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:


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?


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?


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. 

33 thoughts on “Title Woes, Or Why I Wish People Would Stop Taking Things So Literally!

  1. Frankie Valente says:

    I am sorry about your bad reviews – totally undeserved. But thanks for sharing as I was giggling at my PC. Not easy to do before breakfast and a cup of tea! Excellent tip about the literal police. I am so glad my heroine actually does dance with a ferryman. I would hate to be brought to task over something so bizarre.

  2. trickaduu says:

    I literally thought this blog was going to be about waves and water and the sea because I mis-read it as Tidal Woes… Tut. Awful carry on. (I blame you 100% for my misinterpretation.)

  3. Tom Gold (@TomGold5) says:

    Imagine my annoyance on discovering that Howard’s website ‘Caffinated News’ is not about coffee at all. Despite numerous pictures of said beverage, it is instead some sort of writer’s blog. There is no reference to pink typewriters either.

    Yours, Socially Inadequate of Orlando.

    Just kidding. Havent read Mousetrapped or Backpacked but I have read ‘Self Printed’ and its one of the best ‘how to’ books I’ve ever owned. Congrats on the FF gig as well by the way. T

  4. ruthninawelsh says:

    Hi Catherine,
    This is the first post I have ever made to any blog! While you were off on hols I was reading ‘Self-Printed.’ As others have said, it is a brilliant book and has helped me as I work on my own plans and projects. Frankly, the book is inspiring. (oh..and I will be posting a review on Amazon). I haven’t read Mousetrapped etc., but in time, I hope I will. As for these vicious reviews, it is true that they haunt you more than everything good anyone tells you. I guess you just have to know that it will always be so, there will always be people who want to pull things apart (without any credible justification). It’s tough, but they are just not worthy of your words. So, I say, carry on regardless!

  5. Marcus says:

    Most people review on their expectations rather than the content. It’s difficult not to. I guess we all do. If expectations are met it’s good, if not it’s bad. Since expectations are personal there’s no way to please everyone. Some people have very fixed ideas about how things must be and woe if it does not fit their definition. There’s little you can do.

    I did get a laugh out of backpacking being a sport. There are many different ways people travel with a backpack. Having one definition of backpacking is like saying only those who climb the Himalayas are “climbing”.

    How about “Backpacked…Not” or “Not Backpacking”. Seriously, that might confuse a little at first glance, but force people to think or read the blurb. Sometimes an unconventional title might work better…but who knows.

  6. shah wharton says:

    Sorry to giggle at your misfortune and all, but you do have a fabulously humorous ‘voice’ which is perhaps why your books will do so well with or without these imbeciles and their ridiculous reviews. Honestly, to blame the book for not being what they assumed it would be based on the title alone only highlights their own ignorance. Don’t they see that? Clearly not. They attempt to slag you off with their own double edged sword. Ho hum. I’m afraid there are strange peeps in the world and the web is accessible to most. This is not going to stop. I don’t know how I’d cope with it actually. I’m silly sensitive about this kind of thing and soon enough my book will be out there to be picked apart for irrelevant issues by morons and I’ll just have to deal with it.

    Take solace in the fact that any intelligent reader, reading their reviews after reading your blurbs and the other reviews will see them as the ‘oh dear’s’ – those who simply don’t count and should return to the darkness of the stone they crawled from under.

  7. David Wright says:

    I thought this post would be about coffee! How dare you use pictures of coffee and then NOT WRITE ABOUT COFFEE?!

    You have maligned the good name of coffee in your self-serving siren song to draw coffee-loving readers, only to crash them against the rocks of a post NOT ABOUT COFFEE!!

    For Shame!

    Additionally, I intend to buy “Results Not Typical,” and all I have to say is that I’d better lose the 50 pounds those illustrations of scales PROMISED me I’d lose.

  8. jennyhammerton says:

    My favourite line is “lattes are rare in actual backpacking”. Ha ha!

    I am a big, big fan of Self Printed which I have just read. I am considering self printing a book of film star recipes and gossip entitled, “Silver Screen Tidbits”. I was toying with the idea of calling it “Silver Screen Titbits” (the alternative spelling of Tidbits) but that’s just like asking for the “I bought this book because I thought it would have pictures of tits in it” onslaught isn’t it?

    Maybe from ornathologists, or maybe from another type of critic…

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I think you are kind of asking for it there! Yes, I love that lattes line too. Especially since in a tiny little town called San Pedro on the banks of a lake in the highlands of Guatemala, I was able to sit in an internet cafe (which in itself was weird!) and have a tall latte in a proper glass with a perfect three layers of coffee/milk/foam served to me while I surfed. So I’m not quite sure if there’s anywhere left where you CAN’T get a latte on earth… 😀

  9. Dianne Greenlay says:

    I have read both Mousetrapped and Self-Printed and they are great books (going over to Amazon right after this to leave reviews that say so). Consider yourself in that category where you are getting so much exposure that it catches the fringy/crazies/ those in the mixed states of mania and depression. Part of one’s journey to stardom! Clearly, as you have pointed out, the books’ titles are NOT misleading, what with the blurbs etc. but some people ( those one star reviewers who feel they were duped) will never recognize nor take responsibility for their own mistakes.

    I have not had the misfortune of having a poor review yet, but I have a slight fear that even posting here will attract the aforementioned group to my own book, like zombies after fresh meat.

    Carry on Catherine! Ignore the hurt and pain and try not to allocate to it, any more of your attention and time or it will feed off your creative energy and then it just grows bigger.

  10. AM says:

    So, you deny other ppl to “witch” about Amazon and how their rules for self-publishing are “not fair” or whatever, but you spend the entire post whining about 8(!) bad reviews. There will be idiots who won’t know what your book is about and going to blame you for it. IGNORE them. And trust that your readers are smart enough to ignore that nonsense. Everyone knows it takes a lot more energy to go and leave a good review, and when you’re pissed (justly or not), the emotion “propels” you to go and spoil someone else’s rating. It comes with the territory. You should be plenty grateful for your readers who bought your book… yada yada… SO, how does it feel to be lectured to? 🙂
    1 Allow people to “witch” when they want
    2 Don’t “witch” in public
    I am for the first one, btw

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      But I don’t complain about bad reviews because everyone’s entitled to their opinion and not everyone’s going to love or even like your book. It’s just part of having a book out there. What I’m “whining” about is people who review your book based on how much it’s not something it was never meant to be. That’s like me booking a hotel in New York and then going on TripAdvisor to give it a 1-star review because it wasn’t in London. And since this is my blog, I think I can whine as much as I want.

      • AM says:

        sure, you can 🙂 I thought you just might let other people be who they are too – one THEIR blogs where they talk about self-printing… anyway, just ignore the “silly” ones with the title problem. please 🙂
        and I guess it saves you from bigger trouble, but you’re a little too defensive for me, a little too “authoritarian” I wish you well, but I also prefer to read posts who’s authors are capable of a little more self-reflection. So, I will remove this site from bookmarks and move on… Cheers!

  11. Emma says:

    I laughed reading this post. Your sense of humour shines through. I don’t drink coffee but the one you had near the Trevi fountain looks very pretty!

  12. audreeburrus says:

    I didn’t even read your book and this made me angry! Who honestly purchases a book without reading a synopsis of that book? I suppose some amazon reviewers just have nothing better to do…

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I don’t know who buys books without reading what they’re about first, but I wish they wouldn’t! Still, it’s all part of self-publishing so we just have to grin and bear it—and write blog posts about it! 🙂

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