Results Not Typical

Today sees the last of my little run of blog tour guests, Catherine Ryan Howard, talking about her latest adventure self-publishing a novel Results Not Typical. Thanks for stopping by My Little Notepad, Catherine!

Can you give us a rundown of your story so far?

I self-published a travel memoir in March 2010 that had been rejected all over town for having no market. I didn’t really know what I was doing but through trial, error and Google I figured it out and eventually sold a few thousand copies of Mousetrapped. Self-publishing was supposed to be just what I did to keep me in coffee while I wrote a novel that I hoped would get me traditionally published, but after I got some sales I decided to concentrate on it a bit more than that. So since then I’ve also self-published a “How To” book (Self-Printed), another travel memoir (Backpacked) and now a novel, Results Not Typical.

 You’ve always said you would absolutely not self-publish a novel. Do you find your words coming back to haunt you now?! Why the change of heart?

Um, yes, definitely! I’ve learned my lesson now and it’s shut the hell up about what you’re “never” going to do… I changed my mind because originally, I thought that while non-fiction could be good but get rejected on the strength – or weakness, rather – of it’s potential market, surely a novel would get published if it was good enough. Therefore if it wasn’t good enough, it wouldn’t, and it should probably stay in a drawer. But after submitting Results – a corporate satire/chick lit affair – and getting great feedback about the writing, etc. but being told yet again that it wasn’t what was selling in the market right now I thought, well, my other books are selling so why not self-publish this too? It’s also very different from the book I’m writing now that I hope to submit, so I feel as if I may as well. It remains to be seen whether or not it was a good decision!

Do you find writing a book is becoming progressively easier, since you’ve done four now?

Not a chance. I think it gets slightly worse. Writing Results took three drafts and the best part of a year – of full-time writing. When I think back to the first draft and how it bears absolutely no resemblance to the finished product, I feel a little bit sick. You think to yourself, how can I possibly do all that again? So um, no, sorry!

What marketing advice can you give someone who has self-published a novel, and how is that different, if at all, from marketing a non-fiction book?

I think marketing a novel is much harder. With Mousetrapped, I had a few calling cards I could use. The book featured Walt Disney World, NASA, living abroad, etc. so right from the start I could target people who liked those things. A novel presents an entirely different set of challenges, which I’m still trying to work out! I think the best thing to do is just let as many people know about it as possible – hence the blog tour – and then make sure you have a good cover (which I do, thanks to your talented cover designer husband), an enticing product description/blurb and a convincing price. After that, you’d just better hope luck comes around.

Top hint for a would-be self-published novelist?

Wait. That’s my number one tip. It took six months for Mousetrapped’s sales to go anywhere, and a full year for them to take off. I’ve sold nearly 9,000 copies but the first month I think I sold 60 or something, and most of them were to people I knew. You have to keep plugging away at your promotion, and have some patience. At the very least, wait a year.

And what’s next for you?

Taking some time off self-publishing to work on a novel that I hope a publisher will like. Wish me luck!


Buy Results Not Typical on or

Goodreads Giveaway:

If you visit you can enter a giveaway to win one of five paperback copies of Results Not Typical. Open for entries from September 30th-October 31st. Open to all countries.

About Catherine:

Catherine Ryan Howard is a 29-year-old writer, blogger and enthusiastic coffee-drinker. She currently lives in Cork, Ireland, where she divides her time between her desk and the sofa. She blogs at

About Results Not Typical:

The Devil Wears Prada meets Weightwatchers and chick-lit meets corporate satire in the debut novel from Catherine Ryan Howard, author of the bestselling memoir Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida. Through their Ultimate Weight Loss Diet Solution Zone System, Slimmit International Global Incorporated claim they’re making the world a more attractive place one fatty at a time. Their slogans “Where You’re Fat and We Know It!” and “Where the Fat IS Your Fault!” are recognised around the globe, the counter in the lobby says five million slimmed and their share price is as high as their energy levels. But today the theft of their latest revolutionary product, Lipid Loser, will threaten to expose the real secret behind Slimmit’s success…The race is on to retrieve Lipid Loser and save Slimmit from total disaster. If their secrets get out, their competitors will put them out of business. If the government finds out, they’ll all go to jail. And if their clients find out… Well, as Slimmit’s Slimming Specialists know all too well, there’s only one thing worse than a hungry, sugar-crazed, carb addict – and that’s an angry one. Will the secret behind Slimmit’s success survive the day, or will their long-suffering slimmers finally discover the truth? Available now in paperback and e-book editions.



Cover Issues

This post is a very brief one – either a rant or a bit of helpful advice depending on how you choose to take it.

It’s common knowledge that ebooks and self-publishing are on the rise; I’ve even taken my own first baby steps in this brave new world. And while some people, hopefully a minority, are using self-publishing as a shortcut to get out the manuscripts that have been multi-rejected and putting little or no thought into it, most of us really want the best for our babies. Er, sorry, books.

So why, why, is there still not enough importance put on cover design? I have to admit first up that I do have some interest in this area as my husband’s launched his own design business, part of which is Design for Writers. Which is, er, designing stuff for writers – including websites and book covers. But this post is mostly provoked by a series of things I’ve read lately.

The first is in this month (June)’s issue of Writing Magazine. In Q&A on p73 a throwaway sentence made me bristle: “If you typeset your novel…design your own cover (if you are or know an artist or photographer this won’t be difficult)…” I’ll be writing a letter to Writing Magazine but can I just say, this is not particularly good advice! And I really love this magazine, I get it on subscription as it’s really helpful. This bit, though, just… isn’t.

It kind of sums up the problem with self-published covers. Almost everyone thinks they are, or can be, an artist or photographer. It isn’t that easy! Writers get notoriously (and rightly) prickly when someone mentions in casual conversation that they “always wanted to write a book” or similar because writing is not just a question of getting words on a page. Cover design is not just a question of getting a picture and a title on a wrap-around bit of card (and ebooks are a minefield unto themselves)!

Go into a bookshop. Any one, any shelf, any section. Pick up and look at a few professionally-published books. You will see none of the following things:

  • clip art
  • fancy fonts
  • a variety of fonts and colours “because they look pretty”.
  • any trace of Comic Sans.

Go on, test me, and come back and gloat in the comments if I’m wrong.

A properly designed cover has had someone with a talent for design spend several hours asking the editors (or author if it’s self-printed) what ‘feel’ the book should have, considering the genre, playing with any images used to get the best out of them, trying a range of typefaces to find the most suitable ONE  (and having a good knowledge of the typefaces available) and arranging all of the necessary elements so that the cover looks as attractive and enticing as possible.

The other thing that sparked this post is that I’m just reading the section on cover design in Catherine Ryan Howard’s new book, Self-Printed. I’m lucky enough to be a proof reader for this, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Go to Catherine’s blog, subscribe to updates, and get in line to buy this when it’s released if you have even the vaguest idea of venturing into this area. It really will be invaluable. And, as I expected, Catherine is spot on when she talks about cover design. She says that most writers forget everything they know about books when it comes to the cover design for their own, and she’s absolutely right.

A good designer, which I have to say my husband is (and he designed Catherine’s covers, if you’re interested), will listen to the writer about their book but then take their ideas and make them better, just as a good ghostwriter, say, would take someone’s idea and make it into a readable book. I know one of the benefits of self-printing is having control over things that you wouldn’t through a traditional publisher, but this can be a double-edged sword. Step back from the book with your hands in the air, and let someone who really does have a talent for design handle the situation. This is an emergency, people (sorry, watching a bit too much ER lately).

If you can’t afford a professional designer, at least do yourself the favour of doing some research into current cover design and limit yourself to one font, one picture and NO borders. Yes, some books have more than one of these but if you’re not totally sure what you’re doing then play it safe. A clean, fresh design is better than one that makes your eyes bleed.

Now I’ve got that off my chest, I’ll get back to reading…

The Self-Publishing Storm

First off, I would like to make it VERY clear that I am a rank amateur. I have had books published by no mainstream, small or independent press or any combination thereof. My only published work is on this blog, and whether that counts as published or not seems to be entirely subjective. So while I am offering my tuppence-worth on the self-publishing debate, they are completely my own limited observations and I’m happy to not only hear other points of view in the comments but to have more knowledgeable people than me put me straight.

To be honest, this post comes from some comments and follow up posts on Jane Smith’s blog, How Publishing Really Works, and more specifically, this post which was part of a series rebutting what seems to me to have been a grossly misguided hymn to self-publishing. I do pity the man who wrote the original article, as Jane refutes his points ruthlessly over the series, but it disappoints me that so much of her very fair and informed response has been misunderstood and blown up into a storm rather than a debate on a very topical subject.

There are many points raised in the comments, and I’m not going to go through them as Jane does a much better job of responding than I could. One of the ones that really stood out for me, though, was an assertion that Jane seemed determined to review self-published books with the sole aim of proving that they are all rubbish. It’s very disappointing that someone can go to the trouble of reading, reviewing and blogging about books that the average reader will not come across in an effort to find beautiful writing, just to have someone with their own axe to grind write off those efforts as, effectively, worse than worthless. As far as I can see, self-published writers fall into two camps – the minority, who are genuinely excellent writers but for one reason or another do not have a commercially-attractive work and turn to self-publishing this particular piece, whilst in the meantime continuing to write until they do have a piece for which publishers can see a market; and the majority who have taken little feedback or criticism and having fallen at the first few hurdles decide to do it themselves. The reason I’m making this differentiation is the very small sample I’ve seen – the first camp take care to produce their book as professionally as possible and do not have a view of publishers or agents as a Mafia-like force, determined to keep real talent beaten down in the name of profit. The second, well, often do have this view, and in general their books are, as Jane says, not good enough (by any criteria).

I think a problem arises when people put publishers on some sort of pedestal. A few of the comments talk about the need (or not) for publishers to educate the public and provide worthy books instead of chasing sales. But surely a publisher is a business, and therefore has to chase sales to exist? If the public demand is for ‘worthy’ books, they will publish them; if not, they won’t. Maybe it might help people to remember that a publisher is a person doing a job – to sift through hundreds of manuscripts (of varying standard) and try to do the best job they can to make money for the company whilst producing quality products. Sometimes this will be a lucky new author, sometimes a crowd-pleaser and sometimes a celebrity piece, because, let’s face it, people buy celebrity books.

I have been into my local bookshops a few times lately. Sadly these are not as extensive as I might like. A WH Smith with a relatively small book section is my closest bookshop; followed by a moderate Waterstones in the larger town roughly 10 miles east and the same west. A decent size Waterstones is about an hour’s car ride; for a good-sized one and smaller, more independent shops, I need to go to Newcastle which is about 45 miles away. A 90 mile round trip, then, for a good bookshop. Anyway, my point is that my physical access to books is limited, as it is for my neighbours, but what I do have to say is that in those bookshops, even the closest and most limited, there is a good range of books. Not always what I want, but a good range of literary, genre fiction, celebrity bios, and some self-published (usually with a local connection). I have seen works by established authors, debut authors, celebrities and the odd long-shot, the unexpected success, as well as the runaway phenomenons that I personally aren’t that keen on but that the buying public obviously adore, judging by the coverage. I would venture an opinion, then, that between them the publishers are getting it pretty much dead right.

Yes, there are almost certainly fantastic books that slip through the cracks and don’t get picked up (if any publishers reading this have a manuscript floating round with the name Rebecca E Brown on, that’s one of them. Just saying.) and selecting books is ultimately impossible to do completely objectively – there must always be some personal preference creeping in because no-one can turn their emotions on and off at will. But I have faith in publishers, who are (like it or not) the experts in their trade, that they are doing the best job they can, and that somewhere along the way those unfortunate deserving authors will get picked up if we keep trying and keep writing and keep improving. And if any of us do turn to self-publishing, that we do it with our eyes open and for the best possible reasons, not because we’ve taken our toys home in a huff, creating a storm out of nothing.

If, by some strange quirk, you haven’t visited Jane’s blog (which I linked to above), I recommend it as one of my must-read resources for writers, alongside Nicola Morgan’s Help! I Need A Publisher! And for a guide to self-publishing which manages to be thorough, realistic and still very entertaining, pop along to see Catherine, Caffeinated and read her story.