Sunday, August 25, 2013

Keeping Three Career Balls in the Air

How Many Hats Do You Wear?

Crime writers are rarely monolithic beings. Creatures who wear only one hat. Many are fascinating creatures who seem to function with several brains, are proficient on diverse levels and create in several cerebral spheres.

The nature of crime itself is so multi-faceted it evades simple scrutiny. So the chroniclers of its universe have to be more daring than chameleons!

Today's guest, Lois Winston, usually dons a minimum of Three Hats - writer, agent, designer. A longtime friend of CWC, (see her posts Jan. 31, 2012 and Aug. 26, 2012) she has graciously stopped by to share her triple-persona with us.

After you read her article, tell us how many hats YOU usually wear, when, how, where—and share your mental/creative chapeaux with us!

Thelma Jacqueline Straw

I juggle three full-time careers. I’m a published author, a literary agent, and a designer in the consumer crafts industry. Most people think I’m either nuts or rolling in money. The first is probably true, although for other reasons; the second couldn’t be further from the truth. I juggle three full-time jobs because I couldn’t live on what I make on one, let alone two of those careers. Heck, truth be told, it’s a good thing my husband has a steady job because there’s no way I could support both of us on what I earn.

That wasn’t always the case. My design career came first, and at one point I was the sole breadwinner for much of a three year period. During that time, we had one son in college and another in private high school. We ate a lot of mac and cheese during those years, but all the bills were paid each month, thanks to a booming consumer crafts industry and a demand for my designs.

Those days are long gone. People still craft, but the industry is much smaller now. Many of the companies I once worked for have gone out of business or been bought up by their competitors. The complex needlework projects I design have fallen out of favor, replaced mostly by instant gratification crafts that consumer can finish in an evening. Designers don’t make money on those types of projects, at least not the kind of money I command designing needlework. I now make in a year what I once made in a good month.

Around the time the crafts industry began shrinking, I began writing. Na├»ve innocent that I was at the time, I thought it quite realistic to expect to earn around thirty thousand dollars a year from my books. I sold my first book in 2005. To date I’ve published five traditional novels, five indie novels, a novella, two novelettes, an anthology of short stories, one non-fiction book, and been part of a non-fiction collection of essays. Altogether I haven’t earned thirty thousand dollars from my writing.

Some of that is due to bad luck. My first publisher went bankrupt, owing me and many other authors thousands of dollars in royalties. I only began indie publishing a little over a year ago, and I don’t write the super-sexy or erotic books that seem to rake in the most e-dollars. I also entered indie publishing at a time when it’s becoming very hard to stand out in an extremely crowded field.

But I mentioned three careers, didn’t I? Shortly after my first book sold, the agency that represents me invited me to become an associate. This was due in part to the fact that over the years while I waited for my own publishing break, I had helped several friends get published by rewriting their proposals for them. With my two other careers not producing much in the way of income, I jumped at the chance. After all, who needs sleep?

I began by reading queries and slush, eventually working my way up to having my own clients. I’ve sold books to both large New York publishing houses and medium-sized independent presses. However, with an ever-shrinking industry and writers turning more and more to publishing their own works, agents are no longer earning what they used to, either.

Sometimes I think I’m the Typhoid Mary of business. Each time I enter a new profession, it begins to suffer. And it’s not just the crafts industry and publishing. I began my working life as a layout artist for John Wanamaker. For those of you unfamiliar with the name, Wanamaker’s, headquartered in Philadelphia, was the first department store in the world. However, department stores are a dying breed, soon to become extinct, thanks to big box stores like Walmart and buying clubs like Costco. Anyone remember Gimbel’s? Altman’s? Bonwit Teller? Bamberger’s? Hess? They’re all gone, either bankrupt or gobbled up by their competitors. Just like the crafts industry. Just like the publishing industry.

So that’s why I spend my days attempting to keep three career balls in the air. I’m not nuts, and I’m not rolling in Benjamins, although I’d love to know the feeling. I even buy lottery tickets occasionally. (I’ve never won more than seven dollars!) I’m simply trying to keep ahead of the bill collectors, much like Anastasia Pollack, the reluctant amateur sleuth star of my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series and the companion ebook-only Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mini-Mysteries. Mosaic Mayhem, the latest Mini-Mystery recently released, and this time I’ve sent Anastasia off on an adventure in Barcelona:

So much for a romantic getaway...When cash-strapped mom and reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack is offered an all-expense paid three-day trip to Barcelona, her only worries are whether her passport is still valid and arranging care for her semi-invalid mother-in-law during her absence. However, within hours of landing in Europe, she finds herself staring down the barrel of a gun and needing to convince a Spanish crime syndicate they’ve kidnapped the wrong woman. Why do people on both sides of the Atlantic keep trying to kill this pear-shaped, middle-aged single mom, and magazine crafts editor?

Lois Winston
follow her on Twitter: @anasleuth


  1. Your mention of the department stores reminds me of how much I've missed Bonwit Teller. I still have some old towels from them, now ragged, but they have a cachet that the other ones from the big boxes lack! As for hats, I write political/espionage thrillers and help serious adults with career assessment. And hope the current Big Five won't go the way of the fine department stores! tjs

  2. Anonymous, I hope the Big Five don't go the way of the department stores, either, but it's not looking all that good for them. Wish I had a solution. I'm sure they with they had one, too.

  3. Yeah, I remember Gimbel's and Bamberger's...I'm actually a bit surprised that you were once able to support yourself in the craft industry...I guess I always thought of it as more of a hobby thing, rather than a profession...but, what do I know...and if it's any consolation, I've yet to make that first 30k writing either...


  4. Crafts are a hobby for those who do them, but the people who design the projects for those people are professional designers who work for manufacturers and publishers. The craft industry was so large at one point that there were only 5 or 6 convention centers around the country large enough to host their annual trade show. Times have changed.

  5. Hi, Lois,

    Craft mysteries are now very popular--a good way to combine an interesting hobby or career with writing. I am now a retired librarian/educational media specialist, but I always wrote even when my job was highly demanding. Now I am free to write full-time and am enjoying it very much. I have two mystery novels being published in September by two different publishers and more mysteries in the pipeline.
    Jacqueline Seewald
    Beyond the Bo Tree
    Death Legacy;jsessionid=1393C3C686B0F8B9EDEDD9B62B0A54F8?authorid=2189

  6. I also juggled three jobs for many years - writing, editing (associate editor for Elizabeth Lyon's Editing International),and teaching community college classes. Well, make that four jobs because I was also subbing in high school. I'm still doing some of that and writing, writing, writing, but I did a little dance when I could afford to give up the editing. While I was working on others' novels, my brain was so full of ideas for their work that I couldn't write a word on my own.

  7. Jacqueline, best of luck with your upcoming releases!

    Carolyn, you sound as if you were as busy or busier than I am at times!

  8. I juggled two hats for almost 20 years (teaching and writing). I retired from the classroom 4 years ago, so now I have the luxury of "just" writing. However, I must admit, I got a lot more accomplished before I tossed that hat. I find so many other things to do. It's been an adjustment I'm still working on. Thanks for the post, Lois. You got me thinking.

  9. Kathleen, you know that old saying, "If you want something done, ask a busy person."? I think when sometimes we're so used to being busy 24/7, we aren't as productive once we have a more normal schedule.

  10. I'm with Kathleen on finding other things to do once you're retired. When my husband was still alive and bedridden, I worked full-time because we needed the medical benefits, took care of him evenings and weekends, and still managed to write. I'm forever glad he was still with me when Ellora's Cave released my first 2 books in 2005. Now that he's gone and I'm retired, I too think, oh I'm tired, I can finish that chapter tomorrow... Still, my 13th book with EC is coming out September 13 (it's called NO PATIENCE) and I admit to having made a tidy sum in royalties over the years.

  11. Lois, thank you for stopping by CWC and sharing these thoughts! I hope you make a zillion $$ in the coming year! Thelma

    1. Thelma, thanks so much for inviting me to visit CWC. A zillion $$ sounds wonderful. If it happens, drinks are on me for your good wishes!

  12. Cris, I've admired your stamina and determination for many years. I'm so happy for your success. Best of luck with the new release.

  13. You are one busy lady.
    Yup! A commercial Banker, Novelist, mother, charge of house & garden.
    Wouldn't have it any other way!

    1. You seem equally busy, Deborah! Do you still have kids at home? At least I don't have that to contend with anymore.

  14. I like to say, "I wear more hats than Jackie O." LOL. I work about 30 hours a week at my business called ABSolute Fitness and Therapeutic Body Work where I am self-employed as a Massage Therapist, personal trainer and yoga instructor. The other 40 hours of my work week are consumed with writing and publishing my YA novels. It's a brutal schedule, but I manage to maintain my health and well-being thanks to a very supportive husband and having both my sons grown and gone. At this point my massage business is supporting my writing habit:-)

  15. PJ, with all the sitting I do in front of my computer, I really need a massage therapist on call 24/7! The older I get, the stiffer I get. :-(

  16. Hi Lois, I thought my schedule was erratic and busy but reading all these comments makes me feel like a slacker. I am a homeschooling mother, a jewelry buyer and designer at times for our home business, a bookkeeper and an author. Amongst other things. I take my hat - or many hats - off to you ladies!