Some Blog Re-Organization

Catherine, Caffeinated is two years old tomorrow. (Two years! What?) One of the things I wanted to do in 2012 was to really make this blog the hub of all my online activities, draw back from spending too much time anywhere else online and do a bit of blog housekeeping so that everything on here is as organized and pink as it could be. Or as organized as it could be, at least. So over the last couple of days there’s been some changes made around here, and trust me when I say that these changes took at least ten times longer than you’d imagine they would take.

This is a free blog hosted by WordPress.com; the only thing I pay for is the domain, i.e. catherineryanhoward.com. Therefore I don’t have as much freedom as I might like in creating this blog, but with some work arounds you can pretty much find a way to do anything. I think what WP offers for free is just staggering, and we all know how much I love my theme (Bueno, by the way). So some parts aren’t as perfect as they could be, but I think I’ve done a pretty good job for a free blog.

The books main page has been changed, and now my booksites (Mousetrappedbook.com, Backpackedbook.com and Selfprintedbook.com) are just one-page sites that lead you here. Eventually I’ll just redirect the domain here. It’s all part of my masterplan to get everyone to come here.

Each book now has its own page here on Catherine, Caffeinated, and each book has a snazzy PDF preview you can download for free. Oooh and aaah and stuff.

The pages for Mousetrapped and Backpacked have some very fancy photo galleries and video pages attached to them now. Very fancy.

The most popular section of this blog, Self-Printed, has been totally reorganized. I often think of the person looking for self-publishing info who comes here for the first time, and how I can help them find what they need. I think this might make things easier. Woo-hoo!

I added some pictures to the News page and reorganized it by year, making it slightly less BOR-ing. Ta-DAA!

The “About Catherine” page has a slideshow all about coffee. (That’s just for fun.) Yay and stuff.

So do have a look around, and tell me what you think*.

*Only if you think it’s good though, because after spending two days of my life on this I really don’t want to hear anything else!

Self-Publishing Workshops: A Little Reminder

In place of a blog post today, here’s a little reminder that I have two self-publishing courses coming up, one in London in February and one in Dublin in early March. I promise this will be the second-last time I’ll remind you about this, I swear.

Bring Your Book To Market

Faber Academy, London | February 17-19 2012 | £425

Throughout this three-day course, taking place at Faber’s offices in Bloomsbury, Ben Johncock and I will guide you through the steps to self-publishing your work online, and promoting it once it’s there.

Click here for more information.

Self-Publish Your Book

The Inkwell Group, Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin | March 3rd 2012 | €125

The one-day course will arm you with the practical information, advice and insider tips you need to successful self-publish your book in POD paperback and e-book form, and to use blogging, Twitter and Facebook to help sell it.

Click here for more information.

If you’re nowhere near London or Dublin and you’d still like me to help you self-publish, you can always read this instead. 

A New Literal Cover for MOUSETRAPPED, Literally!

So yesterday’s post was about how The Literal Police are driving me ten kinds of nuts with their “She wasn’t ‘mousetrapped’ as she puts it—she didn’t work for Disney!” and their “I think there is a definition issue with the word ‘backpacking’—it NEVER involves a hairdryer” etc. etc. Who knew that book titles could cause so much trouble? Not me, which is why my next book is going to be called Whatever You Think This Title Should Be Once You’ve Read It.

But it was soooo worth blogging about because your comments were priceless, and they really made me feel better about the whole thing. And if they hadn’t, what David Wright sent to me late yesterday afternoon definitely would have…

[UPDATE: The Self-Printed cover should’ve said insane instead of sane. David sent me a new one, so I changed it below.]

I’m seriously considering switching them out. I could do it for seven days and make it a promotion, i.e. “Literal Week”…

Thanks, David! For more fun covers from David, visit his blog.

Click here to find out more about Mousetrapped, which is a book about a girl who worked in the geographical area south-west of Orlando, Florida that’s labelled on maps as the Walt Disney World Resort, on ground owned by the construction company who built Epcot Park which they received in exchange for unpaid bills on Disney’s part, in a hotel operated by a third party who are not the Walt Disney Company but who, in co-operation with the Walt Disney Company, called their staff ‘Cast Members’, dutifully sent them to Traditions, Disney’s orientation program, and employed the Disney terminology (back of house=backstage, uniform=costume, puddle of vomit=protein spill) at all times, and who was, at no time, help captive by a mouse. Jeez. 

Title Woes, Or Why I Wish People Would Stop Taking Things So Literally!

People often ask me what I know now about self-publishing that I didn’t know back at the start, but wished I did. There are a few obvious things—that paperbacks are a pain in the arse, that your family won’t understand why the guy in Waterstones has never heard of you, that someone will want to take a photo for a newspaper when your roots are dark to your ears so keep them maintained—but then there’s also things that have come as a complete surprise. The burning pain of a bad review, for example (and while we’re on the subject, how venomous bad reviews can be), the daily e-mail from an internet crazy and the I Took This Title Literally Brigade, who are giving me migraines of late.

This photo has nothing to do with this post, but isn’t it nice? I had this coffee in Pepe Pica, Valenica. 

It started with Mousetrapped. I had the title before I even started writing the book, after a friend joked that I could write a book about working in Walt Disney World and call it that. I didn’t work directly for Disney—I worked in a hotel between Epcot and  Hollywood Studios but we were “Cast Members” in nearly every sense—but it never occurred to me to change the title because, well, the book is about me being in Orlando, and Orlando is a town dominated by the Mouse. Also, Mousetrapped is the name of one of the chapters, in which I’m stuck (without a car) in a triangle formed by Disney World, my apartment and a grocery store by the Disney gates.

So did I think there was anything wrong with calling that chapter Mousetrapped? No. I was trapped in Walt Disney World because I couldn’t go anywhere else. Did I think there was then anything wrong with calling the book after a chapter? No, because that just makes sense. Was I concerned that people would be duped into thinking that Mousetrapped was a memoir about drunken sex parties behind Cinderella’s Castle or why Goofy smells like a brewery when he’s posing for photos with your kids? No, because of the subtitle (“A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida”) and the blurb, which you can read on its Amazon listing. You can also read the paragraph I added to the description explaining why it’s called Mousetrapped, how I didn’t work directly for Disney but did work in Walt Disney World and, if you miss both of those, there’s, like, forty reviews you can read, most of which mention one way or the other what the book is about.

But apparently people are just clicking the “Buy” button on title alone, because I still get reviews that say things like:

  • “Hate is a strong word, so I’ll say that I despised this book. The title is misleading, as Howard wasn’t so much MOUSEtrapped as she was FLORIDAtrapped. With a title like “Mousetrapped,” Howard played in on the fact that thousands of Disney fans would pick up her book and be fooled into thinking it offered a behind-the-scenes look at Disney World. It doesn’t. Not even one bit.” (1 star)
  • “No one would buy a book about my daily life unless I hinted that I worked for my town’s NFL team (which I don’t). The only reason I bought this book was because it appeared to be about working at Disney. It’s not. It’s really a story about a 20-something girl who was clearly unprepared to be so far away from mom and dad.” (2 star)
  • “I’ll admit it—I bought this book looking for a juicy tell-all about working for Disney. So disappointed. She wasn’t “Mousetrapped” as she puts it; the author didn’t even work for the park, but rather for a hotel close to the park.” (2 star)
  • “I was expecting entertaining anecdotes on the author’s experiences in Disney World. What I took away from this book was she lived in a crappy Orlando apartment, learned how to drive, and loves the Kennedy Space Center. I skipped over page after page after page of her KSP experience as it was irrelevant and boring. She should’ve skipped the Disney thing and gotten a job the Space Center.” (2 star)
  • “Mousetrapped is a very entertaining story, but it has a completely misleading title. I originally bought this book in hopes of reading a behind the scenes account of a cast member at Disney World. The “Mousetrapped” title certainly leads you to believe the author worked for Disney and had some knowledge of the parks. This wasn’t the case. The author worked at a non-Disney hotel on Disney property, wasn’t a cast member, and hardly had anything to say about Disney at all.” (3 star)
  • “I wanted to hear the dirt on Disney but instead got tourist information and a lecture on Americas space program. [Ed note: get ready for my favorite line in a review of mine EVER!] I found her revelling in breaking the law rather disturbing and all in all not what I was expecting to read.” (2 star)

Nice, right? Especially when you consider that a) giving a book one star for being something it’s not then drags down how good the book is for being what it is and b) some of these people bought the book despite some of these reviews being posted on the listing at the time. All I can say is:

HUH?!

Mousetrapped is Mousetrapped; I’m not changing the name. I’m sorry if you can’t be bothered to find out from the information readily available to you what a book is about before you buy it, and I’m sorry if you then feel compelled to review a book based on what you thought it was going to be about as opposed to what it is about, even if your expectations were utterly erroneous.

And I had this irrelevant coffee on the Via Ludovisi in Rome…

I figured I’d just have to deal with it, and move on. But would you believe I am having the very same problem with Backpacked?

I mean… seriously?

Seriously?

The book is called Backpacked because we went backpacking, and I wanted a word that ended in -ed to match Mousetrapped. Before we went on this trip, we said “We’re going backpacking.” While we were on it, we said “We’re backpacking.” Since we’ve come home, we’ve said “We went backpacking.” If a friend of mine puts her bathing suit and hairdryer into a backpack, hops on a plane to Asia and moves from tourist hostel to tourist hostel, I’d call that backpacking.

But the Literal Police are out in force again.

This is the blurb for Backpacked:

“Catherine Ryan Howard prefers bath robes to bed bugs, lattes to lizards and mini-bars to malaria. So why is she going backpacking?

Catherine isn’t the backpacking type. Working for one of the world’s biggest hotel chains, she and her employee discount have become accustomed to complimentary bath robes, 24-hour room service and Egyptian cotton sheets. As for holidays, Catherine likes places that encourage lying – lying on the beach, by the pool, in bed… She’s been on what feels like one long holiday in Florida when her fearless best friend, Sheelagh, announces plans to backpack across Central America. With Catherine’s US visa about to expire, her having no desire to return home to Ireland just yet and her common sense, evidently, on a day off, she agrees to go along. After all, how bad can this backpacking thing be? Um… very bad, actually. Catherine soon finds herself showering with the threat of electrocution, living with mutant cockroaches, sleeping on wooden planks, suffering from all but one of the side-effects listed on her bottle of anti-malarial tablets (liver failure, in case you were wondering) and riding a horse up the side of a smoking, lava-filled volcano. And that’s just the first week.

Picking up where her bestselling memoir, MOUSETRAPPED: A YEAR AND A BIT IN ORLANDO, FLORIDA left off, BACKPACKED is the wry tale of what happened when one very reluctant backpacker hit the backpacker trail and discovered that beyond the mosquitoes, bad coffee and flea-infested hostels lie bigger mosquitoes, even worse coffee and flea-infested hostels whose bathrooms have no doors.”

I think that’s a fair representation of what’s in the book. I think it’s even fairer than Mousetrapped‘s blurb. It does exactly what it says on the tin. Now, if you were heading off into the Central American jungle with a Swiss army knife, a tie-die bandana, a well-thumbed Moleskine and a stubby pencil, looking for the truly authentic, off-the-beaten-track, humble traveller experience, do you think this book would give you an insight into what that might be like?

HARDLY.

And yet, these are choice quotes from two one-star reviews Backpacked has on Amazon.com:

  • “There is apparently a definition issue here with the word ‘backpacking.’ Backpacking is NOT simply using a backpack instead of a suitcase or duffle bag to transport your things around. Backpacking is not staying at the HoJo in G City and eating at McDonald’s every day. Backpacking NEVER involves a hair dryer. I only made it halfway through this book, so perhaps there is some actual backpacking somewhere in this story … but I doubt it. The author is humourous at times, but I was tired of reading the word ‘latte’ after 20 pages (lattes are rare in actual backpacking). If you are interested in how lazy, pampered urban dwellers get freaked out by everyday life in other places then you will love this book. If you are interested in actually backpacking through Central America then this book is, well, totally useless.” (1 star)
  • “Readers must understand this book has nothing to do with the sport of Backpacking. These two females are only using the backpacks as luggage, as a means to transport their belonging from taxis or chicken buses to the tourist hotels, that they are planning to stay in. They haven’t the slightest idea or interest in what real Backpacking is all about.” (1 star)

Well, color me informed. Backpacking is a sport? They are rules about hairdryers? You can leave an Amazon review that clearly states you only read half the book and Amazon will allow it?

…and I had this irrelevant coffee near the Trevi fountain. YUM.

For the love of cute puppies people, if you read Mousetrapped or Backpacked and you got that what’s in the book is a match for what the Amazon listing (title, cover, synopsis, customer reviews, other information) led you to believe was in the book, please consider leaving a review to help me offset the Literals. If you don’t have time to do that, maybe you could click “Yes” after “Was this review helpful to you?” on the customer opinions that are at least balanced and fair, from customers who might have at glanced at the product description before clicking buy.

Also, if you have any ideas for what I could do to stop this from happening, do let me know. I know I shouldn’t care, that I shouldn’t let it get to me, that I’ve sold something now like 15,000 copies of these books and the reviews above total 8, but that is infinitely easier said than done. I saw an author interviewed on The Book Show on Sky Arts a few weeks back who said that his first novel got something like 100 glowing print reviews, was an international bestseller and was nominated for prestigious awards, but it’s the one bad review he remembers—and he remembers it word for word, to this day. He has no idea what the positive ones said. That’s just the way it goes, I think. So be prepared, fledgling self-publishers.

And if you’re writing a book yourself, keep the Literal Police in mind when it comes to choosing a title…

Click here for a chronological listing of all my self-printing posts or subscribe to this blog (see sidebar) to receive future posts by e-mail. 

Holiday Snaps

So I’m trying out this WordPress “gallery” business to show you some of my holiday snaps. Click on any image to see a larger size or click on the first one to start flicking through them in a snazzy carousel-type thingy. (Oooh, fancy!) Not sure how they’re going to look on Google Reader or e-mail so you may need to pop over to the blog to see them properly. They’re of Marrakech, Essaouria (Morocco), Rome and Valencia (Spain).

Can you spot my “Yes, I’m in the Vatican!” picture? And my man-standing-in-beam-of-sunlight-in-St. Peter’s-Basilica X-Files style snap? Incidentally I really liked the Vatican, especially since I found a medal flown around the moon by Frank Borman on Apollo 8 (my favorite mission!) and the Vatican flag carried to the moon and back by the crew of Apollo 11, along with some moon rock fragments. It was definitely a NASA-themed adventure in Rome, as on drinking “Rome’s best cappuccino” in Café Sant Eustachio (it was soooooo good), I happened upon a signed photo of NASA Administrator and Space Shuttle astronaut Charlie Bolden behind the counter, thanking them for the great coffee. Weird, right?

We had some great adventures—tip: don’t travel between continents on Friday 13th—so much so that you never know, you might be reading about some of them some day soon…

(Oooh, mysterious!)

Catch Up If You Can

I’m baa-ack! Did you miss me? No, wait—don’t answer that!

In the craziness reunion yet of the “Duck and Tuna” girls (i.e. Andrea, Eva and I), we managed to fit Marrakech, Rome, Valencia and Madrid—and Chinese New Year celebrations, two taxi driver lightning strikes and approximately 294 cappuccinos—into twelve hectic but amazing days. I may pull out a slideshow of some of my many, many photos later in the week (especially if the motivation to write a proper blog post doesn’t show up soon…) but for now, here a few worthwhile reads that popped up while I was gone:

and you simply MUST watch this absolutely beautiful video, a spellbinding reminder that there’s nothing quite like a real book.

The only news I heard while I was away were Costa Concordia bulletins every 15 minutes thanks to BBC World News, but some stuff did happen in the self-publishing world too, namely:

and I saw a stack of Spanish language Amanda Hocking books in a FNAC in Valenica. Impressive, when you consider that it all started with her uploading an e-book to Amazon and Smashwords.

Also in the past fortnight:

So that’s that. Gone are my €1.30 cappuccinos at countertops in Rome; it’s back to making a vat of plain Jane coffee every morning and using it to keep my eyes open at my desk. (I may actually have to move to Rome for a while just for the cheap and delicious coffee. Rosetta Stone Italian, anyone?) And getting back to a daily word count. And wading through e-mails. And—

Well, there’s a long, long list. So, back to it.

Out of the Office (Or At Least I Would Be If I Had One)

This morning I’m doing one of my Top 5 Absolutely Favorite Things To Do—leaving the country—and as a result I’ll be disconnected from all things internet between now and Monday January 23rd.

If two weeks without Catherine, Caffeinated leaves you at a loose end, you might like to:

  • read one of my books. If you’ve never read anything of mine and you own a Kindle, you can get the whole lot for less than $5: Mousetrapped and Backpacked Too includes both my travel memoirs and is just $3.99, and my novel, Results Not Typical, is 99c. If like me you still prefer paperbacks, The Book Depository has them at discounted prices and they do free shipping worldwide.
  • join me in a Goodreads Reading Challenge. My goal in 2012 is to read 100 books. I read 54 in 2011 and left a further 9 unfinished, so I’m hoping that signing up and making it all official will motivate me to up my reading game. I haven’t finished a single book yet (!) but should be able to get started soon, especially with my 5-flights-in-10-days travel itinerary…
  • read this amazing post by Mark Edwards about his writing journey—alongside his co-writer Louise Voss—which as he puts it, was a case of going from “being left on the shelf to being on the shelf.” If ever there was a “never give up” tale of publishing success, this is it.
  • help me update Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing. As soon as I get back, I’ll start work revising and reworking Self-Printed. If you’ve read it and you felt something was missing—or that there wasn’t enough of something—e-mail me through the Contact Page or leave a comment on this post and let me know. For example, one reviewer commented that she would have liked a bulleted check-list at the end of every section, and a few others mentioned how helpful an index would’ve been. Both of those features will hopefully be in the second edition of Self-Printed, due out in May (ish).
  • sign up to my mailing list, The Caffeinated News. So far there’s only been one edition and it’s nowhere near as entertaining as Karin Slaughter’s newsletter but, hey, I do what I can. And signing up will keep you amused for at least fifteen seconds. Click here to sign up.
  • book a ticket to come see me in the caffeinated flesh. I have two events coming up: Bring Your Book To Market at Faber Academy, London, February 17-19 (3 day course, self-publishing and social media, me and Ben Johncock, £425) and How To Self-Publish Books (or Self-Printed: LIVE! as I’ve taken to calling it; where can you get one of those handsfree mics…? [JOKE!]) with The Inkwell Group in Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin, on Saturday March 3rd (1 day, €125).
  • write a review of/for me. If you’ve read Mousetrapped, Backpacked, Results Not Typical or Self-Printed and you have an Amazon account and five minutes to spare, Amazon customer reviews can really make a difference when it comes to selling self-published books. I’ll love you forever if you have the time to write one.
  • entertain yourself with some of the blogs I read. Here’s a few for you to try: A Cup of Jo (a gorgeous New York writer with a beautiful baby, a sexy husband and great taste—you’d be sick with jealousy if she wasn’t so nice and didn’t post links to so many pretty things—which I found through Keris Stainton’s blog. Thanks Keris!), Regretsy (“Where DIY meets WTF”—hours of endless amusement. My favorite category is “Not Remotely Steampunk”), The Fearful Adventurer (girl pushes herself out into the world; adventure ensues—funny and inspiring), Enough Talk, More Writing (fellow Corkonian takes off to the States to follow his dreams, ends up in LA), The White Elephant in the Room (heartbreaking but inspiring and beautifully written blog by a 30-something widow) and Julie Cohen’s blog (best bestselling writer’s blog ever—and I love a gal who plots with Post-Its!).
  • continue on with your life as normal without even noticing that I’ve been gone for two weeks because you only read this blog when you’re waiting for the pizza to arrive or the ad break to be over or when you’re at work, and so who gives a cupcake?

Travel wallet by Paperchase. Procrastination activity masquerading as being organized by me.

And can I just show you my travel document wallet? Isn’t it a thing of beauty? Don’t I seem to be painfully organized? Is that this month’s issue of Writing Magazine (available in all good newsagents in Ireland and the UK, priced just £3.75) in which the lovely Jane Wenham-Jones gives little old Catherine, Caffeinated a mention in her column on page 56? Yes, yes and why yes.

See you in two weeks!