USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is a former literary agent and an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry.
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One of my pet peeves, is people who tell you that you can succeed at anything you set your mind to if you only work hard enough. Really? If that were true, I, and many of my fellow authors, would have permanent slots on the New York Times Bestseller List. We don’t. And it’s not from lack of hard work.
The trouble with such advice is it doesn’t factor in outside forces beyond our control that often work against us. If, through hard work, we all succeeded in fulfilling our dreams, we’d all be super-successful, wouldn’t we? Unfortunately, life doesn’t always work out the way we wish it would.
However, there’s another piece of advice I’ve come to embrace: sometimes you need to pivot and think outside the box.
My publishing career has been filled with outside forces working against me. After ten years of writing, in 2005 I sold my first two books, a quasi-romance that was more chick lit than romance and a romantic suspense.
However, two years before that, my agent told me an editor she knew was looking for mysteries featuring crafters. Who better to write a crafting mystery, she thought, than me, her client who was also a designer in the crafts industry?
I came up with Anastasia Pollack, the crafts editor at a women’s magazine. The series begins with Anastasia returning to her office one night and discovering the fashion editor’s body hot glued to her office chair. Since Anastasia’s glue gun is the murder weapon, she becomes the prime suspect.
I fleshed out the plot, gave Anastasia two teenage sons, and added a host of zany characters: a communist mother-in-law, a self-proclaimed Russian princess mother, Anastasia’s dead husband’s loan shark, and a photojournalist who may or may not be a spy. I also included a Shakespeare-quoting parrot, a haughty Persian cat, and a French bulldog with attitude. A few months later I sent the manuscript to my agent. Her assessment? “You’re funnier than Author X.” Off the manuscript went to Editor A.
Editor A also thought I was funnier than Author X. Sounds like a sale in the making, right? However, before Editor A could convince her editorial board to buy the book, she accepted a job with another publishing house where she wasn’t buying cozy mysteries. Sadly, no one else at Editor A’s previous publishing house thought I was as funny as Author X.
My agent continued to send the manuscript out. Editors B, C, D, E, and F didn’t think I was as funny as Author X. Meanwhile, the two aforementioned books sold, and I was on my way to publishing bliss—until a force beyond my control changed everything. A new CEO ran the publishing company into bankruptcy and left me and hundreds of other authors orphaned and owed thousands of dollars in royalties.
So my agent dusted off the crafting mystery and sent it off to Editor G. She thought I was as funny as Author X and wanted to buy the book—until another outside force reared its ugly head. Before the contract was drawn up, the publishing company was sold. The new company cut the cozy mystery line. Meanwhile another publisher stopped publishing cozy mysteries, and a third cut back on their cozy line.
My stalwart agent refused to give up and sent the manuscript to Editors H, I, and J, but none of them thought I was as funny as Author X. Finally, she sent the manuscript to Editor K who loved the book and offered a 3-book contract.
Life was good! The series launched in January 2011 to rave reviews, including starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist, and it was nominated for two Book of the Year awards. After two years, the publisher offered two new contracts, one for more Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries and one for a second mystery series I had dubbed The Empty Nest Mysteries.
But another outside force lurked around the corner. The publisher demanded onerous changes to the existing agency-negotiated contract. After much soul-searching and with the encouragement of my agent, I made the difficult decision to walk. A few smaller publishers showed interest in picking up the series, but they either didn’t offer advances, also had onerous contracts, or both.
That’s when I made a major pivot and decided to enter the world of indie publishing. After working so hard and so long for my traditional publishing contracts, I worried I was making a huge mistake. What I discovered is that readers don’t care how books are published, whether by large presses, small presses, or independently. They’re only interested in one thing—well-written books that tell a great story.
That was seven years ago. A Sew Deadly Cruise, which released October 1st, is the ninth book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series. I’m already planning the tenth. Indie publishing isn’t for everyone, but for me, it represented the right decision at the right time, especially since a few years later, the publisher I left folded their mystery line and orphaned all their authors.
Have outside forces ever impacted your career in such a way that you were forced to make a major change?
A Sew Deadly Cruise
An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 9
Life is looking up for magazine crafts editor Anastasia Pollack. Newly engaged, she and photojournalist fiancé Zack Barnes are on a winter cruise with her family, compliments of a Christmas gift from her half-brother-in-law. Son Alex’s girlfriend and her father have also joined them. Shortly after boarding the ship, Anastasia is approached by a man with an unusual interest in her engagement ring. When she tells Zack of her encounter, he suggests the man might be a jewel thief scouting for his next mark. But before Anastasia can point the man out to Zack, the would-be thief approaches him, revealing his true motivation. Long-buried secrets now threaten the well-being of everyone Anastasia holds dear. And that’s before the first dead body turns up.
Craft projects included.
Apple iBooks: https://books.apple.com/us/book/a-sew-deadly-cruise/id1526052822