Posts tagged: Nathan Bransford

Eleven Signs That You Don’t Spend Enough Time on Your Work in Progress

By , August 29, 2011 12:00 am


I try to remain very cooled headed when it comes to querying and waiting for a response.  I expect nothing but the fact that I did my best, that I will always try to improve, and that an agent’s/assistant’s having to read thousands of unsolicited queries is a terrible experience.


"Indie Naivete" by MMRule

"Indie Naivete" by MMRule

Fighting the Vortex of Insanity

Designing a literary cupcake after Bransford’s book, however, gave me some jitters.  Bransford is active on Twitter, Facebook, his blog, etc.  Unlike when I write about Stephen King or send out a query letter, I heard Disneyesque birds singing all around me that the person whose opinion matters most very well could see my work and like it.  (For the record he did!)


Life Must Continue

The experience made me wonder what would happen if I were able to sit in front of a computer all day with my imagination fueling me.  Fortunately I don’t own a smart phone and have errands and work related responsibilities to complete every day, so it was easy for me to continue living my life while I waited to see if Bransford would notice my post.  But my mind still went to dark places that day.  So many places, in fact, that I surpassed a “top 10″ list!


The Exception to the Rule presents Eleven Signs That You Don’t Spend Enough Time on Your Work in Progress.  I’ll let you guess if I’m guilty of any of them!  I admit to nothing and I do not believe that it takes one to know one!  Seriously.


11 Signs That You Don’t Spend Enough Time on Your Work in Progress

11.  You read that form rejection letter so many times that you convince yourself that it really was personalized in some way.


10.  You bought a smart phone so you can access your email 24/7—just in case an agent asks for a partial.


9.  You follow agents on Twitter and keep @mentioning them so they will notice you and realize that you should be represented!


8.  You think that having common interests with an agent means that he/she will definitely want to represent you.  (Yes, Stacia Decker, I agree that people should take care of their teeth! I can tell you’ll love my novel!)


7.  You dream daily about the movie version of your book and pay no attention to the fact that Dakota Fanning has aged five very formative years since you realized that she is the perfect embodiment of your protagonist.


6.  You think you’re friends with your dream agent’s assistant because his/her name appears on your gchat sidebar ever since you received that emailed rejection.  You don’t care that you two have never chatted!


5.  You keep track of when agents tweet so you have insight into their work ethic and can guess when they might respond to your query.


4.  You have a tab open in your web browser that shows a clock for every time zone where you are querying.  (Come on.  What will that accomplish?)


3.  You believe that there is a need for a site that provides more information than


2.  You founded (Sorry, Patrick McDonald!)


1.  You are only interested in learning about agents, querying response rates, etc. because you have that writing thing DOWN!


Now it’s time for your thoughts!

Comment by adding your additions to the list. 

Or reveal which numbers on the list sound a little too much like you!

Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow Literary Cupcake

By , August 22, 2011 12:00 am


Nathan Bransford Cupcake

Number one on my list of best-friends-who-don’t-know-I-exist is former agent turned author Nathan Bransford.  When I discovered Bransford’s blog about a year ago, I learned that I could trust him to knock out all of my newbie aspiring author questions:

How to query? Bam!

Word count? Pow!

Synopsis length? Zap!

Bransford’s blog has been there for me during middle of the night writing freak outs and when I feel the pangs of rejection.  So when he recently posted about the trials of self advertisement, I decided to give back to the man who keeps a light at the end of the writing tunnel.


The Exception to the Rule designed a literary cupcake after Bransford’s debut novel, Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow, a fast paced and ridiculously fun middle grade novel.

Jacob Wonderbar Cupcake Kapow Nathan Bransford

Jacob Wonderbar Cupcake Kapow—Photo by R.T. Jae

“Earth Swirl” Vanilla Marshmallow Cake

Cosmic Frosting with Pop Rock Kapow!

Custom Candy Spaceship


If a cupcake is going to embody the first Jacob Wonderbar novel, it must be kid friendly, tasty, and all fun!  Because the story begins on Earth and then launches into a galaxy of surprises, I modeled the cake after pictures of Earth from space by marbling blue and green tinted batter.  Marshmallows provide extra sweetness and a yummy caramelized taste.


I added some space age fun to the cupcake’s exterior by using silver cupcake liners and purple and black “cosmic” vanilla buttercream.  The Pop Rocks are perfect for adding a touch of kapow! to each bite.  The popping will surprise anyone who isn’t expecting it!


Finally, I garnished the cupcake with a simple candy model of the spaceship that launched Jacob and his friends Sarah and Dexter into space.


If you are looking for a fun book (with excellent vocabulary) to give the child in your life, wrap up a copy of Jacob Wonderbar and bring along a tray of these cupcakes to make up for last year’s fruit cake debacle!


What You’ll Need

For the Cake

  • 24 silver cupcake liners
  • 1 18.25 oz. white cake mix (not one with pudding added)
  • 1 stick melted butter
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cups mini marshmallows
  • .25 oz. vials of green and neon green food coloring
  • .25 oz. vial blue food coloring


For the Frosting

  • 1 stick softened butter
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3+ cups powered sugar (more may be needed for consistency)
  • 1-2 tablespoons of milk (optional)
  • .25 oz. vials black and neon purple food coloring
  • 1 gallon zip sealed bag


For the Garnish

*These are my candy recommendations to recreate 24 spaceships like the one in the above pictures.  If you purchase multicolored candy assortments, I encourage you to experiment with the other flavors to save money, avoid waste, and have fun!



(If working with a child, remember to supervise and help with each step of the baking and decorating process!)

  1. Preheat your oven to 350° or 325° for dark or nonstick pans.
  2. Line two 12 cup cupcake pans with liners.
  3. Combine all of the ingredients for the cake except the marshmallows in a medium bowl.  Beat on low speed for 30 seconds.  Scrape the sides of the bowl and finish beating the mix on medium speed for two minutes.  Fold in the mini marshmallows.
  4. Transfer about half of the batter into a medium bowl.
  5. Use blue food coloring to tint one bowl of batter “ocean” blue.  Try about 30 drops of color to get started.
  6. Use the ratio 2:1 drops of neon green:green food coloring in the other bowl of batter.  Play around with the color until you are satisfied.  I preferred keeping the colors bright and neon for maximum contrast.
  7. Fill each cupcake liner a little more than 1/3 full of blue batter.  I used a half scoop from an ice cream scoop like this one to evenly distribute the batter.
  8.  Add a half scoop of green batter on top of the blue.  The cupcake liners should be about 3/4 full when you are finished.
  9. Take a butter knife or spoon and swirl the blue and green batter in each cupcake holder.  Press from the top of the batter down to the wrapper several times to push the green batter down and the blue up.
  10. Bake cupcakes for 13-18 minutes until cake springs to your touch.
  11. When cupcakes are finished baking, let them cool until they are safe to touch, and transfer them to a plate.
  12. While cupcakes cool, prepare the frosting.  Beat the powered sugar, butter, and extract on medium speed for about a minute and then finish on high speed for another minute.  Check the consistency and add more powdered sugar if needed.  You want the frosting to be soft enough to pipe on the cupcakes and firm enough to hold its shape.  A tablespoon of milk will help if the frosting is too stiff.
  13. Separate a third of the frosting and place it in a small bowl.  Tint this frosting by adding one drop of black food coloring and 3+ drops of neon purple.
  14. Tint the remaining 2/3 frosting black.  Begin with 5 drops of color and add more if necessary.
  15. Take the zip sealed bag and spoon the purple frosting into the left side of the bag.  Then transfer the black frosting to the right side of the bag.  Push the air out and seal the bag.
  16. Push the frosting to one bottom corner of the bag.  Cut the corner off the bag, making a dime sized hole.
  17. Starting at the edge of the cupcake and working toward the middle, pipe on the frosting in a circular motion.  Enjoy the purple and black swirl!  Each cupcake will look a little different.
  18. Sprinkle the Pop Rocks on top of the frosting.
  19. Serve immediately after decorating or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.


Creating Candy Spaceships

  1. Begin by shaping a triangle base for the ship.  I took two licorice bears, cut off their faces, arms, and feet with a knife, and sandwiched the sticky, cut sides together.  I then used my hands to press the candy into a triangle.
  2. The dome is the top half of a white spice drop centered on the triangle.  The sticky, cut end of the spice drop will adhere it to the spaceship.
  3. I took a purple spice drop and used kitchen scissors to cut tiny, thin, strips.  Each strip made 3 squares.  I put these purple square windows on both sides of the ship.  The cut sides will make them stick.
  4. 1/4 inch slices of the filled Twizzlers made the engine.  I fit two Twizzler slices side by side.  The filling will allow them to adhere.
  5. One coated sunflower seed will fit into each Twizzler engine to look like flames.
  6. When you are satisfied with your spaceship, place on the left hand side of the cupcake to make it look like it is traveling forward.
  7. Make one ship for each cupcake.



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.

Advice from Stephen King that Writers Can Live Without

By , August 1, 2011 12:00 am


It is a well known fact at The Exception to the Rule that I long ago named Stephen King as my literary idol.  I love him so much in fact, that when I was a teenager, I pooh-poohed reading The Poisonwood Bible because I had just picked up a copy of Cujo.  How I could resist the allure of Oprah’s Book Club sticker is beyond me!  (And yes, that is about as rebellious as I was in high school.)


It was also during my high school years that King wrote On Writing.  My Christmas list that year included On Writing, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Bonne Bell lip gloss, and the Backstreet Boys “Black & Blue” album.  My dad dutifully typed the list into his Palm Vx for safe keeping, and I received everything I wanted.


"Indie Angst" by MMRule


Naturally on Christmas Day, with Bonne Bell on my lips and the Backstreet Boys flowing out of my Discman, I sat down and started reading On Writing by tree light.  I was going to be an author, goshdarnit, and Stephen King was going to tell me how.


Now that over a decade has passed since that Christmas, I have a novel+ under my belt and am getting my feet wet in the querying kiddie pool.  I have also realized that I am not Stephen King, and not everything he told me is going to work.


2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%


King didn’t come up with this equation by himself.  It is advice that an editor wrote on the bottom of a rejection slip during his early days, and it in part helped his writing evolve to legendary status.  But as of today that advice has not helped me, and it likely will also not help you.




Super star blogger Nathan Bransford mentions in this post on word count that many aspiring novelists produce staggering drafts that pass 100,000 words and keep going.  I, on the other hand, am not alone in completing a draft at 70,000+, fearing that I didn’t write everything I should have.


Subtracting 10% of your draft isn’t going to help your work in progress if you struggle with these length issues, or if you have an appropriate amount of words but wrote 50% action and 50% boring backstory that no one but you cares to read.  I suggest a different approach to the equation.


2nd draft =

1st draft – Everything that isn’t Important + Everything Important You Forgot to Include

(Repeat until your draft is an appropriate word count for a debut novel in your genre.)


Is this formula too vague for you?  It should be vague!  King’s advice works best for someone who can already tell a damn near perfect story, but who at times includes too much detail.  However, that is not my problem, and it likely isn’t yours.  Part of the work that distinguishes a writer from an author is the ability to self diagnose.  To critically think about a work in progress and keep pushing it until it stands alone.  Being an author means that you write something that has a backbone because you built it from your labor and desire to improve.


Stephen King found the editing method that worked for him, and now it is your turn to tear through your work in progress and find what works for you!  Plug those plot holes, evolve your characters, and have the courage to write your own equation for success.


Help get the conversation started at The Exception to the Rule by posting your equation for the perfect 2nd draft as a comment for this article.  Happy writing!


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