Focus Group Friday: New MOUSETRAPPED Amazon Listing

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!)

10 thoughts on “Focus Group Friday: New MOUSETRAPPED Amazon Listing

  1. Lissa says:

    It’s better that you make explicitly clear that it’s not a behind-the-scenes Disney book, which, honestly, I thought it was when I first read the old info.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Yeah I take full responsibility for that too – the blurb is very Disney-heavy. But do you think the text above does that, or it needs to actually say it? I could do a little “What is this book about?”/”What is this book not about?” bulleted list (a funny-ish one) to further explain.

  2. Lindsay Edmunds says:

    You have made it is clear as can be, short of actually changing product description, which is good. You could ALTER the order of things in product description:

    “The only memoir about Space Shuttle launches, the town that Disney built, religious theme parks, Bruce Willis, humidity-challenged hair,the Ebola virus,and – oh, yes – working in Walt Disney World, …”

    But honestly, people who don’t get it after reading the additional material are not paying attention.

    On an unrelated note: amazon now tells that fixing the error in my product description is now on an “expedited” track.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I love that idea, Lindsay! I think just reordering those could be really effective. Thanks for the tip!

      (And good to hear your Amazon problem is expedited, although ridiculous it’s not yet sorted!!)

  3. Graham Strong says:

    Hi Catherine,

    I like the product description generally speaking, but if there are confusions, I think the first paragraph or two is where you have to clear them up.

    To be fair, I think this is a matter of viewpoint. I lived for a (short) while in the UK. What I noticed is that people in the UK equated Disney World with the US — it was almost synonymous. The “happiest place on Earth” is also a synonym for the whole country, and you can get away with interchanging these things to a certain degree, because everyone knows what you are talking about — it’s one of the first things people there think of when they think of the US. I imagine this would be similar in Ireland as well.

    However in the US, Disney World is a little more specific. You can’t use it as a euphemism for the US — it would be like saying Blarney Castle (or leprechauns, or U2) represents all of Ireland. To visitors, it may become synonymous with Ireland, though you personally would realize how narrow (if not downright inaccurate) that view of the country is.

    The reason I talk about all this is because the problem here (I think) is one of context. You can probably get away with this description in your amazon.co.uk listing, but in the US you need to be a little less loose with the euphemisms. I would eliminate things like “Disney soil” when you’re referring to Florida, USA instead of the actual theme park. Also, I would say something like “*home to* the happiest place on Earth”, for the same reasons.

    Another thing I would suggest is that you write quite explicitly that you didn’t even get the job at Disney World — “the only mouse ears I’d see were the pancakes on my plate” (don’t want to write it for you, just give you an example…) That way, there is no confusing the fact you don’t have the “inside scoop” on the place.

    Lastly, I have no idea what a J-1 visa is, and I’ve done my fair share of travelling. I can’t imagine a US audience, for the most part, would know either. Is it a student visa? If so, say “one student visa”.

    As I’m re-reading this, I hope I’m not coming across as too harsh here. Again, I love your writing style, and there is nothing wrong with how you’ve written it. But tweaking these details in the product description should help to get your point across better to a US audience.

    ~Graham

    PS – coincidentally, got your book yesterday. Haven’t had a chance to do more than look at it yet (I have few books on the go right now — don’t we all?) but it is officially in the rotation. Looking forward to it!

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Graham thanks for this but I think you’re misunderstanding something: I DID work in Walt Disney World!

      That’s the whole point: WDW is 43 square miles full of theme parks, hotels, shops, restaurants, etc. I worked in one of the hotels. I was a Cast Member. But some people (a very small number) only want to read books by people who actually worked in the theme parks (which take up only a very small part of WDW) and I want to be clear about that. They’re not euphemisms at all.

      • Graham Strong says:

        Whoops… Ah well, that’s a different story. Guess I need to get to the book faster!

        Perhaps then you could work that into the first couple of paragraphs, that you worked in a hotel, not the park?

        I like Lindsay’s reply too — she must have slipped that in while I was writing my initial one.

        ~Graham

  4. Carolyn (with the lovely earrings) says:

    Coo, this is difficult! I like what you’ve done so far, but coming at it from a UK point of view, I knew what a J1 visa was so understood that bit completely! Alternatively, I would not know what a “one student visa” was, so that might have made me think you were a lot younger than you were when you did this!

    I also disagree with Graham slightly in that I don’t think you need to hammer home the fact that you weren’t working actually in Disney World, I think people will get that when you talk about the Duck & Tuna – you don’t need to over-egg any kind of pudding here. Lindsey is right – if people don’t get it from the summary, then they aren’t paying attention!

    Good luck with this project anyway, and it was great to meet you at Mousemeet recently.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Hi Carolyn with the lovely earrings!!! (That just cracked me up – but helped me remember you too!!)

      Yeah, this is a bit of headache. J-1 is staying, because WDW is rife with J-1s from all over the world and the original reason for writing this book was to give other J-1s something to read before they arrived there. Plus everyone in Ireland knows what a J-1 is, and hey, I’m Irish! 😉

      I agree with you re: hammering home the point about the hotel. Working in the, ahem, Duck and Tuna, and working in, say, the Animal Kingdom both equal “working in Walt Disney World.” It’s just a geographical fact. The only thing I want to make clear is that I didn’t work directly for Disney AND that Mousetrapped isn’t one of those awful “exposé” books.

      As I said above that blurb has worked for 5k books so far so I don’t want to fix what isn’t broke, I just want to add some extra material that makes it a bit clearer for anybody who might be confused.

      Thanks for the feedback!

      • Tahir says:

        This is all very interesting to get different fragments of perspective: I have lived 24 years in the UK and 19 in the US (plus more elsewhere), have had all kinds of visas, greencard, and now have three citzenships. Yes, most people in the US don’t know their F1s from their J1s or H1Bs! They don’t need to really. The practice of equating Disneyland with the country comes down to humor really..some people in the US find it funny, some don’t. I think you should continue to write what you think is funny and continue to use the metaphors that are meaningful to you because it is not a documentary. Perceptions are just as important if not more..if a foreigner thinks that Florida is only Disneyland, space, oranges, and hurricanes, then that’s an important statement for both insiders and outsiders.

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