Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Three Ingredient Preserves

I celebrate small culinary victories as if they were major battles.  Learning to make preserves and jam without the addition of packaged pectin is one of those victories. No longer needing to stock up on boxes of pectin before making jam somehow seems freeing to me. I also appreciate that with three ingredient jams,  I can easily adapt my recipe to the amount of fruit I have available.  However, smaller batches of preserves will cook down and set better, so it's important not to get too carried away with making larger batches.  I have found that batches using 8 cups of fruit or less are ideal.

For the record, I use the terms jam and preserves interchangeably.  The crushed fruit in jam leaves a slightly smoother consistency to the spread, whereas bite sizes pieces of fruit can be found throughout a jar of preserves.  Otherwise, they are the same.  (Jelly is made with fruit juice.)  

The three ingredients used in preserves are fruit, sugar and lemon juice.  

I slice my fruit into small pieces because I usually prefer my spreads to have the suspended fruit associated with preserves.  Otherwise, when making a spread with the consistency of jam, I will crush the fruit using an old fashioned potato masher. 

Either a 4:4 or a 4:3 ratio of fruit to sugar should be used when making these fruit spreads.  Anything less than 4:3 may not set properly.  Unless I an exceptionally sour major ingredient such as rhubarb, I stick to the 4:3 ratio so that more of the fruit taste shines through in the final product.  

The lemon juices raises the acidity of the fruit which in turn helps it to set.  It is possible to make spreads without the lemon juice if the fruit is highly acidic, but I usually add the lemon regardless.  It's tempting to use fresh lemon that hasn't been adulterated with preservatives, and while it's possible to do so, it's recommended to use bottled lemon juice with a consistent acidity content.  (Fresh lemons may vary in their acidity.)  It's usually recommended to add one tablespoon of lemon juice per pound of fruit.  I don't usually weigh my fruit to determine how much lemon juice is needed.  Rather, I generally add one tablespoon of lemon juice for every four cups of fruit.  

All three ingredients (fruit, sugar and lemon juice) are cooked in a pot or pan with a thick bottom to evenly distribute the heat and keep it from scorching.  It's also important to use a large enough pot that the mixture will not bubble over the sides.  Larger pots will also allow the liquid to cook down quicker.  I cook over medium high and it's important to stir frequently.  

This process does require a bit more time than when using boxed pectin.  It typically takes about 20-30 minutes for my jam to reach the set stage.  Knowing when the jam is at the set stage and ready to pour into jars is the most difficult part.  If you cook the jam too long, it will become hard like candy and impossible to spread.  Undercooked jam will be more like syrup.  There's really no remedy for overcooked jam but undercooked jam can be put back on the stove and cooked again.  

To test your jam to see if it is at the set stage, put a small bit on a spoon and place it in the freezer for several minute to cool it.  When cooled, the jam should stay put, even when the spoon is turned side ways.  

Skim off and discard the foam that forms on the top of the pot of jam.

With this basic recipe of 4 parts fruit, 3 parts sugar and 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice and a little time at the stove, its fairly simple to make jam and preserves which can then be jarred and frozen or processed in a hot water bath canner.  

Rhubarb Jam

4 cups rhubarb
4 cups sugar
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice

Cut the rhubarb into bit sized pieces and then add the sugar.  Allow rhubarb and sugar and allow to set until the juice is extracted from the rhubarb.  (You can leave it set for up to 24 hours, which is recommended in some recipes,  but I have found that 1 hour is sufficient.)

Add the lemon juice and cook on the stovetop using medium-high heat until the fruit reaches the gel stage. I like to use my hand blender and puree the fruit once it begins cooking so that I do not have chunks of rhubarb in my final product. 

Tip:  I have found that rhubarb is easier for me to cut up using my kitchen scissors.  I have less "strings" from the rhubarb and a nice, clean cut. 

Strawberry Jam

4 cups strawberries
3 cups sugar
1 Tablespoon of lemon juice

Cook all three ingredients on the stovetop until a gel stage is reached.  I like to slice my strawberries and then use a potato masher to mash about half of them.  This gives me some suspended fruit in the final product while rendering the jam still spreadable on toast or biscuits.

Skim off the foam that accumulates on the top of the jelly.  Ladle into jars and process or freeze. 

Thursday, April 25, 2024

From Manuscript to Marketing: The Path to Publication


Presented by Tammy Cupp at Blue Ridge Community College, Weyers Cave, VA. Sponsored by BRCC Cultural Affairs Committee and hosted by BRCC Creative Writing Club. Presented on April 26, 2024

From Manuscript to Marketing:  The Path to Publication


          I have a confession to makeI’ve never published a book. Do I have your attention now? 


How can I share anything of value about THE PATH TO PUBLICATION when I have never published a book?   


Sometimes failure can be as great a teacher as success, and while I have not yet published a book, I have gone through the process of seeking publication.   So let me share my story and what I've learned 


The Story 


For most of my life, I have considered myself a displaced Appalachian.  When I was born, my parents lived in the Appalachian Mountains of North GeorgiaThey moved from there by the time I was six months oldMy dad returned from the army, married my mother, and needed a way to support his growing familyThat opportunity came to him with a job opening on the assembly line at Ford Motor Company in St. Louis, Missouri.   

Though I spent the next 17.5 years in the Midwest, I never believed I was anything but Appalachian.  I always sensed from my parents that we were just passing through.  They kept their southern accents, their deep ties with the mountains, and their close relationships with family still living there.  I grew up listening to their dream of one day returning home.  

 I inherited a restless spirit to be somewhere other than where I was planted.  When I became an adult, I traveled and lived first in Alaska, then in various states out West.  I eventually landed on the East Coast and married Mike Cupp, a third-generation farmer from Verona, Virginia.   

Living here in Augusta County, I was within sight of the Blue Ridge Mountain Range, a distinct part of the AppalachiansI loved it, but my heart still longed for more.   

At almost 50 years of age, I returned to the mountainsMy husband, a bit older than I, semi-retired from farming here in the valleyWe downsized, eventually sold our Augusta County property, and moved to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwest VirginiaI finally felt as if I had come home. 

So, what does all this have to do with publishing a bookI’m glad you’ve asked! 

I’ve always dreamed of writing but mostly did not dedicate myself to more than my journaling, an occasional blog post, or a personal narrative essay on social media. Finally, in my 50’s I entered the Chautauqua Writing Contest and took first place in fiction and second place with a personal narrative essay.  The following year, I won first place with a poetry submission.   During this time, I also attended the Roanoke Regional Writer’s Conference.  The support and guidance received from these two events gave me the confidence to move forward with my dreams and become a published writer.   

As a grandmother with young grandchildren, my first dream was to publish a children's book that would convey my love for Appalachia to them. I meticulously crafted the story I envisioned for them, revising it repeatedly until I found it satisfactory. I imagined the illustrations that would bring the book to life. Following that, I embarked on the search for a publisher.

There were zero responses from some of the publishers. Just a big, fat nothing. Other publishers sent rejection notices. Sometimes the rejections were accompanied by letters explaining why my book was not a good fit for their company or how I could change and improve my story.  

When I was about to despair, three publishers expressed interest in my bookI was ecstatic! 

Let’s stop the story right there on that cliffhanger and we will come back to it later.  

 First, let’s talk about Book Publishing and what I learned.   


Publishing A Book 


When you're prepared to publish a book, there are various types of publishers to consider. These include traditional publishing, self-publishing, hybrid publishing, and digital publishing. Each of these has distinct characteristics and benefits.


Traditional publishers handle the intricacies of transforming your manuscript into a published book. As an author, your primary role is to craft the story, edit and sometimes revise the story, and perhaps engage in book signings and promotional events once the book hits the shelves.  Some examples of traditional publishers include Random House, Harper Collins, McMillan, Hachette, Simon and SchusterThese are known as the big five but many other traditional publishers existMany regard traditional publishing as the gold standard. Publishers choose authors who not only excel in their writing but also fit their marketing strategy, hoping to generate significant returns for their business.

The advantages of traditional publishing seem obvious but let’s break it down. 

First, being published by a traditional publisher offers the author recognized professional status

Second, traditional publishers assume all the financial responsibility for printing and marketing a book and assume all the riskThis comforts the author who doesn’t have to finance the book out of pocketSometimes, authors are even paid a royalty in advance of publication. Additional royalties are paid to the author from book sales.  

As good as all this sounds, there are disadvantages to traditional publishing.  For example, because most traditional publishers don’t accept manuscripts directly, authors must, at their own expense, have agents to represent them. These agents work as mediators between publishers and authors.  Another thing to consider is that the author must sometimes sacrifice design, content, and other aspects of their original work and vision so that they can meet the publisher’s demands. Furthermore, the author typically loses all rights to their work and the work becomes the sole property of the publisher. The author receives only 10-15 percent of the profit made from sales. Unless you are John Grisham, Ann Patchett, Stephen King, Barbara Kingsolver, or some other famous author who sells millions of copies, selling books won't bring you wealth.  Ultimately, with a traditional publisher, the window for marketing your book is finite. It will be promoted for a specific season, after which it may receive less attention and be placed on the back shelf.

 In the next type of publishing, we will explore is self-publishing or what's often snidely referred to as vanity-publishingThis is when the author pays out of pocket for all aspects of printing their work and assumes responsibility for the process.  Some advantages and disadvantages to this type of publishing exist, so let’s look at them.  

The author who self-publishes has complete freedom and control over the book and the publishing details from start to finish.  The author keeps all the profit from the book and the author publishes on their own timeline and schedule.   Some disadvantages to self-publishing would be owning the entire expense of the publication with the knowledge that money may never be recouped.  Self-published authors must market and sell their books without the publisher's backing.  Self-published authors are often considered sub-standard by peers, media, and bookstores.  This adds to the difficulties of book promotion.  Often, bookstores and media will not acknowledge or work with independent authors. However, I want to interject that Indie Authors, as these brave, independent, resourceful individuals are called, are gaining momentum and respect in today’s climate.  Independent bookstores are increasingly popular and are typically happy to support independent authors.

The next type of publisher we want to discuss is the Hybrid Publisher.

Hybrid Publishing is intended to be a blend of traditional and non-traditional publishing.  I was informed, however, by an author making a living as a romance novelist for a major publisher that a hybrid publisher is nothing more than a vanity publisher.

In my opinion, there is a notable difference. A Hybrid Publishing Company will help in areas where the self-published author is otherwise on their own.   For example, hybrid publishers often help with artwork, cover design, editing, marketing, and limited promotion.   In theory, the hybrid publisher and the author will split the cost of producing a book and the profits from the book.  The split is usually not fifty-fifty, with the publisher receiving a greater percentage.  This publishing method can incur significant upfront costs, and there's no assurance that an author will recover their investment. It's worth noting that while the publisher may profit from the publication of your book, you might not.

For some, especially if you don’t mind the eBook format, Online Self-Publishing Sites can solve an author’s publishing needs. To understand what online self-publishing means, the following is a direct quote from the Barnes and Noble Self-Publishing website. 


Welcome to Barnes & Noble Press—a free, fast, and easy-to-use self-publishing service that enables you to publish and sell print or eBooks directly to our millions of readers. Whether you’re a seasoned or first-time author, or you simply want to print a beautiful book for personal use, Barnes & Noble Press helps you create your book, your way. We’re here to help independent authors and content creators succeed by using the expertise and resources of Barnes & Noble 


Other well-known self-publishing websites include Amazon/Kindle,  

Lulu, and iBooks (Apple) 


Back to the Story 


So, let’s set this technical stuff aside and get back to my story about the book that was almost published (which doesn’t sound quite as bad as admitting that I am an unpublished book author).   

As I said, I received three offers to publish my children’s bookHowever, because those offers were from Hybrid Publishers, I decided this wasn't in my best interest financiallyThese publishing companies wanted several thousand dollars upfront to begin publication and even more money to complete it.   

As my unpublished children’s book has lingered on my computer for four years without going to print, I have wrestled with whether to let it die, rework the story and send it again to traditional publishers, or self-publish the book.  More and more, despite the stigma sometimes associated with self-publishing, I am leaning in that direction. Having control over every aspect of my book from start to finish, including financial decisions, appeals to me.    To produce a quality product, I would hire an artist for professional illustrations and an editor to catch any mistakes I might have made.   I already have a marketing plan in mind as well. I am not looking to make millions on my children’s book, but I hope that I can at least make a small impact and cover my publishing expensesAuthors who publish independently can be just as successful or even more so than authors who publish with a traditional publishing companySome of that depends upon the author’s definition of success.  

While I was busy seeking publication of my children’s book, I sought work as a freelance writer. After all, freelance work can help to pay the bills. In a conversation with a successful, traditionally published author, I was advised that I would make far more money at freelance writing than I ever would from book sales.  

 At first, I had the desire but needed to figure out how to land the jobsI did have little instruction from one of the classes I attended at the Roanoke Regional Writer’s Conference and I knew that to secure a contract, I had to learn how to query editors(Very few magazines accept articles that have already been written because they simply do not have the time to sit and read hundreds of potential articles that arrive in their email.)   I read about querying and pitching ideas to editors and had a two-minute conversation with my baby sister about the topic(She happens to be a freelance editor and writer.)   

Let’s explore freelance writing in more detail and I will share some of the things I have learned.  


Freelance Publishing 


Opportunities in Freelance writing include but are not limited to blogging and social media content, search engine optimization content, journalism, feature writing, and ghostwriting. 

 Blogging, social media sales, and marketing are a big part of advertising for many organizations. Freelance writers with a knack for this type of work offer voice and personality to a business and help potential clients feel more at home.  

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) content writing means that articles are written to attract potential customers to a company website. The writing includes keywords and phrases used by search engines to optimize traffic flow to the site.

Journalism consists of writing newsworthy articles about noteworthy events, personalities, and places. These articles are used in newspapers, magazines, and online.  

Feature writing can be technical or not depending on what type of magazine or publication the author wishes to solicit.   A writer may wish to send a personal narrative essay to The New York Times or The Saturday Evening Post.  On the other hand, a technical piece might be sent to Aviation Maintenance Magazine.  In my case, I wrote an instructional piece for Grit Magazine on how to make aged cheese These are all examples of feature writing and can appear in printed or digital format. 


Ghostwriting is seriously a bummer. Just like the name implies, the author isn’t recognized. The ghostwriter creates the story and the client receives the credit. An example might be a busy real estate agent who doesn’t have time to contribute to their quarterly magazine, so she pays a freelancer to write for her.  The article would appear under the real estate agent’s name.  The benefit of ghostwriting is that in exchange for the author’s anonymity, the job typically pays well.  


So how does one go about getting a freelance assignment? 


The best way to break into the freelance writing market is by finding your niche.

Perhaps, you are good at making crafts and instructional writing. Or maybe you have a knack for interior decorating and can write confidently about it.  You might have many years of technical experience as a mechanic or perhaps you are a gamer who can offer instructional content to a gaming magazine.

Consider the hobbies, skills, experiences, and education that might make you an expert in a particular field.  This doesn’t mean you have to know everything about that subject.  It just means that you can add something personal to the information and keep it from becoming stale.  Editors typically want people with personal experience to write for them because it brings the piece to life.   


Once you’ve thought about it and have some great ideas for freelance articles, it’s time to strategizeYou can have all the great ideas in the world, but if you don’t strategically plan to market those ideas, your brilliance is lost to everyone but you.  

Here's an example of how I plan and strategize: An idea pops into my head, and I explore it for a while, asking myself various questions.

“What magazine would be most interested in this topic?”  “How many words would it take to cover this subject?”  Can I give good, personalized examples to support this story?”  “Do I understand the subject matter or am I capable of researching and understanding it better before I write the piece?”  Is there an audience for this submission or how can I rethink and reword my idea to make it more applicable?  Is the timing of this story in my best interest or would it be better to wait a while?   

It’s important to have a clear picture of where you want to go with your articleYou also must have concrete data to support itEditors want facts and they want them presented in such a way that they are interesting to the reader.  

Now that you have a great idea and a plan for sharing it, you need to get an editor on boardYou do this by querying or pitching an article for submissionWe will spend more time on this in a few minutesWhether you are querying to find an agent to help you get a book deal with a traditional publisher or looking to get a contract for a freelance submission to a magazine, the process is very important This is a good place to mention that very few magazines accept written articles for considerationSome do and I write for one of them regularlyHowever, most require a "pitch", or an idea for a storyMagazine editors can't sit and read hundreds (sometimes thousands) of submissions


Not all submissions by a writer are accepted for publication, and rejection is an integral part of the writing process. Writers must condition themselves to view rejection not just as a temporary setback but also as an opportunity for growth and improvement.


When dealing with rejection of an idea or submission, a few questions to ask might be “How can I improve my writing?”  “Can I say the same thing in fewer words?”  “Does my writing sound impersonal?”  “Do I lack passion about the subject?” “Am I targeting the wrong audience?” “Am I targeting the wrong editor?”  “Is this rejection simply the result of bad timing?”   


Sometimes, however, the answer is yesThe editor likes our ideas and believes we are the perfect person to write the feature for their magazineWhat happens then?   


When the writer and the editor have agreed upon a submission (or the idea for an article), they will make up a contract and send it to youMost of the time these contracts give the publisher first rights to the articleThis means you cannot publish or sell that submission to anyone else for one year from the publication dateMost publishers retain the right to republish that piece in various formats (often digitally) indefinitelyA few publishers want exclusive rightsThis is sometimes negotiable but if it’s important to you to be able to republish or sell your article in any format (including on your personal blog) then you need to negotiate for first rightsThe contract will specify the expected length of the article, the amount of money to be paid to the writer, and when the piece is dueContracts can also include specifications on photographs to be submitted by the author (where applicable) and expense allowances (when applicable)All of my contracts come via email and many of them can be signed onlineI do have a few that I send back via postal carrier.   


It can sometimes be as much as six to nine months between the time I sign a contract and the due date when the piece needs to be on the editor's deskBecause I write for multiple magazines, I am usually behind and unable to spend dedicated time on an article until 2-4 weeks before the date it is dueIt’s important to keep notes or an outline of your original ideas because we can forget where we want to go with a piece when that much time has elapsedIf you can do so, writing the piece and sending it in at once will impress the editors and you won’t be stressed about meeting deadlinesIf you find the piece you are writing isn’t lining up with your original idea and the terms of the contract, reach out to the editor at once and explain the situationThings can change as we spend more time researching a particular subjectEditors are typically very helpfulThey can help bring a piece back into perspective or come up with a new plan if things begin to get out of handOf course, you don’t want to abuse this privilege, but when things just won’t work, don’t be afraid to get the editor’s opinion and expertise.   

Once the piece is written, it’s time to editDon’t ever write anything and send it off without editingEdit and then edit again. Then, again, again, and againTrust me, your work will go from “passable” to “outstanding” when you edit until you can’t see straightDon’t just proofread the paper for grammatical and spelling errorsRead it and ask yourself if the piece will make sense to someone who knows nothing about the subject.   Ask yourself if you can reword things to make it easier to understand or to make it more conciseAsk yourself if you have included all the pertinent information or if perhaps, you have included things that have only complicated it.    

The piece may sit on the editor’s desk for a while but when it’s close to time for the magazine to go to print, you may receive in your email a version of your article as it will appear in the magazineThis is sometimes called the Writer’s ProofThe editor will ask you to go over the piece and make sure that their changes have not compromised the information you have submittedOne time an editor didn’t include an instructional photo I thought was important to a story on making aged cheeseWhen I requested its inclusion, she was happy to obligeAnother time, an editor had to include a disclaimer because what I proposed (allowing jars of hot ghee to seal to make them shelf-stable) was considered an unsafe food-handling practiceShe sought my approval to insert that information in the pieceAnother time, instructions I had given about using ketone strips to test cattle sounded contradictory to the sentence that followed itThe editor had not caught this, but it jumped out to me when I read the Writer’s ProofThe editor thanked me for catching that and together we made it make sense. The Writer’s Proof is always fun because you get to see beforehand how the article will appear in print.   

Of course, as writers we feel validated and rewarded to see our words in print and our name on the bylineHowever, the many hours that we spend composing a piece for publication should be properly rewarded monetarilyWriting is hard work, and you have every right to be compensated for the effort you put into being good at your jobIt’s hard, but not impossible, to make a living freelance writingFor most of us, however, it’s a way to supplement our income or make some spending moneyEither way, payday is always welcomed.   


Different publishers send payments by various meansI have one publisher that sends out an old-fashioned, handwritten, personal checkOthers send a professionally printed business check, and one publisher sends my payments by direct deposit into my checking accountYour contract will specify when you will be paidSome pay after the piece is publishedOthers pay 30 days before the piece is published and still others pay at once upon acceptance of a submission.   

The Query 


The query is so important that I have saved it for the end, so that we can discuss it in detail. As mentioned previously, authors who are looking for an agent to present their book to a traditional publisher will need to send a queryFreelance writers presenting ideas to publications for consideration will also need to know how to write a querySo, let’s jump right into the details.   

When sending a query, I always do the following: 


*Get right to the point! 

Don’t waste the editor’s timeThey are busy and don’t have the time to sort through long, boring emails to decipher your intentions.  

*Use your best writing skills 

Your query is a writing sample for someone who is not familiar with your writing skillsDo your best work! 

*Be creative 

Hook your reader (the editor) with the first sentenceDon’t waste time asking how they are doing or wishing them well(Unless you already have a relationship with them and are on friendly terms.) Editors often see the same old pitches over and over againFind a unique angle or a unique way to share your ideas and your story. 

*Summarize your story 

You will want to summarize the entire article in just a few sentences.   

*Briefly introduce yourself 

There’s a reason I didn’t share this first and that’s because it shouldn’t be firstThe first sentences in your query should be about your idea and the story you wish to writeIntroduce yourself subtly by sharing why, out of all the people in the world, you should be the one to share this piece.   

For example, when I sent a query on the topic of making Squeaky Cheese, I briefly explained that I had been making cheese for almost two decades and I had experience teaching others how to do the same.   That was all they needed to know about me at that time and it landed me my first freelance contract.  

*Be confident without being arrogant 

There’s a differenceNothing is a bigger turn-off than arroganceDon’t say “I am better at making cheese and explaining the process than anyone else.”  Instead, you might say, “My twenty years of experience making cheese for our family has given me the ability and the confidence to share with others the things I have learned.  That one sentence tells the editor everything they need to know to give you the job. 

*Watch your Length  

Again, book agents and magazine editors respond best to brevity and straightforward communicationIf you are asking an agent about a book deal, keep your correspondence to one pageIf you are querying a magazine editor about a potential submission, one paragraph is bestTwo if you absolutely must.   

To summarize, agents and editors are busy people who must sort through many emails to find that one gem of a writerGrab their attention with your first sentence and then work to keep them interested. 

Your query is, in fact, a brief sample of your writing skillsSo, take your time and show them what you’ve got! 


Getting Back to the Story 


As I told you at the beginning of this lecture, I tried and failed at publishing my children’s book.  Instead of considering that particular writing failure to be the end of my story, I decided my story was “to be continued”.   I sent out queries to a few magazines to see what response I would receive, and the response was especially favorable from one of them because their content was within my niche or target topics. Grit has been in publication since the late 1800s and while it has changed hands and transformed into a magazine quite different from its original format, it has remained viable and well received by readers. Landing my first contract with them was truly a dream come true for me. After two articles with Grit, the editors reached out to me, said they enjoyed working with me and wanted more articles. I pitched four more ideas to them, all of which were accepted. My association with Grit then opened other doors for me with other magazines within my niche. Self-Reliance publications, after reading my work in Grit, reached out to me and asked that I write for them. They publish two magazines for which my niche writing is a perfect pairing. In addition, I have been able to secure assignments with Hobby Farms Magazine this year as well.  

I share this to make the point that wherever you are in your writing journey, there is room to move forward.

Roadblocks are temporary and the journey is never complete until you choose for it to be.   Hold fast to your dreams of publication and persevere