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Cath Ryan Howard [Self-Publishing Interview Series]

Many twenty-somethings dream of crossing oceans and social barriers to have that one, life-altering experience that will give us direction and perspective for the rest of our lives. Very few of us, however, actually have the cajones to make our dreams into reality.

Instead, we can eagerly devour Moustrapped, the self-published debut of Irish author Cath Ryan Howard, someone who actually did take a risk and journey across the Atlantic to spend a year and a half living and working at Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

I picked up Cath’s book to find a good quote for this blog (promising I would reward myself by reading it in its entirety after suffering through the last few chapters of my current read, Warrick Dunn’s memoirs Running for My Life) but an hour later I found myself still seated on the couch, engrossed in Cath’s witty, but honest tale of her adventures in the land of the Mouse.

We will have a full review of Moustrapped to offer very soon, but in the meantime we have a great interview with Cath about her experiences writing and self-publishing her first book, which is available in several locations including the UK and US versions of Amazon.com.

  • What was your writing process like for this book? Did you keep a journal of events as they happened or reflect on the experience when it was over?
    • I didn’t make a formal decision to write the book until I was about half way through my eighteen months in Orlando, so unfortunately I wasn’t too organized in my processes! I would write about events as they happened, a kind of hybrid Mousetrapped notes/diary entry and it was these I then relied on later for the little details. This also meant that when I came to write the synopsis of the book, I had a lot of material I didn’t need, and had to spend a good deal of time whittling it down. I also found it helpful to keep park maps, schedules, etc. that I could refer to after I got home for the correct names of attractions, etc. As for reflection, my feelings towards some events completely changed after some time had passed, so I do think it’s important to revisit whatever you write after the fact, when some time has gone by.
  • Did you have any fears that the book would upset those who were mentioned?
    • I was more worried, honestly, about upsetting the people who weren’t mentioned! Mousetrapped, at the end of the day, is a story. To make the narrative work, I had to be selective about what events and details went in, and went got left out. Just as an example: in the chapter where I finally get to witness a Space Shuttle launch, I drive to Titusville with my roommate and friend, Andrea. But in reality, another friend of ours was there too – a girl called Lacey – but I left her out to simplify things, and because there wasn’t really a suitable place to introduce her and recount her backstory. So I had to make some tough choices. I also changed almost everybody’s names, which was probably wise. Nobody has stopped talking to me – yet!
  • Was it difficult to write about your own personal experiences? Maybe one experience in particular?
    • I actually find it quite easy, at least I did with this book. You have a license as a non-fiction to leave out whatever you want, and since I wasn’t writing an addiction story or a misery memoir, I could chop and choose what I wanted to put in. Having said that, I didn’t really leave out anything that was important, or that would have played a part in the story I was trying to tell. I could imagine however that under different circumstances, writing about your personal experience might be uncomfortable. It is hard to write without thinking, ‘Mum will be reading this…’ There is one chapter where I visit a religious theme park and to put my reaction in context, I explain that I’m an Atheist; I definitely hesitated about putting that in, until I suddenly said to myself, ‘Why am I hesitating? It’s my book, and I’m not ashamed of it.’ So in it went!
  • Once your book was written, did you seek out agents, publishers or both?
    • I actually began before the book was finished. When I had an extensive proposal and three sample chapters, I queried about nine UK and Ireland agents (from Orlando). I disobeyed all the rules and made up a jokey ‘flyer’ for the book that had photos on it, and the header had Mickey’s silhouette in it. I was meticulous; I even put Disney stamps on the envelopes. Only one agent replied positively, but her reply was very positive. I sent her the proposal and chapters; she asked for more; I sent her more; she asked for the whole book; I sent her the whole book. She really enjoyed it and loved my writing, but couldn’t represent me on the strength of it because of its particularly niche market. However she wanted to see a novel, if I had one. (I didn’t, at the time!) After that I sent it to four Irish publishers, two of whom required the full manuscript, but their reactions were ultimately the same: they liked it, but they couldn’t publish it because they feared not enough people would buy it. Finally I decided to concentrate on the novel and self-publish Mousetrapped instead.
  • What made you decide to go the self-publishing route?
    • First of all, I couldn’t stomach the idea of leaving Mousetrapped in a drawer forever more, especially since I’d had almost a universally positive reaction to the book from the agents and publishers who’d read it. Secondly, even though Mousetrapped may only have a small potential readership, I felt I knew where I could find them, especially in this new age of social media. Finally, when I discovered how cheaply self-service POD (like Lulu and CreateSpace) could be done for, I was sold.
  • Would you self-publish again?
    • I would, but never as a first choice. Self-publishing would only ever be my Plan B.
  • Why did you feel the design of your book cover was so important?
    • Well, I don’t just love reading, but books themselves, and I am the kind of person who will buy a book just because I like the cover. Sometimes I’ll buy a new edition of a book even if I already have a previous edition, just because I particularly like the cover. (Yes, I am slightly crazy that way…!) So it was very important that my own book look good. Covers are also – it seems – the number one disaster area for self-published books, and I just don’t understand why. It’s relatively easy to create a simple cover that looks good. I’ve also witnessed a strange phenomenon whereby self-published authors ignore everything they know about books and produce cover art and designs that I can guarantee they have never seen on a traditionally published book. I saw one book – a novel – that had ‘Edited by’ on the front cover under the author’s name. What???!!!! Have you ever seen the name of a novel’s editor on the front (or back, for that matter) cover of a novel? And people who use patterns for their book cover instead of pictures… I despair, I really do.
  • How did you market your book after it was self-published?
    • I blogged about the entire self-publishing experience (www.catherineryanhoward.com/selfprinting) and I also have a Twitter account and Facebook fan page. There’s a dedicated Mousetrapped site (www.mousetrappedbook.com) where you can read the first chapter, browse pictures, watch videos, etc. I made two book trailers, printed postcards and held a book launch, which got some coverage in the local press. I had a giveaway on Goodreads and did some guest posting on other blogs. I gave away copies for review. I did everything I could to promote it and I still am.
  • Do you think self-publishing can be used as a means to break into the traditional publishing world?
    • Yes and no. I’ll start with the no. I think it’s pretty stupid to self-publish in the hopes of getting that particular book picked up later by a traditional publisher. If it was worth ‘proper’ publication, wouldn’t someone have made you an offer? (Assuming you tried.) And if it sells the 10,000 or so copies it would need to in order to get the attention of a traditional publisher, why would you bother handing it over to them when you’re going to have much better royalties self-publishing, and all the hard work is already done? There’s also the issue of rights, who owns the book, etc. Of course, there’s exceptions to this as there is to everything, but I think you’re just kidding yourself if you think that by self-publishing your book, you’re going to end up getting a six figure deal for it some day in the future. However… the yes: self-publishing can lead to bigger and better things, at least for your other books. Before I self-published Mousetrapped, I wrote a novel. An agent happened to buy and read a copy of Mousetrapped when it came out (she was following me on Twitter), got in contact with me regarding the novel and now she’s representing me. In this scenario, if I hadn’t self-published, I might not have an agent for my novel now, and so maybe self-publishing for me will lead to traditional publication success. The key is that it wasn’t with the same book. Have something else waiting in the wings and you never know what might happen.
  • If you could offer other authors one piece of advice on self-publishing, what would it be?
    • Be honest. Don’t try to pretend that self-publishing is something that it’s not. Whenever I see writers going on about how they’re self-publishing because they want more control, or they want higher royalties, or they’re the only ones who understand the true value of their precious story, or they don’t want the Big Bad Publishing Houses stealing all their money, etc. etc., I roll my eyes and make a mental note not to buy their book. I have been perfectly honest about my reasons for self-publishing – I had to publish it because no one else would – and it didn’t do my sales any harm.
  • Your book is available for sale in the U.S. and U.K., what were some of the differences you found in the two markets?
    • I think U.S. customers are mainly buying it for its content, i.e. Disney, Florida, etc. whereas UK customers tend to have come into contact with me either through Twitter or my blog, and have bought it because they like my writing style. I’ve also sold many more Kindle editions to US customers (I imagine) than UK or European, but with the print editions the converse is true.
  • We hear you have a new novel in the works, how was your writing process different for the novel versus your non-fiction book?
    • It’s completely different. Writing non-fiction is for me quite an enjoyable way to spend my time. Writing fiction is like pulling out my own teeth with a power tool. But having written fiction is quite honestly the best feeling in the world.

Questions from our Duolit Details Hot Seat!

  • What piece of technology can you absolutely NOT live without?
    • My iPhone. It’s never far away.
  • What’s your favorite junk food?
    • Anything that’s bad for you, generally. I have a special place in my heart for Oreo Cakesters, which is a shame because they don’t sell them here. Andrea, my former Orlando roommate who now lives in D.C., sent me a box of them for Christmas and it was the best present ever.
  • What’s your favorite TV show?
    • Oh, I couldn’t pick one… I’m a huge LOST fan, so that’s an obvious choice. But I also was a huge fan of The West Wing, and pull the box set out every now and then. My brother and I watch 24 over three days every year (we never watch on TV) and I’m trying to save the last two seasons of The Wire for as long as possible. Then there’s Mad Men, The Office (UK and US), Glee and anything involving space or air crash investigations on the Discovery Channel…. CLEARLY I watch waaaay too much TV!
  • Pencil, pen or computer?
    • Always, always, always computer. I’d rather type Post-Its. I don’t know how people can write fiction longhand – I’d love to, but my handwriting just can’t keep up with my thoughts. I’d have forgotten half the book before I’d even got it down.
  • What’s your beverage of choice?
    • I am famous for my coffee consumption. If we’re being specific, it’s a non foam extra hot venti latte from Starbucks with an extra espresso shot. And I really mean no foam – I don’t want to see as much as a bubble in there.

We thank Catherine so much for her time! If you’re interested in being interviewed by Duolit, send us an e-mail or direct message us on Twitter.

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