Renee Miller shares her experience with PublishAmerica

*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.

This book totally took me by surprise. The only survivors of a plane wreck on a deserted island are about 15 beauty-pageant girls.

It started off as a spoof, but as time passes, you learn that each girl has a painful secret. Their time on the island strips away all their pretenses, their beliefs, and even their desires. Enemies become friends. Contestants become survivors. Girls become women.

At the end, I was cheering for each and every one of the characters in this book.

My favorite quote:

"Why do girls always feel like they have to apologize for giving an opinion or taking up space in the world? Have you ever noticed that?" Nicole asked. "You go on websites and some girl leaves a post and if it's longer than three sentences or she's expressing her thoughts about some topic, she usually ends with, 'Sorry for the rant' or 'That may be dumb, but that's what I think."
--Libba Bray, Beauty Queens

Never Edit at 3 in the Morning...

Reading what I had changed while editing, I found these words:
The stubble on his cheek contrasts with a rough scrape on my hand.
Tell me that makes sense. What on earth was I thinking? In the future, I will make sure I'm actually AWAKE when I'm writing or editing. No more 3 in the morning edit sessions. I changed it to:
The stubble on his cheek scrapes my hand.

Book Giveaway!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Tears by Rita Webb


by Rita Webb

Giveaway ends August 20, 2011.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter to win

The Write Agenda defines hate groups

It is always exciting to find on a new rating for one of the anthologies that contain some of my short stories: Unlocked or Ménage à 20. Especially when that rating includes a review. Good or bad, I like to know what my reader’s think, and since this one was a 1-star rating with a review, I was especially excited.

The review was simple: “This author is on our banned list.”

To me, that was really exciting, but I was at a loss to figure out why we should be banned. Okay, Unlocked has some material that a few readers called racy——one character is an assassin; there’s a lot of violence, an off-stage sex scene, some strong language, references to a rape, a song about a "roll in the hay," and some racial slurs by a kid who thought he was being funny (but he did learn his lesson). Nothing worth banning over.

Curious, I went to the reviewer’s profile where I discovered hundreds of 1-star ratings, all with the same banned-author review.

Note: The rating & review had been removed (I’m assuming someone reported them to Goodreads), but The Write Agenda re-added the rating without the review. Now there are 944 ratings with a 1.31 average. Only 8 of them have reviews with a generic statement about not liking the characters or plot.

From there, I traveled to the related website and discovered this hate list.

Notice the name of Gwen McIntyre, who is a co-contributor to the anthologies Unlocked and Ménage à 20. What did she do to get on this list? Is she banned for her bad story writing or racy plot lines? I mean, most banned writers have written material that question our morals or beliefs that we hold dear or stories that offend our sensibilities in some way.

No, Gwen only exercised her right to freedom of speech by posting this quote from another blog, “The Write Agenda: The wrong company to keep. Word to the wise: a new outfit calling itself The Write Agenda has been taking potshots at Victoria Strauss, Ann Crispin, Absolute Write, Writer Beware, Preditors and Editors, SFWA, Atlanta Nights, and other entities that give newbie writers helpful information about the scams and nogoodniks that prey on them.”

Her opinion. Her right to express it.

But for that, The Write Agenda retaliated by:
(1) adding her to their banned list
(2) putting 1-star reviews on all her works
(3) adding her words to their collected list of Critics of the Write Agenda.

Dig deeper and you will see a correlation between the ratings on Goodreads and the banned list and hate postings. Agenda? Certainly the group has the right name.

On The Write Agenda site, you will find find a Defamation List, which you can’t access unless you are a member, and a lot of information attacking anyone who has publically disagreed with The Write Agenda or sided with groups like Writer Beware, SFWA, and Predators and Editors, groups that seek to keep the public informed on the business practices of publishing companies and literary agents in the hope of protecting people from being scammed.

What you won't find on The Write Agenda's site is a comprehensive list of useful information about publishers and agents. On their About Us page, they claim that they have no problems with people trying to protect others from scammers, but that the information given by Writer Beware and such groups is erroneous if not outright lies.

So here’s my problem with The Write Agenda:

#1. A book review and rating is on the book, not the author. Collect your hate lists & banned lists all you want. Attack writers on your web site. But it is wrong to post bogus reviews for books you didn't read just to hurt a writer’s ratings because they disagree with you. It’s hard enough being a writer as it is.

#2. Nothing on their web site helps me make informed decisions about publishers and agents. IMO, the information they provide is unhelpful; 95% of the information I read attacked people who have said something bad about The Write Group. I encourage you to read their site and make your own opinion.

#3. The Write Agenda hides behind anonymity. I find that very suspicious.

#4. After reading their site and articles, I have come to the conclusion that The Write Agenda spends a lot of time trashing other writers and attacking people. IMO, it's a hate group. Nothing more. I formed this opinion based on their banned lists and articles.

I'd love to hear if anyone has any further information.

UPDATE 8/3/2011: After posting this article, I found that the reviewer's profile has been removed from Goodreads. I am assuming that Goodreads removed their profile as they obviously posted their ratings & reviews with an agenda to attack and harm the authors of those books.

UPDATE 8/4/2011: In response to this post, The Write Agenda has added me to their (1) Critics of The Write Agenda page, (2) Propaganda Watch list, and (3) their Author Boycott list.

UPDATE 8/26/2011: I have been given a cease & desist order by The Write Agenda. I am combing my post to verify that nothing I have said could be misconstrued as defamatory. Some statements I have no proof on, so I have reworded to show that they were opinion. And I removed any statements of conjecture.