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…
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