The Author Platform: Are You Being Cautious, Or Just Lazy?


Welcome to the last post of Mousetrapped Madness Week!

Three years ago last Friday I self-published my first book, Mousetrapped, and set off on this misadventure. To mark the occasion I’ve made a hardcover edition of Mousetrapped, and if you leave a comment on this post by midnight tonight, Tuesday April 2nd, you might win a signed copy of it. (OR you can have a copy of Self-Printed 2.0, if you prefer.) If you really want to win you can increase your chances by leaving a comment on every Mousetrapped Madness post I’ve posted (that’s all the ones that have gone up since Friday and make some mention of the Mousetrapped giveaway), but only one comment per post will count.

Today is also the last day you can download Backpacked for Kindle for free.

While I’m on the subject, someone on the Mousetrapped Facebook page asked if there’s anywhere you can see pictures from my Central America trip. Well, my lovelies, there IS. Here, AKA The Backpacked Gallery. There’s a gallery for Mousetrapped too. Count the many hairstyles of Catherine’s Past…

Anyway, onto today’s post.

‘Tis the season of speaking engagements, when I get to crawl out of my writing cave and see what’s happening in the 3D real world of self-publishing. One thing, I’ve noticed, never changes.


One of my favorite spots in the world, the rocking chairs by Celebration Lake in the “town that Disney built”, Celebration, Florida. It’s okay to be lazy on these. It’s mandatory, actually.

There’s always an exchange that goes something like this: Continue reading

What Will You Do With Your Blog Posts? I Did THIS…


So on Friday I shared with you the giddy news that I’ve made Mousetrapped into a 6×9 hardcover with the help of POD service Lulu, to mark its third—THIRD?!—anniversary.

But there was something else in the box from Lulu too…


What (various shades of) pink prettiness is this? Before anyone has a heart attack, there is a coaster underneath that mug. Don’t you know me BUT AT ALL?

I started this blog on 1st February 2010, after spending three months messing around half-heartedly on a horrific looking effort I called The Scribbler. It recorded my thoughts as I came to the conclusion that I should self-publish and, later, served as a place to vent about the stress of the actual process. Eventually it was where I shared my exciting successes and, occasionally, disappointing failures. Continue reading

Ask Catherine: More Answers


If you read yesterday’s post, you’ll know that Mousetrapped, my first self-published bookis now out a whopping three years. This is just nuts to me, because visiting and discovering CreateSpace and wondering if I should release e-books as well—that all seems like yesterday to me. Or at least just a few weeks ago.

To celebrate, I’ve released a brand new hardcover edition of Mousetrapped (which you can read about here) and I’m giving you the chance to win either a signed copy of it for yourself, or a paperback of Self-Printed 2.0 instead if you prefer. Just leave a comment on this or any other ‘Mousetrapped Madness’ post before midnight Tuesday April 2nd for your chance to win. You can also download my other travel memoir, Backpacked, for free for your Kindle at the moment.

For this second Mousetrapped Madness Week post, I’m going to answer some more of your burning self-publishing questions in  the second installment of Ask Catherine: The Answers.

Mickeys Very Merry Christmas 003

Every post this week is going to contain one utterly irrelevant picture from my time in Florida and one sorta relevant one from my self-publishing adventures over the last three years. Above: Me, Roy O. Disney and Minnie Mouse getting ready to enjoy Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom, December 2006. (And WHAT the hell kinda color is my hair? Bleached Floridian Blonde 103…?) 

Q: I was wondering about your experience with the second edition of Self-Printed. What problems did you come up against? (@SR_Summers) Continue reading

Introducing… MOUSETRAPPED as a POD Hardcover! And You Can WIN Stuff! More Exclamation Marks!


It’s March 29th 2013, which means that I self-published Mousetrapped exactly three years ago today.

Three years. Three of them! Can you believe it? I know I certainly can’t.

To mark the occasion, I decided to quit slacking and do something I’ve been thinking about doing for ages: I made a POD hardcover edition of Mousetrapped with Lulu. 


It’s bringing sexy(hard)back. 

Before we go any further, it should be noted that this making-a-POD-hardcover thing should be filed under Things We Do Just For Fun. It’s not a very good business decision. The hardcover edition is expensive to purchase ($33), and I’d say I could count on my hands the number of readers who’d consider buying it. But that’s okay, because I’ve done this primarily for me.

I wanted to see it in hardcover. And I knew as soon as I opened the Lulu box and saw it that it was totally worth doing.


But this isn’t just the paperback edition with a hardcover. Oh, no. The paperback is 5.5 x 8.5, for starters, so I had to redo the interior to make it fit its new 6 x 9 size. I also had to get Andrew Brown, my cover designer, to make the original cover fit into the dimensions of a 6×9 dust-jacket, with the new addition of inside and back flaps. (A difficult job considering Lulu does NOT provide the same in-depth info CreateSpace does when it comes to making your own cover.) Hardcovers generally have the blurb inside, on the flaps, so the back cover had to be changed too. As you can see above, I stripped everything off it except for the background image. Continue reading

Plans and Goals and Stuff

Happy New Year!

I love fireworks, and here is a video of my favorite fireworks of all, Wishes at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. Honestly, nothing can instantly improve my mood like watching this video. Because I recorded it, you can also hear me giggling with pure delight from time to time, and the crowd around me oohing and aahing. (And also cheering because they think it’s over, when it’s not even properly started yet.) The whole thing is about 12 minutes long, so if you just want to skip to the finale, go to 10:45.

So I thought I’d use this, my first post of the New Year, to tell you about what I intend to do with this blog and my whole self-publishing misadventures for the next twelve months, and then you can use the comments section to tell me what you think.

Blogging Bits

1. Write one blog post a week

At the end of every year I use Lulu to make a little hardback book of my blog posts just for me to keep and hopefully look back on sometime in the future with a warm, fuzzy feeling (as opposed to embarrassment and regret), and a by-product of this is I get to see how many words I’ve blogged in the last twelve months. I haven’t done 2012’s book yet, but I know it won’t be anywhere near as thick as 2010’s or 2011’s. I was a lazy blogger. (This wouldn’t be so bad if I wasn’t also a somewhat lazy writer, but we’ll come back to that in a sec.) So in 2013, I plan to write one blog post a week, except for the weeks when I’m traveling.

Or busy.

Or catching up on The Walking Dead.

2. Start a Sunday morning coffee break link fest

As my Twitter followers will have copped by now, I use my favorite social media-related app ever, Buffer, to tweet interesting links when I’m otherwise engaged, not writing and/or watching The Walking Dead. (While we’re on the subject, I’ve “gone awesome” on Buffer, paying $10 a month for unlimited buffered tweets and multiple accounts, and it is so totally worth it.) But there’s an awful lot of interesting stuff out there, and so I have to have some kind of system or I’d waste (more?) hours reading every interesting blog post or article that comes my way. So what I tend to do is check Twitter a few times a day—in the morning while I’m waiting for the kettle, while watching TV, etc.—and I mark anything interesting as a favorite. I also “star” items on my Google Reader and if all else fails, e-mail a link to myself. Then on a Sunday morning I go through everything I’ve marked for the week and read it, buffering what I think other people should read too, while drinking lots of coffee. It’s like my version of the Sunday papers.

But over the course of 7 days it’s a lot of reading, and some things are more interesting than others. So I’ve decided that in 2013, I’m going to post my favorite links of the past week—found in the past week, not necessarily posted—on a Sunday morning, so we both have something to read with our coffee.


Come on, new Scrabble mug. LET’S DO THIS THING.

3. Find the fun again

Blogging about self-publishing and I nearly broke up in 2012. Honestly, I just got so fed up with it. The whole “Why I Unpublished My Novel” post was a low point. I made a business decision—not to waste time on a product that wasn’t selling—and was accused of being shallow or all about the money. Dark corners of the internet told me I wasn’t “cut out” for self-publishing, without knowing a single other thing about me other than that post. I make part of my living from delivering workshops on the subject, and I started imaging scenarios where the organizers would ring up and say, “Nah, Catherine. Forget it. This anonymous person on the internet who hasn’t as much as published a Post-It says you’re not cut out for this, so…” And what’s funny is when self-publishers make bad decisions that are detrimental to the bottom line, they’re accused of being silly romantics who don’t understand that publishing is a business. (?!?!?!?!?!?!) I just felt like I couldn’t win, and I definitely wasn’t having fun.

If I’m doing something in life that isn’t fun, I stop doing it. That’s my rule, credit card bills permitting. So I either had to rekindle my blogging fun, or put an end to it. What had made it fun in the beginning? Figuring out how to do this self-publishing thing, having the proof copy arrive or seeing an Amazon listing of mine for the first time (the night Mousetrapped went live, I stared at it for nearly an hour) and getting messages and comments from other self-publishers saying I saved them time or a migraine. So this year, this pink blog is going back to being about me, to my experiences with self-publishing. There’ll be no commentary on the Us Vs Them debate, analogies involving the Irish potato famine or calls to action. There never was, really, but I felt I might have been creeping towards that place, or that people were expecting me to. So, no. It stops. The blogger who wrote this post is back.

Self-Printing Plans

4. Mousetrapped in hardback

I’m struggling to believe this, but on March 29th Mousetrapped will be out three years. THREE YEARS. What the…? Seriously, where does the time go? Since Mousetrapped basically changed my life, I feel it deserves a little celebration to mark its anniversary, so I’m investigating releasing in hardback via Lulu, perhaps with a new introduction. It will really be for me more than anyone, but I think it’ll be an interesting experiment—and make for good blog fodder. If it goes well, Backpacked might get the same treatment on its two-year anniversary in September.

5. Travelled in bits

As I detailed in this post, my next self-published travel book, um, Travelled, will be released in four parts over the next twelve months: 3 e-book only installments of 3-4 essays a few months apart, and then the completed book in both e-book and paperback just before Christmas.

6. Operation Full Distribution

I’ll be blogging more about this in the coming weeks, but in 2013 I’m taking some of my eggs out of Amazon’s basket and going for full distribution (Amazon, Smashwords, my own website, anywhere else that’ll have me) with all my books. It was this post that really got me thinking and when Smashwords announced that they were starting to accept ePub files, well, logic prevailed. The fact that spent Christmas dumping 20p traditionally published books into Kindle owners’ hands didn’t exactly warm my heart towards them either. (You might not see the 12 Days of Kindle page on Amazon if you click that link; it depends on where you are in the world/whether or not you’re signed in.)


I picked the Erin Condren Life Planner with the most suitable quote. (I hope!)

7. On the road

I’m a very busy girl in 2013. Workshops and speaking gigs in London, Dublin, Waterford, Chipping Norton and London again, it looks like. Last night I was planning a trip in February that will have me on four different flights and staying in four different hotels in eight days. (And I can’t wait for it. Think of my travel document wallet!) You can find out more about all that in this post.

Writing Goals

8. Writers write, don’t they?

2012 was a shameful word count for me. SHAMEFUL, I tell you. If that whole 10,000 hours before success thing holds true, I should be getting published…. hmm, sometime in December 2067. And writers are supposed to write. Talking about it doesn’t count at all, and thinking about only counts a little. (Also not counting: perfect notebook hunting, file re-arranging, index card coloring, how-to book reading, plot planning, etc. etc.) On St. Stephen’s Day—what we Irish call The Day After Christmas Day—I saw Joanna Penn tweet about Rachel Aaron’s book 2k to 10k, so I downloaded it (yes, I read e-books now), read it and then felt something stir deep down inside…. is that…?… do you think it could be…?…that feels like… well, hello there MOTIVATION! Can you even imagine a world where you’re writing 10k words a day? What would that world look like? I think it’d be like the Gumdrop Forest in Elf, but that’s just me…

So I will be writing a lot and, as per Aaron’s advice, keeping track of what I write and how long it takes me to write it. (Blog posts, too. I’ve been at this for about an hour now and I’m up to 1,391 words.) There will be a spreadsheet. There will also be a year planner above my desk, with red marks (a la Don’t Break the Chain) on the days I’ve written, and nothing but white space FILLED WITH GUILT on the days I don’t.

For the record, in the next twelve months I want to:

  • Write a blog post most weeks (approx 60k words, let’s just say)
  • Finish My Current Novel Project, proper draft (totaling 100k)
  • Write A Second Novel, rough draft (100k)
  • Write Travelled, for publication (60-70k)
  • Write a new introduction to Mousetrapped, for publication (2k)
  • Write a new non-fiction project that I’m thinking about, rough draft + proposal (70-80k).

And sleep and eat and travel and finally watch The Killing, of course.

Come to think of it, when’s Dexter back on FX?

9. Writers read, don’t they?

In 2012 I did the Goodreads Reading Challenge, and managed 48 books out of my goal of 52. This year I plan for the same—52 books—but I want to be more organized about my reading, now that a Kindle is involved. I also need to sort out the two Amazon wish lists I’ve had going for years (one on and one on, totaling about 1,500 books) and decide what I’m going to buy in Proper Book and what I’m just going to read in Pretend Book. We’ll see how that goes.

10. Remember why we’re doing this writing malarkey in the first place

My best friend lives in New Zealand and after her recent visit home, we decided to get back into letter writing. She’s not big on e-mail or Facebook (I know—how are we friends?! The answer is, we met when we were 13!) and so we used to send actual hand-written letters, but we hadn’t been too good at it of late. So when I was in London shortly before she came back, I went to Paperchase on Totterham Court Road and bought us both ample supplies of pretty letter writing things, and we’ve got back into it. When I was in Nice I sent her a letter in which I described my novel-writing anxiety… and then went on to talk myself down off the ledge I’d climbed up on. And I did it by telling her the story of why I want to do this whole novel-writing thing in the first place.

In Ireland, you start school around age five, in what we call “Junior Infants.” (Cute, I know.) When I was in Junior Infants, my teacher—who may or may not have been called Ms. O’Sullivan—would sit up on her desk at the top of the class with her legs on a chair and read to us, holding the book open so we could see the pictures. When I’d get home in the afternoons, I’d line up all my Barbies and teddy-bears and basically anything with a face, on my bed, all in rows and all facing front, climb up on my dressing table with my short little legs swinging above a chair, and “read” to the assembled toys, holding a book open so they could see the pictures (which I totally believed they could, because I was convinced toys had a secret life we didn’t know about, which Pixar have since confirmed). But I couldn’t read yet, so I had to make the stories up as I went along. And that’s how I started telling stories.


Me, Christmas morning, age 7/1989 (I think).

Which is what this is all about. Forget, for a minute, the submissions and the query letters and the manuscript formatting and the e-books and the author platforms and the workshops and the word counts and the beta readers and the advances and the twenty-year-old with a seven-book deal and how the latest ghost-written pile of celebrity crap sets your teeth on edge and what the Randy Penguin merger will mean for your writing dreams and your favourite authors. FORGET ALL THAT FOR A SECOND. Or try to. And think instead of what this about, what this is really about, why we want to be writers and entertain readers and see our names on the spines of books.

It’s because we want to tell stories.

And that, more than anything, is what I’m going to try and keep in mind this year.

But seriously—does anyone know when Dexter is back on FX?

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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. 

Writing with the Door Open

Back in 2009 when I wrote the final version of Mousetrapped, I wrote it all for myself.

In On Writing Stephen King talks about writing the first draft with the door closed (i.e. just for you) and the second with the door open (with the reader in mind), but anytime I wrote or re-wrote Mousetrapped, the door was always closed. I wrote the book that entertained me, and didn’t worry – or even think – about anyone else. And at times, this writing-just-for-me strayed into self-indulgence. I thought things like, well, I’m interested in this, so why wouldn’t everyone else be? And isn’t this my book? Can’t I just write whatever I want?

Now if you liked Disney, NASA, moving abroad totally unprepared and my personality and perspective, then you loved Mousetrapped. Some people really did. But if you didn’t like one or all of those things, you didn’t. My voice grated on your nerves, or parts of it read like a Wikipedia entry (apparently!). While I don’t regret the way I wrote the book or how it reads – why would I? 8,373 copies sold and counting, baby! – I do see now that while I’ll always write the book I want to read, it helps my cause if some other people might like to read it too.

What I’m getting at is that at some point in the writing process, you have to open the door.

So when it came to writing Backpacked, I opened the door. Heck, I took it off its hinges and propped it against the wall. I kept the end reader in mind all the time and so when it came to certain things that I could’ve gone on and on and on about for pages and pages on end, I asked myself, am I writing this because I like writing this bit, or because it adds to the book/story? If it didn’t add something, I scaled it back or left it out altogether.

I also had some bad reviews of Mousetrapped to rely on for constructive criticism. (Lucky me!) A few unimpressed reviewers complained about the first chapter where I explain how events in my life conspired to land me in Walt Disney World at the age of 24. I thought this had to be explained, but it probably didn’t need to be explained so much (!). In Backpacked, we get backpacking as quickly as possible. I also refrained from dumping paragraphs of history into the book so while I describe the places we visited, I don’t fill you in on everything that’s happened there to date. And Backpacked doesn’t try to be two or three different kinds of books at once – it’s just the linear story of backpacking trip taken by someone who didn’t want to go backpacking, plain and simple.

I think my writing has vastly improved as well – as it should’ve, considering that I wrote the first draft of Mousetrapped in the summer of 2008 and it was really the first proper thing I ever wrote, and Backpacked three years later, this summer,  and I’ve written a 97,000-word novel in between, as well as approximately 250,000 words worth of blog posts and a self-publishing guide totaling 110,000 words. I’ve also worked with editors, whose corrections help me write better and of course, I’ve been constantly reading. So if my writing hadn’t improved from all that, I’d be in real trouble.

A few Fridays ago I told everyone on my mailing lists that Backpacked was out, and then held my breath. I knew people who already liked my writing would like the book, but I wanted them to like it in a very particular way: I wanted them to say it was better than Mousetrapped

And they have said it.

For instance:

“Catherine Ryan Howard is our intrepid traveller, someone who prefers chilling in a 5-star hotel to backpacking through South America. But with no job, no home and nowhere else to be, Catherine figures going backpacking is going to be an adventure. And she’s going with her best friend Sheelagh, who can save Catherine from all kinds of terrible things since she’s a seasoned traveller herself! What follows is a 9-week adventure that is highly readable. At times when I was reading Mousetrapped (the predecessor to Backpacked) I found myself a bit bored with some of the longer ramblings from Catherine (I mean that nicely; the ramblings just weren’t my kinda ramblings!) but in Backpacked it’s as if Catherine has stream-lined herself and it all flows brilliantly. I was thoroughly ensconced in the book and couldn’t wait to see where Catherine and Sheelagh were going to next. Catherine is an excellent writer. She’s scaled back on the more information-heavy paragraphs, only giving us the bare basics from books about the countries they’re visiting and it’s a much more personable read than Mousetrapped was. Catherine injected such humour into the book that I found myself laughing out loud on many occasions, particularly when Catherine travels up a mountain on a HORSE! There are many brilliant moments during Backpacked and every page was brilliant. I felt as if I was part of Catherine’s journey and she writes about the places she and Sheelagh visited so thoroughly and with so much passion that I’m tempted to hop on the next flight to Guatemala. Backpacked is just brilliant, I thoroughly enjoyed it and despite Catherine was indeed a reluctant backpacker, you can tell she did on some level enjoy it and I enjoyed reading all about it.” —Leah, I Love Books and Football

It’s been selling steadily – with sales higher than, for some inexplicable reason; it’s always the other way around! – and all feedback has been positive (so far, anyway!).

So: phew! Mission accomplished.

If you’ve read Backpacked, I’ll be your best friend forever if you can spare five minutes to write an Amazon review. It doesn’t have to be an essay – even three sentences will do the job!

If you want to read Backpacked, find out where you can find a preview and copies to buy here.