November 2011


Catherine Ryan Howard has recently published her debut novel Results Not Typical – a satire about the weight loss industry. She has also published two travel memoirs and a non-fiction title about self-publishing. She lives in Cork, Ireland. Her website is (Interview by Shirley Benton Bailey)

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  1. 1. Tell us about your books.

    I self-published my first book, a travel memoir called Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida, in March 2010, and I followed that up last month with the story of what happened next, Backpacked: A Reluctant Trip Across Central America. I’ve also self-published a how-to book, Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing and I’ve just released my first novel, Results Not Typical. It’s been a busy couple of years!

  2. 2. What inspired you to begin writing, and did you always want to become a writer?

    I always wanted to become a writer, ever since I realized that there were actual people behind books. There’s a great picture of me one Christmas morning when I was think I was about seven or eight, sitting on the floor trying out the new typewriter Santa brought me with a long pigtail hanging down on either side of my head. Problem was though that for a long time - up until I started Mousetrapped, I’d say - I thought that the best way to become a filthy rich, bestselling author was to sit around reading On Writing, perfecting manuscript formatting and making lists of agents to query from The Writers and Artists Yearbook. I never actually wrote anything, but I guess you could say I’m making up for all those years of procrastination now.

  3. 3. How long does it take you to write each book, and how many hours every day do you dedicate to writing, blogging and social networking?

    Since I write full-time and don’t have any distractions (like kids, husbands, etc. - I don’t know how mother-writers cope!) I can write pretty quickly. I wrote Backpacked in about a month, for instance, and Self-Printed was the same. Results Not Typical was different because for a while I was working on that with an agent. So I’d say the first draft took around six weeks, second draft about three months, third about two months. I find non-fiction SO much easier to write, so that’s reflected in how long it takes me. As for how many hours I dedicate to writing, blogging, Twitter, etc., that’s easy - all of them! I really have worked very hard for the last two years doing this, and I pretty much don’t do anything else but that at the moment. My long-term plan is to build up as much momentum as I can and then take a little step back from it, but I don’t feel I can do that until I’ve built up a strong enough foundation. Selling books is extremely hard and it takes a lot of work just to maintain sales, especially if you’re self-published and not in bookstores (like me). If I’m in the middle of writing something, I could spend around six or seven hours on it each day. That requires a very comfortable chair and a lot of coffee!

  4. 4. How important do you think an online presence is to selling books?

    These days, extremely. I know we’d all love to think that just writing a book in the first place and securing a book deal would be blood, sweat and tears enough, but it’s just not. If you don’t have at least a blog to your name, then you are putting yourself at a disadvantage when you submit. Trying to get your book published is not unlike a job interview. Publishers can’t publish everything, so you need to have as many positives in your corner as you can and if you’re ready, willing and able to get out there and sell your own books, that’s a huge plus. Plus it’s free and it’s fun, so why wouldn’t you want to get in on the act?

  5. 5. What do you think the advantages of self-publishing are compared to being published by a publishing house?

    To be honest I think the advantages of self-publishing over being published are few and far between – it’s a lot of work! I suppose being in control of how much I can charge for my books, when I can do things (like release books, trailers, etc.), what my covers look like etc. is all good, but there’s nothing about it I wouldn’t happily give up to sign on the dotted line with a traditional publisher. I’m definitely not one of these self-publishing evangelists who thinks that all bookshops will be closed by the end of next week and that agents and publishers are the evil gatekeepers of a cosy club that wants to keep as many aspiring writers from their dreams as possible. In fact, those people drive me crazy. My dream was always to be a published writer, as in published by someone else, and while self-publishing has been a great training ground for me to sharpen my marketing and promotion skills, it’s just not the same.

  6. 6. What are the main challenges of self-publishing?

    I think the fact that you have to do it all yourself and that even if you produce an amazing-looking book with glowing reviews, you still have to overcome that prejudice that readers have against self-published books - a prejudice, mind you, that I completely understand. It’s changing a bit now with all the e-book millionaires and what have you, but it just adds another hurdle to an already difficult process.

  7. 7. How do you feel about the chick lit label?

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. Once upon a time I bristled at the thought of somebody calling my work that, but in my old age (!) I’ve realized that what people are labeling your book doesn’t matter as long as they’re talking about it in the first place. I think the problem is that some books are being shoehorned into a genre that has a defined set of expectations, and then when those expectations aren’t met it disappoints the reader and frustrates the author. I think there’s also an element of sexism in there too. One Day, for instance, was probably one of the most chick-litish books I’ve ever read in my life, yet because it was written by a man, it got treated very differently. But that’s not confined to publishing - don’t even get me started on ads for women-only motor insurance!

  8. 8. What books have had the biggest impact on your life?

    There’s many. I think if I picked three it’d probably be Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (which may seem like a strange choice but I first read it - or tried to - when I was 11 and I’ve been regularly re-reading it ever since!), The Hot Zone by Richard Preston (because it made me want to become a virologist - for a few years, anyway!) and We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver which I think is just one of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s so complex, and Eva (the narrator) is honest about motherhood in a way that I had never seen in fiction before. I’m also forcing The Help onto everyone at the moment!

  9. 9. What direction do you see the publishing industry going in over the next five years?

    I think more people will get e-readers, more indie bookshops will close and publishing companies will publish less books. But we’ll all still be reading, and most of us will still be reading mainly print books (me included). Walking into a bookshop for a browse is one of my favorite things to do and I can’t imagine I will ever want to stop doing that, or have to stop. I feel like the current mania about the so-called death of real books is like how, in the Sixties, futurists predicted we’d all be in flying cars by now. We have the world on our phones, yes, but our cars are still on the ground. I’m not going to start panicking just yet.

  10. 10. Describe your life as an author in three words.

    Write, TV, sleep. If I had six I’d add “repeat as required”.

  11. 11. What's the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

    I think “write the book you want to read” is great advice to follow. You’d better want to read it, because you could be writing and revising it for years, so you need something that’s going to keep you enthused, and if it’s the book you want to read but haven’t found yet, that means there’s potentially a gap in the market.

  12. 12. What message do you hope readers will take from your books?

    Honestly? That they should buy one of my other books too...! :-D

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