Carrie White “eats shit,” but you don’t have to!

By , July 11, 2011 12:30 am

 

Graffiti scratched on a desk in Chamberlain Junior High School:

Roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet, but Carrie White eats shit.

-Carrie, Stephen King

The Exception to the Rule debuts with a homage to my favorite author through this fiery, blood inspired cupcake recipe that will motivate you to pick up a copy of Carrie. Stephen King fans enjoy!


Carrie Cupcake

Photo by R.T. Jae

 

Red Velvet and Cayenne Pepper Cupcake

 

Vanilla Pudding Filling

 

Cream Cheese and Candied, Cayenne Pepper Bacon Frosting

 

Candied, Cayenne Pepper Bacon “Prom Dress” Garnish

 

(Click for larger image)

 

 

Red Velvet and Cayenne Pepper Cupcake

There isn’t anything sweet about the plot of Carrie. Even Sue Snell’s actions don’t leave the reader with a “we’re all in this together,” High School Musical feeling. So, I chose red velvet cake for its flavorful but not overly sweet taste and its obvious color bonus. A hint of cayenne pepper gives the cake a subtle kick of heat to lend it worthy of a prom on fire.

Vanilla Pudding Filling

To cool off your taste buds from the cayenne fire, I included a rich vanilla pudding filling. Not just because Carrie is a “big dumb pudding” for not knowing what her period is, but because we all saw that shine of normalcy in her that made us think that she really could be like everyone else if her circumstances changed. She tried so hard that she even bought a “special brassiere” for the prom, gosh darn it! Vanilla adds the touch of mainstream taste that this cupcake needs.

Cream Cheese and Candied, Cayenne Pepper Bacon Frosting

“Prom Dress” Garnish

I took a traditional cream cheese frosting and mixed it with bacon candied with light brown sugar and cayenne pepper. The sweet and spicy taste of the bacon complements the cream cheese and gives a nod to the book’s dark humor. After all, as Billy Nolan observes, “Pig blood for a pig.”

 

What You’ll Need

For the Cake

  • Red cupcake liners
  • 1 18.25 oz. plain white cake mix (not one with pudding added)
  • 4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (use ¾ teaspoon if you are sensitive to hot pepper)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 stick melted unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 oz. bottle red food coloring

 

For the Filling

  • 3 oz. vanilla cook and serve pudding mix
  • 2 cups whole milk

 

For the Candied Bacon “Prom Dress” Garnish

I followed this recipe for Cayenne-Candied Bacon from the Food Network with one pound of bacon.

Once the bacon is prepared and hot but safe to handle, use kitchen scissors to cut out a simple dress shape. Cooled bacon is too crumbly to cut and shape. Experiment with a one inch hourglass shape and snip in a v-neck.  You will need 24 bacon dresses.

The extra bacon and bits left over from the garnish will go into the frosting.

 

For the Frosting

  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 8 oz. brick cream cheese
  • 3 cups powered sugar (more if desired for consistency or sweetness)
  • 1-1 ½ cups of finely pulsed candied bacon (use all bacon and scraps left after making the garnish)

 

Directions

  1. Follow the directions for the candied bacon and make the garnish first.
  2. Preheat your oven to 350° or 325° for dark or nonstick pans.
  3. Line two 12 cup cupcake pans with red cupcake liners. (This recipe makes 24 cupcakes.)
  4. Combine all of the ingredients for the cake in a medium bowl. (Be careful when handling the red food coloring to avoid stains on your skin, clothing, countertops, etc.) Beat on low speed for 30 seconds. Scrape the sides of the bowl and finish beating the mix on medium speed for two minutes.
  5. Use an ice cream scoop like this one to evenly scoop batter into the cupcake holders.
  6. Bake for 12-17 minutes or until cake springs to your touch.
  7. While cupcakes bake, follow the manufacturer’s directions for the pudding mix and set aside to cool. Make sure to use whole milk since reduced or fat free milk will make the pudding too thin and watery.
  8. When cupcakes are finished baking, let them cool until they are safe to touch, and transfer them to a firm surface. Use an apple corer like this to remove the middle of the cupcake. Center the corer on the surface of the cupcake and press straight down to the cupcake liner. Lift the corer out and discard the center. If the cake core does not come out, then reinsert the corer and gently twist back and forth before lifting.
  9. Use a piping bag or teaspoon to fill the cupcakes with warm or cooled pudding. It is ok if there is a little excess pudding at the top of the cupcake.
  10. In a medium bowl, beat the butter and cream cheese on medium speed to begin the frosting. Beat in the powdered sugar until frosting is smooth.
  11. Pulse the candied bacon in a food processor for 30 seconds to a minute or until bacon is finely ground.
  12. Mix the pulsed bacon into the cream cheese frosting. Transfer frosting into a piping bag, and starting at the outside edge of the cupcake, pipe in a circular motion toward the center. If you prefer, you may pipe the frosting using a plastic zip-seal bag. Spoon the frosting into the bag, press out any air, seal it, and cut one edge off the bag with kitchen scissors, so you can pipe through a nickel sized hole.
  13. Garnish each cupcake with a bacon “dress.”
  14. Serve immediately or cover and store in the refrigerator for up to three days.

 

This recipe is inspired by The Cake Mix Doctor. Check out her book for delicious and simple cake ideas!

The products I suggest are the ones I use in my kitchen.

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