Back in 2011, I was searching around for a publisher that would take on my western historical romance, Loveland. The name of The Wild Rose Press kept cropping up. It held the title of Best Publisher of the Year from Preditors and Editors (http://www.preditorsandeditors.com/) and had a well-earned reputation for good communication with their authors and a high level of professionalism. Today, Rhonda Penders is my Editor-in-Chief and I’m honored and delighted to have the opportunity to interview her here.
Penders and her business partner, R.J. Morris, started TWRP in May 2006. Under their leadership the company has grown to not only include over 1600 romance titles in both e-format and print, but in 2013 they also opened their doors to submissions in other genres, including women’s fiction, historical, erotica and mystery/suspense. In 2012 they started Wildflowers Books, www.wildflowersbooks.com, to assist authors who wanted to self-publish but needed some help with the basics. In January, 2013 they were awarded the Best Publisher of the Year title for the fifth year straight.
Penders’ writing background includes everything from small town newspaper articles to western romances under the pen name of Roni Adams. She resides in Upstate New York with her husband and three sons.
1) Rhonda, I’m delighted to have you here. Let me start by asking what gave you the idea and the impetus to start a publishing house? I take it you didn’t just wake up one morning and think, gee that might be fun…?
Actually, that’s pretty close to the reality. My writing friend, RJ, was frustrated with the way publishers treated authors and she was convinced we could do it better. The old adage ‘find a niche and fill it’ certainly applied when we decided to open a publishing house by authors for authors. We came up with the idea in mid-March of 2006 and by May 1 we were open for business.
2) Did you choose to publish Romance initially because that is what you write and presumably read or were there other factors?
Starting a business is hard enough without trying to learn something new. We figured the best thing to do was focus on our expertise which was romance. We brought up several people who we felt were experts in their subgenre, for example erotic romance and historical romance, and we put them in charge of those departments.
3) Who thought up The Wild Rose idea, by the way; was there any special association behind that or was it just an excellent marketing ploy?
It takes a really long time to come up with the name of a company. Something that is catchy, meaningful, and not lame to be honest. I started seeing roses – red roses for hot romances and white roses for sweeter romance for example. From there we thought how cool it would be to have a greenhouse where writers could “clip” articles, etc. The name sort of came from all that although originally we wanted to be called Wild Rose Publishing but the domain was taken. It took a few tweaks before we settled on The Wild Rose Press so we could acquire the proper domain.
4) The company has expanded quite a bit in the last couple of years. In the best of all possible worlds, what would you like for the future of TWRP? Any thoughts of taking on the Big 6?
We never think about how big we’d like to go or taking on anyone, we just let the company do what it does. We constantly learn new techniques and do our best to stay on the cutting edge of technology but we don’t plan for the next step. We like to let things happen naturally, although not in a naïve way—we are certainly guiding things along but to expect it to do this or that isn’t what we do.
5) You’ve said that the company’s premise was to be a ‘kinder and gentler publishing house.’ How did you set about doing that?
The very first thing we did was implement a “no form rejection letters” policy. All rejection letters are personalized and detailed. We give the writer our reasons for the rejections, not just a “thanks but it’s not for us” letter. Second, we made it a policy that all emails would be answered within 24 business hours. Communication between the company and the writer would be a top priority. We knocked down these walls that kept that editor and writer from speaking to one another. We were determined and still are that this company would be a partnership between the publisher, editor and author. Honestly, without any one of those people you don’t have a company.
6) TWRP recently opened their self-publishing division. I’m someone who would be reluctant to go that route; I feel I need the validation of a publishing house and I’ve been stung into buying a self-published book that turned out to be the worst thing I’ve ever read. But I’ve also read excellent self-published books. What are your feelings on self-publishing?
Personally, I think there needs to be some standard for publishing. I have no issue with anyone taking control of their own writing career but too many authors write something and then literally slap a cover on it and put it up for sale. There needs to be some quality control. I cringe thinking of the reader who buys a product, even if its only .99, and gets ripped off because the material is poorly written and full of errors. I think it’s watering down the books and allowing writers who aren’t very good to publish alongside writers who truly deserve to be published and read. It has saturated the market and the buying public has no way of knowing which self-published book is quality and which is junk.
7) Promotion is a huge problem for many authors. I know TWRP has an excellent marketing person but I wonder if you have ever considered the possibility and usefulness of public relations personnel for the authors? Or is social media the be-all and end-all?
We have never had the need or the budget for a full time public relations department but our Marketing Director works tirelessly to promote the company and teach authors how to promote. I truly think in today’s world it’s all about doing it yourself and to pay someone to do what an author can do is simply not going to happen. Social media is a tip of the iceberg in the internet marketing age but it is a very useful tool when it comes to getting the word out about releases, upcoming events, etc.
8) Let me ask you, are you a writer or a publisher first –or something else entirely?
I use this example all the time – I’m like the woman who loves to bake cakes so she opens a bakery and she is so busy running the business of the bakery that she never bakes another cake. The sad reality is that once you own a business, in order to give it the dedication it requires, something has to give and for me what took a back seat was my own writing. I still write but I rarely am able to do more than one short story or full length in a year. My loyalty is to my authors and they come first.
9) How difficult is it to combine your family’s needs with two careers?
Actually, these days, it’s a lot better. For the first six years of the company I worked a full time job in addition to running the company, in addition to taking care of my house and family. Things are much better now that I can devote my attention to TWRP and my family. As I said above, my writing takes a backseat. While I still write, I don’t promote my writing or spend any time trying to sell it. I simply write a story every year to keep myself motivated and, as any true writer can attest, because I can’t not write.
10) I’m under the impression that you love the west—or at least Texas—as much as I do. Where did that come from?
This is something I’ve wondered my whole life. If I wanted to get into something really deep I could wonder about past lives or something but I really hate to go that route. Ever since I was young, I have had a fascination with Texas. My father’s favorite song is “The Yellow Rose of Texas” so maybe that was always part of it, I don’t really know. He certainly wasn’t from Texas either. I wrote Texas cowboy romances, and I researched extensively over the years. When I turned 40 I managed to get myself to Texas and it truly felt as if I was coming home to a place I’d never been before. It was weird and wonderful at the same time.
11) And I’m curious to learn if you have a favorite book?
Not really. I’ve read so many books over the years that I would be hard pressed to name a favorite. I have authors that I enjoyed back in the day such as Janet Dailey and Nora Roberts (her old stuff not her new), and these days I enjoy Susan Wiggs but to say I have a favorite, not really. I have a favorite type I suppose. I love romance, of course, but I really love romances that have a sense of community. I like series where you meet the characters and spend time with them book after book. I don’t like the story to end I guess. I tend to write that way as well. I also really enjoy a well written time travel. It’s always fascinated me and someday I hope to write one but I need a lot of time to research and that just isn’t on the agenda.
12) Well, Rhonda, with so many facets to your life, I’d really like to know where you get all your energy? Do you ever manage to take vacations?
I’ve always been very organized, very determined and very energetic. I’m an early riser and can accomplish more before 8:00 a.m. than most folks can all day. That’s not to say I’m wonderful, I can’t keep my eyes open past 9:00 p.m. and I can’t write anything at night but I do like to get the things off my ‘to do’ list each day or it bugs me. As for vacation, yes of course. My husband and I always took our sons on vacation, every year, and we also camped most weekends in the summer when they were young. These days we have a place on Lake Ontario where you can find us every weekend from May to September. We also take several trips throughout the year. Last year we took a cruise to Alaska. This year we are spending some more time on our favorite ranch in Bandera, Texas for several days. I love vacations; and think everyone should take one even if it’s only a short weekend away.
13) And finally, how do you see the future of publishing? Any plans you’d like us to know about for TWRP?
All signs today are pointing to more and more audio books what we used to call books on tape. Readers want to be read to while they do something else and the need is huge right now. We have managed to get a few of our catalog into audio but its time consuming and expensive so the companies that do the audio for us can’t take on too many titles in a year. I hope that changes. I don’t know but I do hope that some quality control will take place when it comes to books that are self-published in the future. It’s hard to imagine where we’ll be in five years – who would have ever thought publishing would be where it is today if you look back five years. As for TWRP, we are just going to keep our noses to the grindstone and keep helping our authors create quality stories that everyone can feel good about. We are going to continue to try to work on audio books as I think that is a market that we really need to focus hard on.
Thanks so much for agreeing to do this interview. I know you’ve been buried under mountains of work so it truly is greatly appreciated.Andrea, it is always a pleasure talking with you. I’m so pleased to have you as part of our garden of roses. Thanks for asking me to be a part of your blog.