Wednesday, January 12, 2011

All Good Things Come in Threes?

"Crafty cozies don't get any better than this hilarious confection. Anastasia is as deadpan droll as Tina Fey's Liz Lemon."
Publishers Weekly *starred review

HANK: I first met Lois Winston--well, sigh, I'm trying to remember. But she was one of my first acquaintances, years ago, in mystery world...and we're still pals. I'm so thrilled with her wild suucess--her new book is getting wonderful stellar reviews.

Today she offers us--Lois by the numbers.

LOIS WINSTON: Three. Ever think about it? It’s an interesting number because it’s so prevalent in just about everything -- science, mathematics, music, nature, religion, culture, design, literature, sports, even various colloquialisms.

So much of life revolves around three:

There are three phases to the moon. Genies grant three wishes. There were three Fates, three Furies, and three Graces. There’s the Holy Trinity. Three primary colors. Three classes of galaxies. Three parts to the atom. Three strikes and you’re out. Third time’s the charm. On the count of three. Three cheers.

I think you get the picture. But why am I telling you this? I suppose it’s because I recently was struck by how much the number three has played a part in my life lately. ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN is my third published novel and my third genre. It’s the first book of a 3-book contract for the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, starring reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack. And finally, writing is one of three careers I juggle on a daily basis.

You might call them the Three Faces of Lois:
I’m Lois Winston, designer.
I’m Lois Winston, author.
I’m Lois Winston, literary agent.

How, you might ask, is it possible to maintain three full-time careers and give your all to each of them? Surely, something will suffer. This always strikes me as very one-dimensional thinking when I hear it, and since we live in a three-dimensional world (there’s that three again!), I don’t see why people think it’s so impossible a task. After all, many of you reading this are probably working women with families and are either trying to establish a writing career or have already established one. Are you allowing either your family, your day job, or your writing career to suffer? Or like so many other women, do you manage to find a workable balance? After all, women have an uncanny knack for being able to juggle multiple responsibilities. I’ve always thought it had much to do with our double-X chromosome, as opposed to man’s X and Y, but that’s a blog post for another day.

Personally, I’m in awe of women who commute to an office every day and still find time to write. I didn’t begin writing until after my kids were grown and my commuting days were, for the most part, behind me. I’ve worked out of my home as a freelance designer for years. I now also work out of my home as a literary agent and a novelist. Home offices make career juggling that much easier.

For instance, nature called a few minutes ago, and while away from the computer, I tossed in a load of wash and pulled something out of the freezer to defrost for dinner. Not something I’d be able to do if my desk were a 25 minute commute from my kitchen and laundry room. I also don’t have to squeeze all my errands into my lunch hour or on the evenings and weekends when every other working mom is doing the same. I can plan my trips to the supermarket for the time of day when it’s least crowded.

I have a friend who recently published her 25th book. She commutes five days a week into Manhattan where she’s a partner in a law firm. She’s written most of those 25 books on her train rides to and from the city each day. She’s also a mom. Compared to her, I feel like a slacker.

Part of my success in being able to juggle my three careers is that they’re related to each other. I don’t write historical romances or mysteries. I don’t write about federal agency operatives or nuclear physicists or lion tamers. Because I write about subjects and characters familiar to me, I don’t have to spend days, weeks, or months researching my books the way some authors have do. Each of my books has in some way incorporated my art school background and my career as a designer. The characters who people my books are inspired by people I’ve known or read about in the news. In great part, my research is limited to asking questions of people I already know. For instances, when I was writing LOVE, LIES AND A DOUBLE SHOT OF DECEPTION and needed to know more about the inner workings of the Philadelphia courts system in regard to arrests, all I had to do was ask a friend who was a Philadelphia police lieutenant.

I apply that same sort of knowledge in my agency career. I represent authors who write in genres that I know well. For instance, I won’t look at submissions from science fiction writers because I don’t know the science fiction market, and I really don’t have the time or inclination to get to know it. (Juggling three full-time careers, remember?) Science fiction is the expertise of one of the other agents at our agency. When I receive a query for a science fiction manuscript, I forward it on to him.

So in my writing, I write what I know, and in my agenting, I agent what I know. The same is also true in my designing career. If a magazine editor or craft kit manufacturer needs a needlework design, I’m their go-to gal. But if they’re looking for some polymer clay designs, I’ll give them the names of other designers to contact. I don’t take on assignments where the learning curve is steep. I don’t have the time. After all, successful juggling is all about having an in-depth knowledge of the items you need to juggle.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lois Winston is both an award-winning author and designer and an agent with the Ashley Grayson Literary Agency. She began her agency career as a reader and now represents several clients. She’s represented by one of the other agents at the agency. Her latest book, ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN, the first book in her Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series, was recently released from Midnight Ink and received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Lois is on a blog tour throughout the month of January. Post a comment to any of the blogs where she’s appearing, and you’ll be entered into a drawing to win one of five copies of ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN that she’s giving away. You can find the blog tour schedule at her website,
and at Anastasia’s blog,


  1. Working from home has so many advantages. Interesting take on threes! I am looking forward to reading your new series.

  2. You can exclude me from the drawing since I was lucky enough to host Lois earlier this month--but I just had to write that I find this post very significant. I am considering something with the number 3 in it myself--seems like kismet--perhaps this will be one of 3 blog posts to push me in this direction :)

    Congrats again on all your success, Lois!

  3. Hi Jenny! I hope whatever you have kicking around works out for you.

  4. Jenny, don't you love when that happens? Keep us posted.

    Gram, I'm working from home today. too...

    Lois, putting on your agent hat (which I'm sure is adorable..)--what big mistakes do you see in the manuscripts that are submitted toyou?

  5. LOL, Hank! How many hours do you have? First, you would not believe the percentage of queries that arrive with all sorts of typos and grammatical errors. Am I really going to bother to request a ms. from someone who can't bother to proof a query letter?

    One of my biggest pet peeves, now that most people query via email, is the query that doesn't bother with a salutation, just starts talking about the author and his/her book.

    Hello? Would it kill them to start off with a "Dear Ms. Winston"? Otherwise the query looks like the writer is spamming hundreds of agents with one email (which he probably is, given that so many writers don't know how to blind copy on an email.) "Dear Agent" is almost as bad.

    For the queries that sound great and I request a partial or complete, you wouldn't believe how many people seem to spend more time on the query letter than on the actual ms. Too many people send off a ms. way before it's ready to be weaned from mama writer.

    People need to learn their craft first, but too many of them have this idea that if the ms. needs work, that's what the editor is for. Maybe once upon a time back in the days of Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Faulkner, but not the publishing world of the 21st century. Writers need to make sure their ms. is at 110% before they begin the query process. If it's not, they should expect a quick rejection.

    I could go on for hours... ;-)

  6. Lois: How great to see you here. I love this blog and check in frequently. Your piece on "3's" is intriguing. And, I certainly relate to the juggling part. You are so right about working from home- except- sometimes I think that the distractions can be intense (she says as the two Golden Retrievers beg again to play in the snow).

    Congratulations on Anastasia's wild success! I can't wait to see the full series.

  7. Hi Lois, thanks for visiting us on JRW. And for the query letter comments...I've seen you traveling everywhere through cyberspace and wonder what your thoughts are about a long blog tour. Are you finding it productive? I know you're working hard to have different posts for every stop...

  8. Thanks, Cassy! That's why i don't have dogs. Well...that and the allergies. It's hard to see the words on the monitor when your eyes are puffy and tearing.

  9. I know all about the juggling. I have four kids, 7 and under. I get up at 4 am every day and write for 2 1/2 hours.

  10. Well, do, Lois! Have you ever requested a full--and than the person says, oh, I'm not finished yet?

  11. Hi Roberta! I'm not sure any of us can say with any certainty what works and what doesn't work with promo. I decided on the blog tour this time around because I spent too much money promoting my first two books, and I don't know that it really helped much. So this time I chose something different.

    I set up the blog tour a couple of months ago with the idea that I'd work on the posts ahead of time. My goal was to have everything done prior to the holidays. With that much leeway, I didn't feel pressured. Also, many of the bloggers did interviews, which for me was easier than coming up with 30 different guest posts.

    It was a lot of work, but the blogs will stay in cyberspace pretty much forever which certainly beats sitting at a book store for 2 hrs. and watching people try to avoid making eye contact with you! Somehow word has gotten out that authors come equipped with a laser beam that sucks readers in and makes them buy copies of their books.

  12. So happy to see you on Jungle Red, Lois. One day we'll have to talk about superstition and writers... things in three is just the tip of the iceberg.

    Melissa, I always thought when my kids were out from under foot I'd write so much more than the (like you) two and half hours I managed. Turns out the busier I am, the productive I am. Do I use all that extra time I have? No, no, no.

  13. Melissa, kudos to you! You don't want to be anywhere near me if I have to get up at 4am. As a matter of fact, they coined the B word for me at that hour!

  14. Hallie, do you think writers are more or less superstitious than athletes? I've never yet come across a writer who stopped shaving until the book was finished. I guess it wouldn't be so bad for guys, but women? Ugh!

  15. Writer superstitions--that's a good question! Once. at a bookstore signing-discussion, I mentioned a book idea I had--and Hallie, remember, you looked at me as if I had, I don't know, put a hat on a bed.

    ANd, as it turns out..that idea didn't work.

  16. Engagement, marriage, divorce.

    Lather, rinse, repeat.

    Big congratulations on the success of this series! Yay, you!

  17. Ah, Esri, how cynical! But I suppose since one out of every two marriages ends in divorce, it's true.

  18. Hi Lois! Glad to see you on Jungle Red!
    Your comments about the rude query letters made me think of rude author emails. Do you all get those? No salutation, no closing, just whatever peeve the reader happens to have (usually something I have no control over, like the one book that is not on Kindle . . .) It's the email equivalent of "Hey, you!" and then a gripe.

    And as for threes, having just finished re-reading the last Harry Potter, we must include the Deathly Hallows :-)

  19. Yeah, Deb, I think email has just made it easy to just bang out how you feel and hit send.

    I recently got an email from someone who didn't like a news story I did. He called me a cheeseball. A cheeseball! I ask you!

  20. Hi Deborah! It's amazing how rude total strangers can be, especially in emails. There was a printing foul-up in some copies of ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN. I only learned about it because a reader was kind enough to email me. My publisher is sending out replacement copies, but I happened to be online at a reader site the other day, and someone else was complaining about the book, like it was my fault that the printing plant screwed up in the binding operation!

    As an agent, I've also seen some pretty reprehensible comments from people I've rejected. There's this one guy who's kind of a legend among agents, but there are lots of people out there who take a rejection of their ms. as a personal attack on them, and they retaliate with blistering emails. Sometimes it's downright scary.

  21. I try hard to answer all the nice emails, and fortunately those are the majority. But I have three words for the rude ones: "Delete, delete, delete."

  22. I'm on the same page as you, Deborah!

  23. Laughing here, Hank... far be it for me to have an opinion. You'll have to remind me some day what it was.

  24. Lois,
    I love your dissertation on the"threes" which I have thought about often and now will probably be thinking about all day.

    I agree with you on the advantages of a home office, but do you ever find yourself yearning for a job that takes you to an office, but that you can actually leave behind?

    That's the downside of home office. Snow day like today in Boston and you are still working! (in fact, I'm working more).

    But hey, the laundry does get done.

  25. Okay Lois, I've decided not to shave until I finish my next book! I don't think we writers are superstitious as much as vulnerable. I've never yet met a writer who wasn't devastated by a bad review.
    And you are so right about too many beginning writers expecting an agent or an editor to polish their book for them.
    Glad to have you visiting us on Jungle Red

  26. Jan, there are downsides of working from home. Sometimes I think it would be nice to go back to working outside the home so I'd not only be able to leave the job behind at the end of the day but have paid vacations and other benefits. Everything's a trade off. It's been so long since I've worked in an office environment, though, that I'm not sure I'd be able to handle it. There's definitely something to be said for being your own boss, even without the paid vacations. Of course, it also means that I was the one stuck shoveling all that snow this morning!

  27. Hi Rhys! Glad to be here. About that shaving thing, I hope your book is fairly near completion. :-)

    As for bad reviews, short of not reading reviews, I don't know how we avoid not having them stab at us, no matter how tough we try to be. I've been very lucky so far with ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN. The book received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist, plus a wonderful write-up from Kirkus. What more could a girl ask for, right?

    Yet a nasty review from a reader still stings. We writers are just very sensitive creatures, and whenever anyone calls our babies butt ugly, we can't help but get upset. Rejection hurts, no matter where you are in your career.

  28. Hi Lois -

    Congratulations and good luck with the new book! You said you write about people and things that are familiar to you. As an agent, how can you tell when a writer is outside her comfort zone with her material? I obsess about the research--what's real, what's real enough. Thanks!


  29. Hi AliasMo! When it comes to research, too many unpublished writers take the kitchen sink approach. Their mss. are filled with info dumps when they should be taking the "less is more" approach. The research should never overshadow the story. Story is key.

    The other problem I see quite often is writers who rely on TV, movies, and Wikipedia for their research. All are notorious for playing loose with facts. Screenwriters can get away with far more than novelists can because they need to condense their story into an hour TV drama or 2 hr. movie. And don't get me started on Wikipedia!

  30. Hank, thanks again for inviting me to pay a visit to Jungle Red. You're the greatest!

  31. Lois, I work at home as a semi-retired social studies textbook editor. I love the freedom to do the work when I want to--early in the morning or late at night. The only thing I miss about not being in the office is being able to brainstorm ideas with colleagues. I have people that I call,but it was much easier just to go to the cubicle nearby and toss ideas around. Much success wih the new book.

    Margaret Franson

  32. Thanks, Margaret! Sometimes I feel like a hermit in a cave, but when I need to bounce around ideas or get feedback, I have a vast network of writing friends and colleagues I can call or email. That's the great thing about writing genre fiction. There are some incredible writing organizations you can join where you make friends who understand you. Which is a good thing because the non-writing world really doesn't understand what goes on in our heads. :-)

  33. I got the SINC notification of your blog on digest today, Lois. First, congratulations for those superb reviews. That's wonderful.

    Your topic of threes intrigues me. I do things in threes too. It seems to complete a circle of purpose when something has three parts. Sometimes one deep breath won't do, ya know?

    Wishing you all the best on your tour and hoping I'm a winner on your blog tour.

  34. Lois,
    Another BIG 'three' ---
    poison ivy has three leaves. The old scout saying was, "Leaves of three ... leave it be."
    Okay, I'm exhausted just trying to 'follow' your blog tour this month. I'd think you're ready to be hospitalized.
    And here's a kick: I just now, in this blog, finally realized you're also a Literary Agent.
    Now you'd better watch your inbox, because you're liable to receive a query from me in the near future!

  35. LOL, Jeff! The nice thing about a blog tour is that you don't have to worry about canceled flights due to bad weather -- something I'm dealing with this week!

  36. Don't I know about bad weather. My son-in-law is a pilot and he spent some 45 hrs in Houston, then flew to Canada, and then got stuck in Atlanta. Drove home (ATL to KY) late last after about a week of 'flying' (most of it on the ground).

  37. Great blog!

    Lois, you're an inspiration! I'm at the beginning of juggling three careers, so it's nice to see that it CAN work.

    Thank you.


  38. Lois, You are a genius with this blog tour. I have followed some of your sites and learn something new at each one. Thanks, Anne Randolph