Gina LaManna launched the first book of her Lacey Luzzi Mafia Mysteries series in December of 2014, and very quickly discovered an appreciative audience. Now, just four months later and three books released in the series, I talk to Gina about the preparation and work that led up to her first self-publishing debut, her unexpected success with the series, her creative and production process, and how reader feedback has shaped her series.
Practice and Preparation
Gina started writing novel-length stories about two years ago. She participated in NaNoWriMo in November of 2013, and had so much fun, she just kept on writing, finishing a book every six weeks for four or five books before she finally slowed down. She refers to this time as her “practice,” and continues to write every day.
During her “practice” time, she participated diligently in an online writer’s group, an experience she highly recommends. She credits her writer’s group to giving her the confidence she needed in her Lacey Luzzi stories.
During this two-year “practice” time, Gina also wrote a children’s book, Mini Pie the Spy, that got picked up by a small publisher, a happy situation that came about, she says, due to picking the right publisher at the right time.
The Lacey Luzzi Mafia Mysteries
Gina describes her series as humorous cozy mysteries. While they are mostly cozy mysteries, her main character Lacey Luzzi does happen to work for the Mafia, which happens to be run by her grandfather, and is a little more edgy than the typical cozy protagonist…though that could just be due to the company she keeps.
The books were released in quick succession, a strategy employed by Gina in an effort to increase discoverability and build reader interest and momentum. With three down, she expects to release a few more titles in the coming year:
Here’s a breakdown of the series currently:
12/18/14 – Sprinkled (Book 1) – 258 pages – $.99 (KU)
1/11/15 – Sparkled (Book 2) – 186 pages – $.99 (KU)
2/19/15 – Scooped (Book 0 – Prequel) – 78 pages – $.99
Gina ran preorders on her first and second book, garnering 120 orders for the first, and 299 for the second. She says preorders are a great way for new writers to instill a sense of confidence in the reader that the series will continue; however, she feels it’s not necessary once a writer’s series and fan base is established.
Gina set her books at $.99 initially, but once she gained some momentum, she experimented with the KDP free-pricing promo, which resulted in over 20,000 downloads over 4 or 5 days, and later, a $2.99 price point on Book 1, a move that brought a drop in her rankings and sales. Ultimately, she decided to change the first book back to $.99, a price point she considers a low-risk entry point for a reader looking to try something new.
As far as marketing goes, Gina says she’s pretty low-key when it comes to social media and the like. Her primary focus is to just let people know when new titles are out. She says the cozy mystery market is small enough and filled with enough voracious readers that she hasn’t really had to run promos. She looks at this beginning year as a “production year,” in which she is focused on building up her list of titles. Once she has a catalog of titles built up, then she’ll focus more attention towards marketing and promotion.
In order to put out a high-quality manuscript, Gina uses both beta readers and paid editors. Although the process of finding the right editors can be a frustrating and time-consuming task, she felt it was crucial in making her books as professional as she could. She uses both a developmental and copy editor, as well as a trusted group of beta readers. As she puts it, she tries to “get as many eyes on it as I have time before I push the publish button pretty much.”
Although she’s found beta readers in the usual spots, she’s also taken the unique tact of finding beta readers throughElance. She posted a job listing offering a small amount of money for someone who enjoyed reading cozy mysteries to read her book and give honest feedback. She offered a token amount because she wanted someone who would read it because they enjoy reading that kind of story and would probably read it for free anyway. She ended finding exactly that, someone who has become one of her most trusted beta readers.
In fact, she says she rewrote half of Book 3 based on this trusted reader’s feedback, and points out it’s a distinct advantage self-publishers have over traditional publishers, the ability to respond to the audience so closely and quickly. And Gina listens carefully to what her readers have to say.
What’s next for Gina?
Lots of books! Book 3 in the Lacey Luzzi series comes out in a week, another at the beginning of summer, and a couple more in the fall.
She also has a cozy mystery coming out with a traditional publisher due to come out in late summer, as well as a story in an anthology and various other projects.
On writing series: “I like going back to the same characters….”
On writing the Lacey Luzzi series: “That was what I was passionate about at the moment. I knew I needed to get practice in, and why not kind of do it with something fun? You can still work on story structure and, you know, grammar and forming sentences and stuff like that in a fun book.”
On plotting: “I do have an ending point because I have a general, like, word count that I want to hit. I’ve learned I have a lot less revising and tangents if I actually have an end goal.”
On the importance of editing: “I didn’t have unlimited funds because I hadn’t made any money from it, but I did have enough in order to know that if I was going to put it out, I wanted it professionally edited.”
On going cheap: “Trying to get by too much on a budget can definitely hurt you.”
On finding good help: “There’s good people out there, but it just — you have to spend the time looking for them.”
- Practice your craft. Gina writes new material all the time, trying to put in her 10,000 hours…and you should be too. With so many different moving parts on the self-publishing machine, it’s easy to let something slide…just don’t let it be this one. Write every day.
- Get as many eyes as you can on your manuscripts before you press “publish.” Feedback is crucial to discovering if you’re hitting the mark with your desired readership or not. Find beta readers who are passionate about the genre you write in and listen to what they have to say.
- Don’t waste money trying to go cheap. At the beginning, Gina spent a lot of time and effort finding cheap edits, only to realize that she could have gotten one solid edit for less than all the subpar discount edits combined. Sometimes you’ve got to learn to pay the price, she says, in order to produce a professional product.
Gina found one of her most trusted beta readers on Elance. Where do you find your beta readers and how have they shaped your own work?
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