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My Five Seconds of Fame: Why You Need to be The Story

Writing.ie | Guest Bloggers | Self-Printed

Catherine Ryan Howard

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Nearly a year after self-publishing a travel memoir, I was suddenly featured in The Sunday Times and talking on the country’s most listened to radio show about it. How did THAT happen? 

February was a crazy month for me because eleven months after I self-published my travel memoir, Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida, me self-publishing became a newsworthy story. Suddenly I was in the paper and on the radio, talking about a book I’d sent out into the world nearly a whole year before, all the while trying to act cool and nonchalant about my sudden five seconds of fame, but inside wondering what the hell just happened?


I think it all started back on on February 3, which I posted on my own blog about my great Christmas in terms of e-book sales. In November I sold 144 e-books; in December, I sold 377; in January, that rose to 811. Eoin Purcell of Irish Publishing News asked if he could  cross-post it and I agreed; it was posted on IPN the following day.

A couple of days later I got an e-mail from a reporter at The Sunday Times, saying he was interested in doing a story about Mousetrapped’s e-book success. After I got back on my chair – seeing ‘sunday-times.ie’ in a e-mail that’s just arrived in my inbox was quite exciting, let me tell you – I called him, and the following Sunday a story called “Self-made mouse tale is Amazon hit” took up a quarter page in the main paper.

Needless to say, this was great – and not just because of the exposure. My e-book success had moved into the Real World, where friends and family could understand it. (Try explaining to a luddite that you’ve making progress on your dreams of publication because you’ve managed to double your monthly blog hits, or because a certain person is now following you on Twitter, or because you were mentioned on a certain site, and all you’ll get is their eyes glazing over or the question, ‘But do you get paid for that?’ But a quarter page in the Sunday Times? They understand that fine.)

I thought being in the Sunday Times was about as amazing as things were going to get, and I had a great day reading congratulatory messages and carefully cutting and pasting the article into my Mousetrappedscrapbook. (Yes, I have a Mousetrapped scrapbook. Heck, I have a scrapbook scrapbook!) It honestly never occurred to me that the following morning, a bunch of radio producers would be leafing through theSunday Times looking for interesting things to talk about on the radio, and decide that I sounded like I was it. Over the few days I was interviewed on The Tom Dunne Show on Newstalk, Feedback with Alison Curtis on Phantom FM and Shirley Donovan on Community Radio Youghal.

Then the biggie: The Marian Finucane Show on RTÉ Radio 1 on a Saturday morning. It’s the second most listened to radio show in the country, and the most listened to at the weekend. Luckily I didn’t know this until after I did the interview – I was nervous enough as it was! – but there was something in the region of 400,000 people listening to me talk about Mousetrappedfor nearly ten minutes that morning.


The following week I was in Belfast for LitNetNI’s Making a Living in the 21st Century workshop and afterwards, Eoin Purcell and I appeared – briefly! – on BBC Radio Ulster’s Arts Extra show.

Whereas the other radio interviews had been done over the telephone, this was in – gasp! – BBC studios in Belfast. This meant getting a BBC security pass, having to walk around with it clipped to your lapel and sitting in a proper radio studio watching a show go out live.

Uncool and all as it may be, I thought this was just brilliant. And the best part about it? As I  said to Eoin – quietly! – while we waited in the studio for the interview to begin, isn’t it funny the places where blogging can take you? Because that’s how I got where I am today: I started blogging. Obviously there are loads of other links in the chain, but starting Catherine, Caffeinated on February 1, 2010, is the first one.

That’s what I always try to get across to writers when I talk to them about social media: you have no idea where it might take you, and the best places you’ll go are the ones you can’t even imagine.

A year ago blogging had me here, in my room, chained to my desk. A year later, it had me  in The Sunday Times, on the Marian Finucane show and in Belfast on BBC Radio Ulster, getting better publicity for me and my book then I could have got by brazenly asking for it.

Not too shabby for a free WordPress.com blog…


I think there’s three takeaways from this experience.

1: Now is not the only time. 

By this I mean the release of your book is not the only opportunity for publicising it, as I had thought up until now. The story of your book’s publication can be an opportunity too – if it’s a success. Books get published every minute of every day – why would anyone report on that? They need an angle. And “self-published book that was rejected by traditional publishing but went on to sell a few copies” is a good one.

2: You must be the story.

What makes Mousetrapped interesting to the likes of radio producers and reporters is the story behind the story, which in a nutshell goes something like: unprepared Irish girl moves to Florida to work in Disney World, struggles at first but ends up having a great time, writes book about it when she comes home, book gets rejected by an agent and a few publishers, girl decides to self-publish book, book sells 3,000 copies in a year. Isn’t that a lot better than “I wrote a novel, nobody would publish it so I published it myself?” You need to insert yourself into the narrative. Why did you write the book? What made you qualified to write it? Why are you more interesting than everyone else waiting the wings, clutching copies of their self-published books?

3: Always be prepared.

You have no idea when your moment is going to be, so always have some books in stock, some business cards at the ready and enough free time (or a plan in place to make some) to handle anything unexpected that might come your way. You never know…

This is Read an E-book Week and as Smashwords are participating, you can buy Mousetrappedfrom Smashwords.com at 50% for this week (March 6-12) only. Click here for more information.

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