The Tuesday Interview: With Catherine Ryan Howard (author of Self-Printed)

Catherine Ryan Howard

Catherine Ryan Howard lives in Cork, Ireland. She has very successfully published a memoir about working in Disney, called Mousetrapped. She has documented the story of her self-printing experience and success in her blog Catherine, Caffinated and just lately released Self-Printed in which she shares the knowledge and expertise she gained from her self-printing experience. 

Having read Self-Printed, the quality and depth of the information shared is astounding. Catherine covers all the specifics on self-printing your manuscript, from cover design and formatting to uploading to the different platforms and troubleshooting. She also tackles the wider areas such as whether to self-publish or not, preparation and design, building a platform, selling and using data and tags to improve sales. Overall it’s a generous, clear, comprehensive book and written in Catherine’s lively and no-nonsense style, it’s a joy to read! Definitely the book to read for anyone considering self-printing.  Catherine’s here today for an interview on Head above Water so let’s find out more about Catherine and Self-Printed.

Let me begin by asking you the most important question of all. How many cups of coffee do you drink in a day?

If I’m at home and working, I stumble to the kitchen in a zombie-like state as soon as I wake up to put the machine on. That makes about three cups, “cup” being the ceramic bucket I bought at Starbucks. (So probably about six cups, technically speaking.) I usually have that drank by lunchtime and it’s a rare day I’d drink any more coffee after that, because the only thing I like more than caffeine is sleep and I need to stop then in order to get any later.

And what’s so good about Cork anyway? (I hail from Cork’s arch rival county Kerry).

I doubt anyone would be able to recall me ever saying anything nice about Cork  – I only like sunny places which pretty much rules out the whole country of Ireland. (The tourist board won’t be hiring me anytime soon…) Cork is a lovely city on a sunny weekend, which hopefully we’ll get here sometime between now and the end of days.  We do have a staggering array of cafés and a big Waterstone’s, which helps. And we’re definitely better than anywhere in Kerry… [Runs and hides]

You’ve become a bit of a (perhaps unintentionally) self-printing guru. Did you plan this or did it fall upon you like Newton’s apple?

I think the whole orchard fell on me. I knew absolutely nothing about self-publishing when I started this whole thing, other than it costing a lot of money and it being only an option for deluded losers (I thought). I still might not know anything about it today if it wasn’t for a friend sending me a link to Lulu.com saying, “I think you might be interested in this.” I’m only a guru if “guru” means “person who can use Google to find the answers to questions as they arise.” So no, this wasn’t planned – this was the opposite of planned!

Are you super rich now?

Oh, yes – disgustingly so. As Chandler Bing would say my wallet’s too small for my fifties and my diamond shoes are too tight…

Eh, no. I am making enough money from self-publishing to not have to do anything else, but I live (for now) with my parents. This year I’ve really starting treating self-publishing like a business I’m starting up, so I’d expect (or hope!) that by the end of next year, I’ll be making a comfortable living from it. And that I won’t be thirty years old and still living with my parental units…

Tell me how you started. Why did you decide to write your first book and then to self-print it?

I’d always wanted to make a living as a novelist. Growing up I thought this might be on the side of something else – I did want to work with the Ebola virus for a while – but eventually I realised that the only way my life could be exactly as I wanted it to be (i.e. dreamed of it being) is if I did it full-time. But then when I was 22 I started working abroad and that lifestyle just didn’t bode well for novel-writing. I forgot about it for a while until I went to Orlando to work in Walt Disney World, and started scribbling down my thoughts on all the rubbish stuff that was happening to me. I got an agent interested in a book about my experience – Mousetrapped – and when, ultimately, I couldn’t get an agent or a publisher to take it or me on, I decided to stop wasting time submitting it and get started on my original goal – writing a novel – instead. Then a friend sent me that link to Lulu and I thought, “Hmm. Wait a minute. Maybe I should throw Mousetrapped up there and see if I can sell a few copies…”

How did you learn about self-printing, it’s methods, pitfalls etc?

Google! I read all the instructions and forum posts and stuff on the websites involved, and if I had a question I couldn’t find the answer to, I googled it. I also found other self-publisher’s blogs and websites helpful and a lot of it was learned through trial and error. It’s no coincidence that I went through five proof copies of Mousetrapped before I could put it on sale, but for Backpacked – the one out next month – there’ll only be two. (Maybe one day I’ll get it down to one…) Self-publishing is just like using computers: you learn by doing. It’s the best way.

Things took off for you. Tell me a bit about the sales of Mousetrapped and when things really got going?

I released Mousetrapped in March 2010, and for the first six months sales were just a trickle. I think I sold just over 500 copies in that period which was great, because that had been my goal (100 copies in first month, 500 copies in six months, 1,000 copies in first year). But between editing costs, cover design, review copies, etc. I hadn’t even broke even. But in December 2010/January 2011, things took off – thanks to the Christmastime boom in e-books, I think. Then in February the Sunday Times here in Ireland did a story on me, and that’s when things went a bit mental. So having sold 500 copies in the first six months of the book’s life, I’m on track to have sold more than 7,000 copies in the twelve months after that.

It’s been a whirlwind couple of years for you in terms of publicity for your book and for you as a self-printing writer, what were the highlights?

Seeing my paperbacks for the first time (when they arrive from CreateSpace) is probably the most exciting thing, which is hilarious considering I could do that without ever selling a single book! I’m ordering proofs of my next two books this week including my first self-published (or anyway published!) novel and I cannot wait to see them. I just LOVE that moment, because I love physical books so much and see mine on Kindle doesn’t have the same effect. I also have to say that getting a security pass with my name and the BBC logo on it when I did a radio interview for BBC Radio Ulster in Belfast was pretty darn cool.

You’ve recently published ‘Self-Printed’ and cleverly also delivered it in bite sized chunks. It’s a very generous book. Why didn’t you want to keep all your secrets to yourself?

Because I’m so nice, of course! (Don’t say anything…) Well for starters, they’re not secrets. I don’t do anything special or claim to have any miraculous knowledge about how to sell books. I think 99% of what I do is just basic common sense and the rest is imagination. The other reason is that I thought there was a gap in the market for a self-publishing guide aimed at the non-deluded. Other guides seem to bloke smoke up the reader’s rear, tell them they’re amazing and encourage them to fire-bomb the offices of traditional publishing houses, whereas I just see self-publishing as a good Plan B. Plus the more people who self-publish well, the better it is for me and all other self-published writers, because as the general impression of self-publishing improves, more people will be willing to buy my self-published book. So if I can stop even a handful of poopy titles making it out into the world – unedited and in Bradley Hand ITC pt18 – my job is done.

With the way publishing is changing, should everyone publish an e-book?

I think e-books are fantastic for giving writers – especially those who are still pursuing traditional publication – a source of income, but no, I don’t think everyone should do it. Once you put something out there you can’t take it back, and sometimes the ignorant bliss of believing that everyone wants to read something you’ve written is better than the stark reality of you having writing out there that no one can be bothered with. It may not sound like it if you’re outside looking in, but selling e-books is hard work. If you have a manuscript that almost made it – maybe a publisher read the full manuscript, liked it but ultimately decided it wasn’t for them, or maybe you had a book published a few years back then didn’t make a splash and is now out of print – then by all means, get it out there. But don’t do it for the sake of it. Do it because you have begun work on your dream of becoming a full-time writer and you are sure the e-book is supposed to be part of the plan.

Why don’t you like people calling publishers ‘gatekeepers?’ What have you got to say about purple unicorns?

I don’t like the whole “gatekeepers” thing because it implies that publishing is an exclusive club that exists to keep people from joining it, as if every editor and agent meets up in a dark, secret room once a month to drink pig’s blood and laugh about how silly the little people are. Everyone in publishing loves books, and they want to publish them. That’s how they keep their business going – and business is the key word. If your book gets rejected, it’s because it wasn’t a product that was going to bring in as much as it was going to cost to put it out there, or bring in enough to make it worthwhile. It’s unromantic, but that’s reality. And it’s not personal. Claiming that it’s all a big conspiracy against unpublished, non-blogging, non-vampire-creating writers who aren’t called James Patterson is just pathetic. And don’t even mention purple unicorns…!

How did you feel about the last Atlantis flight? (Catherine gives a wonderful account of witnessing a space shuttle launch in her book Mousetrapped).

Very, very sad. I always believed the Shuttle was an overly complex machine that was drinking up NASA’s budget at an astonishing rate and they should’ve retired it years ago, but I wanted something else to come in its place. Now we’ve retired the most visible spaceship we had and we’ve nothing to put in its place, and so how are we going to keep children and teenagers interested in space exploration without it? Not to mention the thousands of people in the US space industry who have now lost their jobs. Also, I am going to be forever grateful that I got to see a launch up close, especially now that the world has a finite number of people who can say that.

What are the 3 most important things people need to get right in self-printing?

Your book has to be good, and I don’t mean in your opinion or in your mother’s/husband’s/best friend’s. I mean a professional publishing type – an editor or a manuscript critique service, for example – has to say, “This is a good book.” If you don’t have that, whatever else you do is irrelevant and a complete waste of your time.

Next: the cover. Don’t do it yourself unless you’re a professional book designer and DO NOT use the free “cover creation” software on sites like Lulu and CreateSpace. If your book even whispers “self-published”, you’ve failed  – and you haven’t even started trying to sell it yet.

Finally, pick the right price. Realise that the price-tag is not reflective of how much work, time and talent you put into writing your book. If that was the case, Jonathan Franzen would be charging hundreds for his titles and Katie Price would be paying us to read hers. If you don’t have an established readership, you need to price your book to sell. Readers are more important than money.

What are you up to next? Am I right in saying that Backpacked is just out?

Backpacked: A Reluctant Trip Across Central America is my second travel memoir and a sequel of sorts to Mousetrapped. That’ll was just released in paperback and e-book on September 5th. Then despite me saying on numerous occasions that I’d never self-publish a novel, I’m self-publishing a novel – Results Not Typical – in October. I call it chick-lit meets corporate satire and The Devil Wears Prada meets WeightWatchers. Then I’m going to finish a novel I’m working on that I hope will end up being traditionally published one day, and then I’m going on a very long holiday…

Are you going to have another cup of coffee now?

I’m drinking while I type.

We’re going to catch up with Catherine when she releases Results not Typical. In the meantime check out her publications so far!

Links:

Catherine, Caffinated


Self-Printed

 Backpacked

  Results Not Typical

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10 comments

  1. Absolutely totally brilliant interview — poopy titles and all — containing VG advice; thanks for sharing and I will RT wildly.
    (Unicorns? Do tell?)
    And I know what you mean about the shuttle. I went to pick a friend up from the airport, years ago, and as I bundled along in an open cabriolet, Concorde took off and flew over me; its last flight. Ends of eras and all.

  2. Very fun and insightful interview. Congratulations on your success Catherine. I wish you more in your next publishing endeavors.
    Your travel memoir, Backpacked: A Reluctant Trip Across Central America, seems an interesting read. I have always found publications of these kind amusing as they are based on real experiences. Plus, travel is one my fascinations.

  3. I so enjoyed this interview with Catherine. Her witty style is one that carries through to her books and makes them great to read. I love the line ‘the whole orchard fell on me!’ 🙂

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