*I'm starting a new series to interview authors about their experiences with their publishers. If you are a published author and would like to share your publishing experience, please contact me at my rita[at]ritajwebb[dot]com email address. I'm looking for both negative and positive experiences.*
Renee Miller is an astounding writer. I've had the pleasure of beta-reading several of her novels as well as reading her short stories. You can read a few of her stories in the anthology Ménage à 20.
She agreed to an interview, and I hope the information she has shared will help you on your own journey to becoming a published writer. Thanks, Renee, for taking the time to answer my questions.
Rita: How did you hear about PublishAmerica?
Renee: When I was a green author, as in just finished my first manusript and eager to see it in print, I googled a long list of publishers. I didn't know about Writer Beware or industry watchdogs like that who might have warned me against a potentially bad decision. I found Publish America through that Google search and when I read their site, my oh-so-desperate-to-publish brain didn't see the red flags.
Rita: Why did you decide to publish through them?
Renee: Because they wanted my books. Sorry, I wish it was more than that, but it wasn't. To give you a better idea of where my mind was at the time, I also tossed a couple hundred dollars to the Writers' Literary Agency too, for editing service. I'd even had a few chats with Author House. Let's say by the end of that year, I got a giant reality check. It hurt. A lot.
Rita: What were your publishing terms? How did they honor their side of the contract?
Renee: I don't know that I can get into the details of the contract but I can tell you what is offered in their acceptance letter. Basically, the terms are for seven years (red flag number one) and they publish, "edit", take care of the cover art, etc. and I was to be paid a royalty on sales. The royalty varied depending on the number of books sold. For me, it started at 8%, maxed out at 12%. Authors were to get two copies of their books free on the first contract, the second (oh yes, I was naive enough to sign a second contract) did not promise author copies. They did take care of all that they said they would, but I had to pay shipping on the books and the only royalties I've seen since 2008 have been for books sold to people I know. As in, one store that stocked 25 copies, and a local woman who bought a couple of copies. Total royalties paid is around $30. In my opinion, they've not honored that part of the contract. Why? Because I counted at one point in 2009, around 100 copies of my books available to buy USED. If they're used, one would think that someone, at some point, bought them, no? When I questioned this, I didn't receive a reply initially. Then, after questioning several times, I received an email stating that they were in litigation with their printing company and royalties would not be paid until that litigation had been resolved. I received a check for $0.96, not long after that. Nice, eh? I've framed it. Just in case I ever feel desperate again.
Rita: Did you have to pay to be published? If so, how much?
Renee: No I didn't have to pay them up front, although one might wonder if I have paid anyway.
Rita: How many books did you sell? How much did you earn in royalties?
Renee: I don't know how many books I sold and this is my fault for not being more diligent early on. I know that at least 50 copies were sold locally. Did I receive royalties on those? No, I received royalties on about 30 books. I also know, because these readers emailed me, that several more were sold to various people I know "online", but I did not see those royalties either. Perhaps these people were lying. I can't say for sure, but I don't believe they are. I believe they bought the books they said they did. What happened to the royalties? Don't know. They've offered the rights back on the second book, saying that it hasn't sold in a year so they're okay with letting me have them back before the end of the contract. But I have to buy those rights for the low price of about $200. No thanks.
Rita: How was the customer service and support once you were published?
Renee: Shitty. If I emailed about something minor, like how to order more of my books, it was speedy and pleasant. If I had questions, concerns or complaints, I rarely got a reply. I can't get any replies now. Actually, my last two emails came back as address not found or invalid.
Rita: How do you feel about your experience with PublishAmerica?
Renee: I feel that this has been an excellent learning experience for me. I'm embarrassed that I was such a fool and didn't see what was clearly in front of my face at the beginning because of my eagerness to see my words in print, but I'm glad I learned the hard way early on. Before I had much to lose. I'm also glad that it happened to me and not someone who might have quit writing as a result. My Irish tends to be a bit stubborn, so nothing would discourage me enough to quit. But many writers would be devastated by such an experience and rightly so. I want to prevent those writers from being where I've been.
Rita: Will you publish through them again?
Renee: Not on your life.
Rita: How has your experience changed your perspective of writing and the publishing industry?
Renee: Yes, it has. Originally I thought that the big publishers were giant assholes who didn't want new authors. You know, the whole "it's not fair" routine. I now realize that they are hardasses for a reason. They want quality work. What I was passing around at the time was not quality work. It was horrible. I've realized that for the right amount of money, anyone can be published. If you're willing to let people treat you like a doormat in this industry (or any industry), they will. There are a lot of dishonest people out there. Writing is such a personal endeavor and writers such passionate dreamers that we're ripe for people who want to make a quick buck. I think if you work hard, things happen for you. You take the easy way, you'll get exactly what you deserve. I didn't put in the work or the time, and I got what I deserved. I have two books, which are special to me because I wrote them for my daughters, that are now tarnished in my mind. I can't even read them. My daughters read them, but I get sick to my stomach just looking at the covers. Why? Because I keep remembering how stupid I was.
Rita: What would you say to a new author looking to get their books published?
Renee: I'd say that writing is not easy. Getting published is not easy. It shouldn't be. Writing should be hard, and it should be frustrating, and you should be rejected many times before you find the right home for your work. It's the only way to learn. And you should be constantly learning. No one is a perfect writer. No one. Just because you can string a few sentences together or you can write a passable story doesn't mean you should be selling it to the masses. Writing is an art; inexact, imperfect and sometimes impossible. It takes years to master just the basics. Even then, only a small few become brilliant writers.
I'm not saying there aren't thousands of good writers out there. There are probably more than that. But, when someone tells you your work is brilliant, wonderful, amazing (you get the idea), you should notice that something smells rotten. If someone is willing to publish your first draft, run fast and run far. No one's first draft is publishable. Not even the great Mr. King. If you're so desperate to see your name in print, go to CreateSpace or Lulu or Smashwords and publish it yourself. That way you'll have the same quality of book, but you'll actually get paid for writing it. I've put in thousands of hours, written short fiction, articles, freelanced for more publications than I can count. I've studied until my brain hurt trying to learn the basics of fiction writing. I still have much more to learn.
If you've written a book, that's awesome. Finishing a novel is a huge achievement. Submitting it right away? Bad idea. Let it rest; write some more. Join critique groups and attend workshops. Pay attention to agent blogs and absorb as much as you can from published authors. Then, go back to your novel and read it again. You'll be glad you didn't submit it while "The End" was still fresh on the page.
Rita: Thank you, Renee, for your taking the time to share your wisdom with us.