Archive | May, 2011

What I Did On My Holidays

31 May

So Saturday night I got back from a wonderful holiday (that’s the vacation kind and not a national day off, my American friends) in Madrid and Valencia with Andrea and Eva (of Mousetrapped fame). I’m still gearing up for a proper return to work – and, I have to admit, I haven’t yet even properly unpacked! – so until I do, here’s a quick post about how I spent my ten days away.

1. Ate and drank

Cocktails are pretty much a given anytime Andrea and I meet up, but on this trip we discovered something simply amazing in the bar of the Westin Palace hotel in Madrid: a coronel. If I recall correctly it’s lemon sorbet, champagne and vodka and it tasted like a dream in a glass. On the terrace of the Westin Valencia, where we ended up spending most of time and rightly so, we enjoyed more than a couple agua de Valencias: orange juice, champagne, gin and vodka. It tasted dangerously like fizzy OJ and was perfect for those warm Valencia nights.

As for food, we had the best meal – and the best paella – of our entire trip at Pepe Pica in Valencia, and only paid €12 for it. We only went there because my guide book, Frommer’s Valencia Day-by-Day, recommended it, and we were so impressed I sent a thank you e-mail to the author.

2. Saw me some Bosch

Michael Connelly is my favorite author in the known universe, and if you read him you’ll know that his detective is called Harry Bosch, short for Hieronymous Bosch and after the Dutch painter. In my favorite Bosch novel to date, A Darkness More Than Night (and so, by the process of logic, one of my favorite novels of all time), one of Bosch’s most famous works, The Garden of Earthly Delights plays a role, and so when I found out that a) it hangs in the Prado Museum in Madrid and b) I was going there, I just had to see it.

And buy a print that I spent a small fortune getting framed yesterday. And buy a bookmark. And buy – get this – a cleaning cloth for my glasses printed with a panel of Delights. Jealous? Yeah. I thought you would be. When the print comes back all nicely framed, I’m going to hang it above my desk as a reminder of how great books can be, and as motivation to aspire to that greatness. Thanks, Michael Connelly.

3. Went shopping

How cute is this?! Answer: VERY.

4. Read a good bad crime novel

I made the silly mistake of traveling with just one book – Live Wire by Harlan Coben – due to space constraints, and so had to make a trip to Caso del Libro in Madrid where a little mezzanine of English books offered a pretty good selection. In there I found an interesting-looking crime novel, Think of a Number by John Verdon, which turned out to be the best bad crime novel I’ve ever read.

Let me explain. While the premise was clever, the book was poorly written. It was like Bad Creative Writing Habits 101. This was astounding considering the praise heaped onto its cover in the form of blurbs, but there you go. What was so wrong? Well, the dialogue was completely contrived, never once sounded like something that would be actually said in real life and almost every line of it came with an explanation of what the person speaking was also thinking and/or doing with their face. There was a serious problem with rising tension in that there was none (i.e. two characters are having a perfectly pleasant conversation when, all of a sudden, one of them gets the mads; in real life, rage bubbles and builds) and I gave up counting how many times the various investigating law enforcement officers said something like, “Wow! This case just gets stranger and stranger!” (And yes, exclamation marks were another problem.) And as for “show, don’t tell”… well, right at the start, character A greets character B by saying, “If I didn’t know you were forty-five, I’d say you were thirty-seven!” As Andrea pointed out, it could have been called Captain Obvious Investigates a Crime.

But yet I enjoyed it, and it kept me really entertained. I can’t explain it, especially since I vowed on several occasions that I would throw it in the nearest fountain the next time someone said, “This case is amazing! It just gets stranger and stranger!” But then I also enjoyed Steig Larsson and Dan Brown, who don’t write very well but manage to produce very engaging and entertaining books, and the plot of Think of a Number was pretty good. Verdon’s bad habits are a shame, really, because at times his descriptions and generation of atmosphere were quite impressive. (I think perhaps he needs to read this.) But yet I enjoyed reading it – for the most part – and isn’t that what it’s all about?

5. Visited the City of Arts and Sciences

On my list of places to see for a long time has been Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences, and I was not disappointed. What a truly beautiful and amazing place and – bonus! – I got to see the Hubble IMAX movie in its L’Hemispheric. Oh yeah.

Shame about the dinosaur though.

A two-hour wait on the tarmac (thanks, Aer Lingus!) and a four-hour bus ride back to Cork (thanks, Air Coach!) brought me back to earth with a bang, and now I’m staring at my lovely collection of Spanish Starbucks mugs to get me through the post-vacation blues. While I was away, WordPress changed everything here behind the scenes (ooh, fancy!), CreateSpace sent me a most interesting e-mail (that is either the best idea ever or the very worst; I haven’t decided yet) and a pile of lovely books (and an Apollo 11 mission patch!) arrived in the post. But as I still haven’t unpacked or even got round to answering my e-mails, it might be a few days before I’m back up and running here. I’m just taking my cue from the laid-back Valencians, and easing myself gently back in to working life…

So give me a week to get back up to speed.

At least.

Out of the Office

18 May

I am away under sunnier skies for the next 10 days and I have decided to truly make this a holiday and so will be completely unplugged for the duration, and (hopefully) drinking more than a few of these:

If you need a quick dose of my caffeine-infused ramblings while I’m gone, here are ten of my most popular posts that you may have missed:

You might also feel inclined to pop over to my blog on Writing.ie, where for eight weeks starting June 1st I’m going to be doing a “Self-Printed Summer” where through posts, technical instructions, videos, etc. I’m going to help you self-publish your book, step-by-step. So if you’re considering self-publishing, maybe make this summer the time you do it and then I can help you to.

Finally, you have until May 31st to take advantage of my cover designer’s amazing offer: a paperback AND e-book cover deal for just €89! (Or £79 or $129.) Find out more about it here.

Catch you on the flipside,

Catherine

P.S. If you could tell everyone you know about Self-Printed while I’m gone, that’d be great. Here’s that handy “How you can help” chart again, just in case:

What I Thought Of… FAR TO GO by Alison Pick

17 May

Alison Pick, author of Far To Go, was our wonderful guest poster here on Catherine, Caffeinated earlier today. She is also the reason why I woke up this morning looking like a hay-fever sufferer who had spent the night nose-down in freshly cut grass; I was up until two o’clock this morning, finishing Far To Go and crying my eyes out. This book just broke my heart open.

“Czechoslovakia, 1939. Pavel and Anneliese Bauer, much like any other affluent Czech family, dote on their six-year-old son, Pepik, and enjoy a life of domestic comfort. Their nanny, Marta, could not adore Pepik more. But as rumors of the Nazi threat, and then German troops, reach their corner of the Sudetenland, this charmed existence is turned on its head: for all that the Bauer barely consider themselves Jewish, their lives are now in danger. Far to Go plunges us into the hearts of a family fleeing for their lives, and offered a desperate chance to save their child. Few novels have dealt with the story of the Kindertransport, and none with insight into it complex legacy of hope, secrecy and loss. A story about love, the painful choices it demands of us, and the way it endures, Far to Go is at once haunting and impossible to put down.”

This really is an astounding book and I found myself deeply affected by it. Jumping between 1939 and an initially unidentified, mysterious narrator in modern day, it tells the story of one family’s struggle to make the right decision in a time when the consequences of any action were utterly unknown, and there was only a deep sense of foreboding to rely upon. It is also, I think, about memory, and the delicate jig-saw pieces that we use to make it up. After a slow burn, its climax sneaks up on you, a sudden blow from the side, and it is utterly devastating – but not at all for the reasons you might think.

I think when we look at what happened during the Holocaust, the sheer numbers, the horrific facts, prevent us from taking it all in. It’s too big a heartache. It’s only when we experience it through the eyes of a single family do we really understand the pain, the injustice, the senselessness and the horror. Far To Go doesn’t take us to the camps and only hints at what we know is coming (the Bauers, of course, have no way of knowing, and the rumors seem too outlandish to them to be true), and it doesn’t need to. The victims it describes, the children who left their families, their foundations and their childhoods behind to board Kindertransport trains and start new lives in foreign countries with strangers who spoke a language they couldn’t understand – they are the “lucky” ones. Surely that is the most horrific fact of all.

A masterful storyteller, language used simply but beautifully, a sensitive but illuminating touch on history, characters who are still with me now, emotional impact (to say the least!) and a shocking twist: Far to Go has it all. I’m still thinking about this book, and will be for a long time.

Devastating, and devastatingly brilliant. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Thanks to Headline for my copy. Click here to purchase Far To Go from Amazon.co.uk

Click here to read all my book reviews.

Special Guest Star: Alison Pick, Author of FAR TO GO

17 May

We have something very special here today: a guest post from Alison Pick, author of Far To Go which Love in the Present Tense author (and sharer of two of my three names!) Catherine Ryan Hyde calls, “Somewhere between a book and a miracle.” Here she shares her thoughts with us on how to get our novels published.

“I was the lucky writer nobody likes to hear about. I wrote a manuscript, it won an award. The award got me published. Point finale.

Looking back, I know how lucky I was. In fact, the farther I go in my literary career the more grateful I am for that first award. It wasn’t very big. There was almost no money involved. And yet it got my foot in the most marvelous door. I’ve been in the room ever since.

From this vantage point it’s easy to give advice, as though there’s a step-by-step guide to getting published, when in fact I know some excellent writers who have never seen their work in print, and some mediocre ones who have. The truth is that, along with hard work and talent, there’s always a bit of magic in the equation.

Still, though, I have always been eager to hear other writer’s thoughts on this subject, and in case anyone else feels similarly, here are mine.

The first might sound obvious, but wait until your manuscript is as absolutely perfect as you can make it before you send it out. Show a rough draft to your writing group, sure, or your mother-in-law or your best friend’s cousin, but do not send it to an agent in hopes that she will see the promise in it. She won’t. She’s too busy. And so are the publishers. It is your job as the writer to protect your book—think of it as a baby if it helps—from the world. You have to nurture it before you send it off, and make sure it is rock solid. Compelling. Unforgettable.

And how, you might ask, do you get your manuscript into this state?

This is the fun part.

Start at the beginning, and read. A lot. Every genre, all writers, as widely as possible. At the same time, write. Diaries, book reviews, love letters, short stories. This often comes as a surprise to emerging writers, who want (like I did) to be good right away. But only by practicing one’s craft does one get better.

Once you have written something you love, find someone you trust and show them your work. Let me underscore the importance of finding the right person here. Emerging writers—well, let’s be honest, all writers—are vulnerable, and even the slightest bit of misguided criticism can have dire consequences. Only when you’re sure this person has your best interests at heart should you let them read your draft. Before you do, tell them what kind of feedback you are after. Ask them for tangible ways to improve.

The next step is to go back and edit according to their suggestions, and to your own intuitions.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Oh, and one more thing. Turn off Facebook! And Twitter. And your email too, if you can muster the courage. The internet is a wonderful way to engage with a community of other writers, but the real work of writing has to happen alone.”

Thank you so much for stopping by here on your blog tour, Alison!

If you’d like to visit some of the other stops on Alison’s blog tour, see the sidebar to the right or stop by High Heels and Book Deals, where Alison was yesterday, or She Reads Novels, where she’ll be tomorrow. 

Click here for Alison’s website or here for Far To Go on Facebook

Check back this afternoon for my review of Far To Go.

Controversy Corner: Am I Wrong About The Gatekeepers?

16 May

Yes, I have used the dreaded g-word here on Catherine, Caffeinated. Do not adjust your screens. (And prepare yourself for what is quite possibly the longest post in the history of this blog. I do apologize.)

Now before we go any further, I demand you hop over to JA Konrath’s fantastic blog and read this guest post by UK author Stephen Leather immediately. Go on. I’ll wait.

[Waits]

Two things stopped me in my tracks in this post. The first was Leather’s observation that all self-publishers seem to talk about – or want to talk about – is how to sell more books, and not how to write those books better.

I get emails all the time from “Indie” writers asking me what the secret is to selling a lot of eBooks. I don’t get any asking how they can become better writers.”

The second was this line about UK (and, let’s say for sake of this argument, Irish) agents versus US agents:

Literary agents in the UK are actually quite nice people, but they are a totally different animal in the US … I’ve only met one decent human being working as a literary agent in the States – the rest have been horrible, self-centered, arrogant s—s … They seem to take pleasure in denying writers access to publishers.”

Tip: literary agents do not look like this.

Let’s talk about the first one first: why is it that on all self-publishing blogs, generally-speaking – my own included – all the talk, discussion and advice is about selling books, and not about writing better books or even writing well in the first place?

I think I’m a good writer and people whose job it is to know have told me that I at least demonstrate some talent in this regard. (In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that there may have been chocolate-based bribes involved.) But I believe that my ability to write came from two things: (i) reading constantly since I learned how and (ii) something innate, a natural talent written in my DNA. I don’t believe you can be taught how to write. You can learn to write better, certainly, and practice and experience helps. But there needs to be something there to work with, and not everyone has it. You can’t go from being a terrible writer to a Booker Prize-winning one, in the same way that if you have a decent singing voice you can be trained to use it better, but you can’t take someone whose attempts at tune-carrying sounds like a bag of strangled cats on helium and turn them into Charlotte Church. So that’s Reason #1 why I don’t give writing advice: because I think if you have the ability to write well, chances are you’re already doing it.

And who am I to offer advice? I publish my own books. Other than sales (which, personally, I don’t see as a sufficient qualification – and in the world-wide scheme of things, mine aren’t anything amazing anyway), if I got up on a soapbox and started telling you how to write, I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. You’d think, what does she know? Who is she to tell me how to do this? Who does she think she is? And if our roles were reversed, I’d be the first thinking that too. A published author can stand tall at writing workshops and confidently write articles about character and dialogue because someone we trust has said, This person writes well. They have said, This person is good enough. But as a self-published author, I have no such backing. And the only writing advice that is worthwhile is that which helps you channel your energies away from writing whatever might take your fancy (unless that’s all you want to do, of course) and into writing with an eye on getting published – like Nicola Morgan’s new book, Write to Be Published, for example. But I can’t tell you how to write to get published because I haven’t been. So that’s Reason #2 why I don’t give writing advice: because I don’t feel qualified to.

Why do I give advice on how to sell books? Is it because I’m obsessed with or only focused on selling them? No, although what good is a book if no one reads it and, as I’ve said before, I treat self-publishing like a business. I have to because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to do it full-time. So unromantic as it may sound, I do need to make money. But that’s not why I blog about how to sell books. First of all, I enjoy sharing my trials and tribulations and I think you enjoy reading about them. It fascinates me; I find the whole subject endlessly interesting. Why does one book sell and another doesn’t? What did I do this month that made my sales dip? How did that guy manage to sell millions? How come this guy has an amazing book that isn’t selling at all? And because I only try to sell my books in ways that could apply to all books, both traditional and self-published (I don’t go on e-book forums or exchange tags with other e-book authors or any of that, for example) this information, theoretically, is useful to everyone, i.e. all writers. For me and my blog, that’s a win-win.

And so it’s not that I don’t value writing, or think that the only thing that matters is learning how to sell, sell, sell. I love books more than anything else in the world and I would rather suffer some horrible fate (a bad perm, for example) than put a book out into the world that adds to the ever-growing pile of stinky poo the vast majority of self-publishing authors are churning out every minute of every day. But I don’t think there’s any point in me talking about writing because I think you either know how to or you don’t, and because I don’t feel qualified to anyway.

Now onto the g-word. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you’ll know that my least favorite word in the publishing/books/writing sphere is – ugh – gatekeepers, because it makes agents and editors, human beings like you and me, sound like evil, horned demons, and that I think that the easiest way to make sure you are not self-publishing poo is to try and get traditionally published first, and then only self-publish if you are getting full manuscript requests, at least. (And if you’re not a regular reader, you know that now.) But do I think this because I live in Ireland and thus have only dealt with Irish and UK agents and publishers, who seem to be really nice people who love good books and always respond?

I have met some bitter bunnies in my time as a self-publisher, let me tell you. I’ve even written about some of them in Self-Printed (PLUG ALERT: out today!) and on this blog. These are the unpublished writers who are so angry about the treatment they perceive themselves to have received at the hands of agents, editors and other publishing professionals that they are gleefully sticking pins into voodoo dolls which look not entirely unlike them in the dead of night, constantly saying, “But they didn’t even give my novel a chance!” with a crazed look in their eyes and exclusively reading self-published e-books as a one-man stand against Big, Bad Publishing.

I never understood these people because I believed that if your book was good, it would get published eventually. And if it didn’t get published, was that really reason enough to feverishly hate someone whose job it was to weed out the great from the sucky? Hardly. But maybe I just thought this because on this side of pond, people are nicer.

Let’s take my novel for example, which has been around, completed, since February 2010. It’s been shopped to both UK/IRL editors and US agents.

Let’s compare the experience, shall we?

US Experience

I write a query letter for the novel following all the “rules.” The novel is set in the US so I figure I should test the waters of the wonderful United States first. I draw up an initial list of favored US agents: three who accept e-mail queries and two who require the synopsis and first 50 pages to be sent by mail. The responses:

  1. Agent #1 at New York office of major US-UK agency responds by e-mail (to e-mail) within 24 hours, saying she appreciates my sense of humor and clever concept, but doesn’t think she’s the right fit for me or my work. (She’s absolutely lovely to me but her first name is Catherine so I wonder if that’s why!!!)
  2. Agent #2 at NY agency responds by e-mail (to e-mail) within 24 hours saying thanks but no thanks.
  3. No response to e-mail sent to Agent #3.
  4. No response to synopsis/chapters mailed to Agent #4.
  5. No response to synopsis/chapters mailed to Agent #5.

UK/IRL Experience

Same novel gets sent to:

  1. Irish office of major publishing house. Editor #1 reads entire novel, gives extensive feedback by phone and e-mail. Response time: a fortnight. Says lots of lovely things about me as a writer, but feels book isn’t suitable for market here. Wants to see something else. Arranges meeting where she and I talk about what this something else might be. Says she’d like to see this something else when it’s done. We keep in touch.
  2. Irish office of another major publishing house. Editor #2 reads entire novel, gives feedback by e-mail. Response time: less than 3 weeks. Loves my writing, voice, etc. but doesn’t love the book “enough.” Unsure about its subject matter but says she’d be happy to see something else from me that isn’t about same thing as she feels that is the only real problem.
  3. Irish office of another major publishing house. Editor #3 reads entire novel, give feedback by e-mail. Response time: less than a month. Loves my voice and humor, unsure whether novel is suitable for Irish/UK market but would like to see something “more mainstream.”
  4. As above for major UK publishing house and editor #4.
  5. Same for medium-large UK publishing house and editor #5.

And then there was my experience with trying to get Mousetrapped traditionally published, a year before that again and before I decided to do it myself. I started this when I had just a proposal and 2/3 sample chapters, which would be the norm for a non-fiction book.

  1. Send out queries to 9 UK/Irish agents. About 4-5, if I remember correctly (this was 2007!), respond with a “thanks but no thanks.” One says, “This sounds interesting. Send me what you have.”
  2. So begins a year of back and forth with this agent, who works at a well-respected London literary agency. When she finally reads the finished book a year later, she has to say no, but she sends me a lovely e-mail saying how much she liked the book and my writing, and says she’d like to see something else in the future, especially fiction if I’d ever consider writing it. (I’m still in contact with this agent, as a friend, through e-mail and Twitter today.)
  3. I decide to try Irish publishing houses instead. Editor #1 requests the full manuscript after reading the proposal & sample chapters and then e-mails me to say he liked the book and my writing, but that there is no market for a book like it. So: no.
  4. Same happens with Editor #2.
  5. Same happens with Editor #3, except she calls me on the phone and offers some additional feedback on how I could improve the book (which I listened to before I self-published it).
  6. Editor #4 says “this isn’t for us” based on proposal and sample chapters.
  7. Same with Editor #5.

(And they were all right about Mousetrapped. It took self-publishing it – publishing it without any financial risk and selling it to a global readership as opposed to just Irish/UK readers – to sell copies. And the fact that I have a novel, polished and ready-to-go, sitting on my computer for over a year now should tell you how slow I am to self-publish work, how I don’t take the decision to release it lightly.)

So for reasons that should now be clear, I have nothing but a case of the warm and fuzzies for every publishing professional I’ve encountered in my part of the world. Excluding the initial queries I sent to agents about Mousetrapped, every single agent or editor I’ve sent material to has responded to me. Every single Ireland or UK-based editor who has received a sample of my novel has taken the time to read the entire thing, and then more time to give me feedback about it. But the same can’t be said for my (very limited, admittedly) adventures in querying US agents, who I don’t think I’ll be sending Christmas cards to this year.

But in defense of US agents, can you imagine how many queries, manuscripts, etc. they get? A few months back I got a sneak peek inside the offices of an Irish publishing house, and it seemed to me that the piles of manuscripts were taking up more space than the furniture. The population of Irish is 4.5 million. The population of the United States is 309 million. No wonder they use the query system (as in, sending just a brief letter about your book instead of our standard practice of synopsis plus three chapters) – if they didn’t, they might be buried under there. So I can totally understand why they don’t have the time for the personalized rejections or even encouraging feedback we might get from our agents and editors over here. (But that still isn’t a good enough reason for voodoo dolls, people.)

And there are some wonderful US agents. One of them has written my favorite book on being a writer ever in the history of the world, Betsy Lerner (the book is The Forest for the Trees) and one of them writes one of my favorite writing blogs, Nathan Bransford. (Although in recent months he left the agenting world.) There’s the likes of US Agent No.1 above. And then there’s the US agent a writer friend of mine has, who would go to the ends of the earth for her, and has. So it’s not these individuals who are the problem – they are just operating within a system which seems to be the only feasible way to deal with the never-ending influx of unsolicited work. Aren’t they?

Konrath says that nowadays, readers are the gatekeepers. They vote for the good stuff by spending their dollars on it and weed out the bad by not. But while this is fine for Konrath – who writes great books – I don’t think it’s a creed all self-publishers should live by. When you put a book out there with a price-tag on it, you are selling a product, and that product has to deliver on its promise (i.e. be good) in exchange for the money customers hand over for it. Even if it’s just 99c, that’s still money. You can’t use readers as a test audience unless you are giving your book away for free, and you explain to them that that’s what you’re doing.

Anyways this blog post has gone on for way way WAY too long – I really should’ve broken it down in two parts but I’m off on holidays at the end of this week and so don’t have the time – so let me stop myself here and ask you what you think.

How would you feel about a self-published author telling you how to write? Do Irish and UK authors have an easier time with agents and editors? If so, what alternate method can US-based self-publishers use to gauge whether or not their book is good other than putting it out there and seeing if it sells? And where are people getting these voodoo dolls? Are they making them themselves, do you think? Feel free to weigh in below.

(And apologies again for the length of this post!)

My whopper of a book that was originally supposed to be a little pamphlet, Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing, is out today. (Fancy that!) Its e-book costs about the same as a tall latte at Starbucks (i.e. it costs $2.99) and by buying a copy you help keep me in coffee which, trust me, is a selfless and necessary act indeed.

Find out more about it and where you can buy it from here.

Find out more about Mousetrapped here.

SELF-PRINTED is Out Today! (And Some Other Stuff)

16 May

Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing is out today!

(Rest assured, that’s the one and only exclamation mark in today’s post, excluding the title. It’s safe to read on.)

It’s $15.95 (£9.80 or €11.20) in paperback and just $2.99 (£1.84 or €2.09) in e-book which, like, hello? Is a total bargain, if I do say so myself, especially considering its twice the length of Mousetrapped and I didn’t even get to go to Florida to do the research. And that [clears throat loudly] none other than bestselling author David Hewson thinks it looks worth a read.

(It is worth a read. But then I would say that, wouldn’t I?)

You can download the e-book edition from:

You can purchase the paperback edition from Amazon.com. If you live in Ireland or the UK, expect to spend around £13 or €15 – including the cost of the book, thankfully! – to have that book sent from them to you by standard shipping.

Self-Printed has eight sections:

  1. Why Self-Printing? (An injection of sense)
  2. Preparation (Cover design, preparing your manuscript)
  3. Building an Online Platform (Blogging, Twitter, Facebook)
  4. Publishing Your Paperback (with CreateSpace)
  5. Publishing Your E-book (with Amazon KDP and Smashwords)
  6. Selling Your Book (Using Amazon Author Central, your listing, etc.)
  7. Launching Your Book (Introducing your book to your platform)
  8. Everything Else (Um… everything else.)

You can read the full table of contents here and if you’re still not sure, you can take the not at all accurate Is This Book For You?” Self-Printed quiz over on SelfPrintedBook.com. You’ll also find an excerpt from its introduction on its Amazon listing under “From the Author.”

How You Can Help

I’m feeling a bit nauseous because while I truly believe Self-Printed is a good book, I just don’t know whether or not it’s going to sell. (And because, quite possibly, I had a cup too much coffee for breakfast this morning.) But hopefully it’ll do well. If you want to help there’s plenty you can do, even if it doesn’t include buying a copy. (Although if you do buy and read it, please consider writing an Amazon review. They are hugely helpful.) As luck would have it, I have prepared this handy graph for just that situation:

On the Subject of Release Days

Some people have been taking this all way too seriously and asking, “How can today be the release day? Self-published books don’t have release days! And hasn’t your e-book been on the Kindle store for ages? Amazon says your paperback was published a week ago…” etc. etc. To these people I would say – first of all – chillax, and, second of all, you have to have a release day, even if it’s just an arbitrary date you decided on yourself.

You need something to build your promotional efforts towards and even before we get there, we need a deadline for all our work. So many self-publishers set off doing this without a deadline or a release date (or even release month) and while it mightn’t matter that much if you’ve already published a few of them, if it’s your first it is absolutely vital.

I treat self-publishing like a business; I see myself as an entrepreneur and my book as my product. Everything I do, from the layout of my website to the copyright notice in my book, has to look professional. It has to send a message to potential readers, subliminally or otherwise, that says My book is worth your time and money. And so if I say things like, “My e-book will be out… just as soon as I get around to finishing it!” or “I’m aiming for March… but knowing me, it could be July!!” or “You can buy the paperback now… but I don’t know how long it’ll be before you can buy the e-edition – I’ll let you know!” that’s not going to send that message, now is it?

But On Amazon, This is a Tricky Business

Unlike an author with a traditionally published book, you can’t get your book up on Amazon and hit a magic button that only makes it available starting the day of its official release. (And don’t even mention pre-ordering. Every time a self-publishing author wonders aloud about how to get their book available for pre-order on Amazon, a fairy dies. Fact.) Your book will appear on Amazon.com anytime between 5 and 14 days after you click the “Approve Proof” button, and your Kindle edition 48-72 hours after you publish your e-book. But then you need to link the editions (i.e. e-mail Amazon and ask them to link your paperback listing to your Kindle listing), sign up for Amazon Author Central and add all sorts of lovely stuff to your listing, such as editorial reviews, a “From the Author” message and an extended product description.

This is why my Kindle edition has actually been available on Amazon since the 16th of April, and why my paperback has been on there for well over a week. But I’m only telling you about them today, because I’ve been quietly waiting for them to appear, getting them linked and adding elements to the listing through Author Central. As luck would have it, I talk more about this very subject in Self-Printed. (See what I did there?)

And While We’re on the Subject of Amazon

I’ve signed up for CreateSpace’s expanded distribution “ProPlan” ($39 per title and then $5 a year after that) but Self-Printed has yet to become available on any retailers other than Amazon.com. And I DON’T CARE. If they do become available to buy, great. Fantastic, even. But I’m not going to get my knickers in a twist over it. That’s one of the mistakes I made with Mousetrapped: I got too caught up with the paperback. The paperback doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, it accounts for a maximum of 10% of all sales. (If I wasn’t such a book nerd I mightn’t even bother doing a paperback, but as it is I have to have one just for myself and for the other people who refuse to read e-books. Plus, I think this book is more helpful in printed form.) So my days of sitting at home and searching for my ISBN every five minutes on a whole range of online bookstores are well and truly over. And please, don’t bother telling me what company I “should” be using. I use CreateSpace. I love them. End of.

Did You Know About This?

I’ve only been using Mail Chimp for a couple of months, and only for sending out the More Mousetrapped stories. But I set up a Self-Printed mailing list for sending readers updates in the long-term and alerting people to its availability in the short term, and was delighted to find that pre-designed template, pictured above, that enables you to link directly to the content on your Amazon listing. How great does it look? Not only great, but professional (which, if you read Self-Printed, you’ll see is my new favorite word). And it’s completely free, and exceedingly easy to use, so consider building a Mail Chimp mailing list and sending out announcements of your upcoming books. They’ll look oh so pretty.

So that’s it. I will now try not to spend the rest of the day checking my KDP sales stats to see if anyone has bought a copy…

Find out more on SelfPrintedBook.com.

Up next: the longest blog I’ve ever written (I think). Warning: it contains the g-word. (Gatekeepers, if you were wondering.) And it might be a tad controversial. Stay tuned.

Focus Group Friday: New MOUSETRAPPED Amazon Listing

13 May

Lovely, intelligent, witty, attractive, (hopefully) susceptible-to-flattery blog readers: I need your help.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve put a lot of effort into preparing the elements that will ultimately make up Self-Printed‘s Amazon listing. Instead of just taking the blurb on its back cover and copying and pasting it into the “description” box, I’ll make the most of what Amazon Author Central offers and also list highlights from the table of contents and put the book’s introduction in as my 4,000 characters “From the Author” message. I’m pleased with it – I think it will be comprehensive, persuasive and absolutely indicative of what the book and the material in it is like.

But my smugness at cracking that particular nut instantly disappeared when I went back to Mousetrapped‘s Amazon listing, which was now looking downright awful by comparison. I’m an avid reader of J.A. Konrath’s blog and he has talked in the past about modifying product descriptions, listings, etc. until he gets them just right. I think this is something self-publishers are prone to ignore; there can be a sense that your product description is locked in stone and as such shouldn’t be changed.

Mousetrapped‘s listing needs to be changed, and not just because it now looks like a puddle of sick. (If and when you read Self-Printed, you’ll know that that’s my new favorite phrase for “crap.”) It’s because its title is – apparently – misleading.

There are a small group of people out there looking for Behind the Scenes at Walt Disney World exposés, the kinds of ones that feature Minnie upchucking into her head behind Cinderella’s Castle after a drinking binge and the like, and they purchase my book – ignoring the subtitle, the blurb, the free sample download, customer reviews, my website, etc. – thinking that it’s one of them. I want to stop these people buying my book, because they’re not getting what they want and I’m getting two-star reviews thanks to their “disappointment.” But that’s only a small problem. A much bigger problem is a kind of converse of that: people who would enjoy a travelogue about a girl attempting to start a new life in a foreign land but don’t want to read Mousetrapped because they think it’s all about Walt Disney World.

So I’m changing it, in the hope that it becomes:

  • more indicative of what the book is about
  • more indicative of what the book is like
  • more persuasive.

Through Amazon Author Central, you get to give your book’s listing the standard product description (up to 4,000 characters), a “From the Author” message (also up to 4,000 characters), a “From the Back Cover” and an “About the Author.” What follows are my new and improved versions of these for Mousetrapped, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on them. Are they better? Are they worse? Do they give away too much? Are they misleading? Are they persuasive? Is the only thing they persuade you to do is to give this book a miss? Is there anything else I could put in? What star sign are you? Please leave your feedback in the comments and I thank you in advance for all your help, although I can’t guarantee that I’ll listen to it. I’m stubborn like that.

Product Description

[Originally I was going to write a new blurb but then I thought, Wait a second. It's worked for 5,000 copies, hasn't it? So I've left this alone and hopefully the new additions will achieve what I want here, as opposed to changing this.]

Three big dreams, two Mouse Ears and one J-1 visa. What could possibly go wrong in the happiest place on earth? 

When Catherine Ryan Howard decides to swap the grey clouds of Ireland for the clear skies of the Sunshine State, she thinks all of her dreams – working in Walt Disney World, living in the United States, seeing a Space Shuttle launch – are about to come true.

Ahead of her she sees weekends at the beach, mornings by the pool and an inexplicably skinnier version of herself skipping around Magic Kingdom. But not long into her first day on Disney soil – and not long after a breakfast of Mickey-shaped pancakes – Catherine’s bubble bursts and soon it seems that among Orlando’s baked highways, monotonous mall clusters and world famous theme parks, pixie dust is hard to find and hair is downright impossible to straighten.

The only memoir about working in Walt Disney World, Space Shuttle launches, the town that Disney built, religious theme parks, Bruce Willis, humidity-challenged hair and the Ebola virus, MOUSETRAPPED: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida is the hilarious story of what happened when one Irish girl went searching for happiness in the happiest place on earth.

TABLE OF CONTENTS 

PART 1: An Irish Girl in a Disney World

The Call of the Mouse | Arrival | Mousetrapped | Apartment Living | Orientation | Stop This Train | Into the Kingdom | Not So Happy Holidays

PART 2: Good Morning, America!

Miles in America | Mission Space | The Town That Disney Built | Adventures in Humidity | Coffee Has Two ‘f’s | Go for Launch | In God We Trust | Farewell

Um, quick question: why did you call this book “MOUSETRAPPED” when you didn’t work directly for  The Walt Disney Company?

The first time this book was referred to as “MOUSETRAPPED” was back in the summer of 2006, before I’d written a word of it or even left for Florida. I was still in Holland, where one of my colleagues – who knew that my biggest dream was to be a published writer – jokingly said, “You can write a book about this – and call it Mousetrapped!” I laughed the idea off at the time, but then when I arrived in Florida and things didn’t go as planned, this conversation came back to me and I thought to myself, Not only is that a great idea – but that’s a great title!

The book is called MOUSETRAPPED, yes, but so is Chapter 3, in which I describe my life just after I arrived but before I started work. (There was a delay while I waited for my Social Security Number.) Because I had no transport, my world was confined to the triangle formed by my apartment, a shopping mall and Downtown Disney. Therefore, I spent most of my time inside Walt Disney World because I’d nowhere else to go. This is what I mean when I say “mousetrapped.”

I didn’t work directly for The Walt Disney Company, but for an international hotel group who own a property in Epcot Resorts. We were referred to as “cast members,” had to use all the same terminology as Disney used (costumes, backstage, etc.) and attended Traditions, Disney’s orientation program, before starting work.We all loved Disney, and many of the staff had once worked in the parks. What I’m getting at is that we didn’t see ourselves as any different from “real” cast members. We always said, “I work in Walt Disney World” – and we did.

So if you’re looking for one of those Disney exposé books that tell you about the time Minnie was caught behind Cinderella’s Castle upchucking into her head, no, this book isn’t it. But if you’re looking for a book about a girl who got to live in Orlando by way of a job in a Walt Disney hotel and who, inspired by Wishes, tried to make all her dreams come true while she was there, then MOUSETRAPPED might well be it.

From the Author

(This piece originally appeared on InthePowerRoom.com on April 20th, 2011

PIXIE DUST AND GETTING WHERE YOU NEED TO BE: The Story of Mousetrapped

In 2006, I moved from my home in Cork, Ireland to Orlando, Florida, to take up a job in a Walt Disney World hotel. I was 24 at the time.

I’d always felt the pull of the American planet (a phrase, I must admit, I robbed from Christopher Hitchens) and was sure that whatever happened, my life would never be the same. Secretly, I planned on marrying a NASA astronaut and never coming back.

My first day of my Floridian life started with the news that I couldn’t work until I got a Social Security Number, and I couldn’t get one of those until the red tape around my visa had been untied by immigration bureaucrats. I didn’t have a car and so found myself trapped in a mile-long triangle formed by my apartment, a grocery store and the gates to Walt Disney World. As for housing, I needed someplace within walking distance of work which left me with two options: take a room in the one apartment that fit the bill or take shelter beneath a freeway overpass. Already living in the apartment were three young girls from Kazakhstan who couldn’t speak English, and hiding there, seven of their closest friends. They were all in the US illegally. And, perhaps more pressingly, they never locked the front door.

I’d assumed I’d be spending my Floridian days skipping merrily through the Magic Kingdom drinking liquid pixie dust through a Mickey Mouse-shaped novelty straw; in reality I was trudging alongside the smoggy highway, sipping on lukewarm Coke in a Big Gulp cup.

Things got better – eventually. But I returned home in 2008, unchanged. (Well, a little bit tan, a disciple of Starbucks and with a serious avocado addiction, but otherwise unchanged.) I even had to move back in with my parents. For shame!

The first thing I did was finish writing my book about the experience, Mousetrapped. Then I spent more than a year trying to get someone – anyone – to publish it. One day I heard a loud crack coming from my chest cavity as I opened the post; the latest rejection letter had broken open my heart. (Too dramatic? Perhaps a tad.) The consensus was that although they enjoyed reading it, no publisher believed there was a market for it. So I decided to take the plunge and self-publish Mousetrapped instead.

This past weekend, I sold copy number 4,000. In the last twelve months, I’ve gone from Girl Who Sits At Desk in PJs to Professional Writer Who Sits At Desk in PJs and Earns Money From Doing So. In between, there’s been newspaper articles, a magazine interview, radio shows and speaking engagements. And everything I’ve done with this self-publishing malarkey has improved my chances of realizing my biggest dream, next to being serenaded by Josh Groban: getting my novel published.

I may never have married that astronaut, but going to Florida did change my life. As Dirk Gently said in Douglas Adams’ The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”

— Catherine Ryan Howard, April 2011

About the Author

Writer, astronaut, skinny: CATHERINE RYAN HOWARD wouldn’t mind being any of those things. As well as working as a front desk agent in a Walt Disney World hotel (and then a housekeeping inspector in a Walt Disney World hotel, for a little bit), Catherine has administrated things in the Netherlands, cleaned things on a French campsite and stapled things together in various offices in her hometown of Cork, Ireland. Frequently over-caffeinated, she likes pink, fireworks and avocados and wants to be a NASA astronaut when she grows up. (She’s 28.) For now, she divides her time between her desk and the couch. She blogs at http://www.catherineryanhoward.com.

So… thoughts? (A couple of sentences will do nicely, thank you. This isn’t an essay question!)

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