Dear Miss Snark,
About four years ago (when I was a moron) I signed contracts for two of my books with PublishAmerica. Now, with a lot more knowledge, I'm querying agents on a new novel.
I don't mention the PA books in the query letters, but I'm wondering if I have to mention them at all. Possibly at the stage that an agent might be interested in representing me.
Either way, leaving that info out or mentioning it in a phone conversation gives me the willies since I'm quite ashamed of those books. Not only because of the name of the publisher, but also because I know now why I was rejected so many times before falling into PA's trap. I was a young writer still in desperate need of some growth.
It will be our little secret. You don't really have to mention it unless someone wants to tout you as a "debut novelist". Speak up then and give your publisher/agent the info before they decide to do that. PA doesn't really count as publication, it's more like an expensive printing job with an ISBN number but you don't want to win "Best First Novel" and have to give back your tiara.
Bottom line: you don't have to mention it in your query at all. And don't be ashamed of it. All of us do things when we are young and stupid. Miss Snark did not publish with PA, but she's hoping Grandmother Snark never discovers what the check given to Miss Snark for her 16th birthday actually paid for.