Author Topic: Exploring the cozy mystery genre (aka having an identity crisis)  (Read 1463 times)  

Offline Piano Jenny

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I decided to indefinitely take some time off from writing a few weeks ago because I was feeling frustrated, stressed out, and unsuccessful.

Part of the problem is that, after four books, I feel like I still havent found the right fit. My first book was purely what I wanted to write, no careful attempt to fit in a genre. It didnt do too well, and got mixed reviews.

My second book was Nonfiction. It got nothing but good reviews, but virtually nobody is interested in reading it. Its too bad, because I thought it was pretty good and I enjoyed writing it.

After that I studied genre more and thought that clean romance was the best fit for my interests and voice. I wrote a book that did pretty well. My most recent book did okay and doesnt have bad reviews, but it had an 18 year old protagonist and I think was a little more chick lit than romance, and didnt take off as well as Book 3 did.

Right now (well, before I stooped to take time off) I was writing another clean romance to be more like my third, most successful, book. But its just ... a struggle for me.

A couple writer friends suggested that maybe romance wasnt really my thing, and its true that I never really considered myself a romance readr. Most if the romances I read were for research purposes. I cant say that I truly love the genre as a reader.

Anyway ... this writer friend suggested that cozy mysteries might be a good fit for me, because my books are always short and I tend to like writing about quirky characters and somewhat humorous situtaions.

I never would have thought of that, but it sounds like an intriguing idea.

Obviously the first thing I will do is go out and read some cozy mysteries. (Any suggestions of some favorites?) And yes, Ive read Write to Market by Chris Fox multiple times.

But I wanted to get some thoughts about not only cozy mysteries as a genre, but this entire struggle Im going through.

Also ... how in the world does one write a mystery?? I always thought someone would have to be a genius to put together a situtaion, a motive, not make it too obvious, then wotk backward with various clues. I dont know if Im that smart! Any tips or resources in that part of it?

Thanks for being a sounding board.
« Last Edit: October 12, 2017, 04:32:45 AM by Piano Jenny »

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Re: Exploring the cozy mystery genre (aka having an identity crisis)
« Reply #1 on: October 12, 2017, 05:04:19 AM »
I would suggest looking at the last ten books you read and see what genre they mostly fall into. An inexperienced writer can go into a genre they don't know and write in it I guess but I'd suggest it would be a lot easier to look at the genres you are really passionate about and then pick which one of them is the best fit both in terms of commercial viability and your writing style.

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Re: Exploring the cozy mystery genre (aka having an identity crisis)
« Reply #2 on: October 12, 2017, 05:15:02 AM »
Anyway ... this writer friend suggested that cozy mysteries might be a good fit for me, because my books are always short and I tend to like writing about quirky characters and somewhat humorous situtaions.

I never would have thought of that, but it sounds like an intriguing idea.

Cozy readers aren't known for their love of short books. I think they prefer books in the 70k-90k word count range (certainly at least 70k).


Obviously the first thing I will do is go out and read some cozy mysteries. (Any suggestions of some favorites?) And yes, Ive read Write to Market by Chris Fox multiple times.

Agatha Christie. Amanda M. Lee. Kristen Painter. Jana DeLeon. Leighann Dobbs. H.Y Hanna. A.W. Hartoin (her Mercy Watts covers alone make me wish I wrote cozies).


Offline cecilia_writer

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Re: Exploring the cozy mystery genre (aka having an identity crisis)
« Reply #3 on: October 12, 2017, 05:24:21 AM »
I agree that if you're searching for the 'right' genre you should probably look at the kind of thing you like to read. If you read enough mysteries, for instance, you may not even need to worry too much about plotting.
A similar thing happened to me years ago when I wrote a sort of nondescript quirky humour novel and sent it for a professional critique, and the critiquer suggested it would be better if I turned it into a mystery. Although it took me a while to take this advice on board, I think it was fairly sound as it is probably a lot more difficult to persuade people to buy something quirkily humorous than to try out a mystery novel.
I was going to suggest that if you're interested in writing cozy mysteries you should try reading Agatha Christie, but of course her novels are very British, and there are different styles of cozy nowadays. But that might give you some ideas about the way they're often structured.

Offline Lydniz

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Re: Exploring the cozy mystery genre (aka having an identity crisis)
« Reply #4 on: October 12, 2017, 05:25:03 AM »
Cozy readers aren't known for their love of short books. I think they prefer books in the 70k-90k word count range (certainly at least 70k).

I would disagree. I think there are quite a lot of cozy writers producing books that are nearer 50-70k and doing reasonably well. I think Amanda's are fairly short?

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Re: Exploring the cozy mystery genre (aka having an identity crisis)
« Reply #5 on: October 12, 2017, 05:34:46 AM »
I would disagree. I think there are quite a lot of cozy writers producing books that are nearer 50-70k and doing reasonably well. I think Amanda's are fairly short?

I was going to say the same thing. Sales ranks prove otherwise. Lots and lots of stuff around 35-50k doing very well. Amanda writes all over. Does shorts, novellas and 90k stuff. Shes always said that the longer stuff does better, though.

Online Vicky

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Re: Exploring the cozy mystery genre (aka having an identity crisis)
« Reply #6 on: October 12, 2017, 05:37:43 AM »
I would disagree. I think there are quite a lot of cozy writers producing books that are nearer 50-70k and doing reasonably well. I think Amanda's are fairly short?

From what I understand, Amanda writes her cozies in the 70k-90k range I mentioned above, apart from her ~20k shorts (which she writes in between releases for already established readers, and she has said many times are not as successful/sticky as her main books).


Online Amanda M. Lee

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Re: Exploring the cozy mystery genre (aka having an identity crisis)
« Reply #7 on: October 12, 2017, 05:39:30 AM »
My pen name mysteries are 60K and do okay. My main name mysteries have settled in at 80-95K and do really well. My shorts are 28K (which some people consider a novella) and in comparison they don't do all that well. I basically use them simply as advertising tools. In truth, I think 70-90K is the sweet spot and anything less than 50K is probably going to tick off/alienate readers.

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Online Lorri Moulton

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Re: Exploring the cozy mystery genre (aka having an identity crisis)
« Reply #8 on: October 12, 2017, 05:43:12 AM »
Jenny, you might want to check out this Facebook group. :)

https://www.facebook.com/groups/RomanticSupernaturalMysteryPromo/

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Offline Piano Jenny

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Re: Exploring the cozy mystery genre (aka having an identity crisis)
« Reply #9 on: October 12, 2017, 06:02:01 AM »
I would suggest looking at the last ten books you read and see what genre they mostly fall into. An inexperienced writer can go into a genre they don't know and write in it I guess but I'd suggest it would be a lot easier to look at the genres you are really passionate about and then pick which one of them is the best fit both in terms of commercial viability and your writing style.

Thanks!

I looked at my Goodreads account and found this from the last ten books:

* 2 were nonfiction
* 3 were books I read with my son (Redwall, Westing Game, Hoot)
* 2 would probably be considered "literary fiction" (one was by Carson McCullers)
* 2 were psychological thrillers
* 1 was a "chick lit" (Sophie Kinsella)

So I guess it's no wonder I'm confused ...

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Offline Chrissy

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Re: Exploring the cozy mystery genre (aka having an identity crisis)
« Reply #10 on: October 12, 2017, 07:00:33 AM »
Thanks!

I looked at my Goodreads account and found this from the last ten books:

* 2 were nonfiction
* 3 were books I read with my son (Redwall, Westing Game, Hoot)
* 2 would probably be considered "literary fiction" (one was by Carson McCullers)
* 2 were psychological thrillers
* 1 was a "chick lit" (Sophie Kinsella)

So I guess it's no wonder I'm confused ...

Next question: Of the fictional books you read, what were your favorites? Top 3?

Offline AliceS

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Re: Exploring the cozy mystery genre (aka having an identity crisis)
« Reply #11 on: October 12, 2017, 07:03:23 AM »
People automatically turn to Agatha Christie when they think of Cozy, but that's not true any more. I found that out the hard way with my own book. Her books are now considered "Traditional". If you look at cozies on Amazon they are mostly female protagonist, humorous, have a romantic element and a cartoon-type illustrated cover. Many involve food or pets. Not making any judgements here, just saying my book - amateur detective with off-stage crime, no sex, no foul language - is an apple in that basket of oranges.

Cozy readers are also supposed to be voracious. A good series might sell well, but I think, like romance, you need to release a lot quickly. (These are observations as to why my mysteries don't sell well. YMMV)

Mystery has a formula. There are a lot of books out there on plotting a mystery. Make sure you tick all the boxes for your subgenre while plotting it or you will annoy your reader. It's also a crowded field, so annoying your reader would be a very bad thing to do.


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Re: Exploring the cozy mystery genre (aka having an identity crisis)
« Reply #12 on: October 12, 2017, 08:16:40 AM »
Jenny, you seem to have eclectic tastes.  So do I.  Probably one reason I'm terrible at staying in genre, let alone writing to market.

I'm sure you CAN do it, but it will probably take some discipline. 

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Re: Exploring the cozy mystery genre (aka having an identity crisis)
« Reply #13 on: October 12, 2017, 08:50:55 AM »
The problem with writing in a new genre you haven't read before is there are numerous subtleties that the readers will see or note that you've missed. It's like picking up a second language. You can do it with considerable effort, but fluent speakers will tag you right away as a foreigner. Chris Fox talks about the tropes, and cozy mysteries, in particular, are filled with them.

Others have said write what you read, and that makes the most sense to me, too. You've presumably been a reader for many years. Even with eclectic tastes, you must've read dozens of books in certain specific genres. Focus on those genres first and see if you can find a story to write that you would read if someone else had written it. Good luck.

Offline cecilia_writer

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Re: Exploring the cozy mystery genre (aka having an identity crisis)
« Reply #14 on: October 12, 2017, 08:52:38 AM »
People automatically turn to Agatha Christie when they think of Cozy, but that's not true any more. I found that out the hard way with my own book. Her books are now considered "Traditional". If you look at cozies on Amazon they are mostly female protagonist, humorous, have a romantic element and a cartoon-type illustrated cover. Many involve food or pets. Not making any judgements here, just saying my book - amateur detective with off-stage crime, no sex, no foul language - is an apple in that basket of oranges.

I also have apples in that basket!

Offline Chelsea Field

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Re: Exploring the cozy mystery genre (aka having an identity crisis)
« Reply #15 on: October 12, 2017, 09:09:32 AM »
I think the general advice to really try to figure out a genre that you keep coming back to personally, even if you read widely, is good. That said, if you want to look into cozies there's a great thread on cozy mystery plotting resources here http://www.kboards.com/index.php/topic,222118.0/all.html (this one is my personal fave: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2013/10/15/25-things-you-need-to-know-about-writing-mysteries-by-susan-spann/).

Cozies these days are actually quite a broad niche in themselves so you can go more traditional--sweet and slow, focused on settings and characters in small towns, or paranormal cozies are big right now with witches and such (check out Amanda M. Lee and Kirsten Painter who are indies kicking butt here), or you can also aim for fun, action, and romance on a light-hearted level without a lot of cursing (perhaps you could classify it chick lit with action and a mystery or very light romantic suspense). I'm more in the latter category and Janet Evanovich's ridiculously successful Stephanie Plum series is probably the Agatha Christie equivalent of that niche. Jana Deleon is another indie that's kicking butt in this genre (I'd say she's somewhere between traditional cozy and the more action-y, romantic version with her Miss Fortune Mystery series featuring a CIA agent hiding out in a little town), but there are lots of others doing well including myself and... okay I was going to do a list but it was taking too long because it turns out I'm not sure who is actually indie vs trad... but I think a bunch of us are indies if you wanted to look at those I've named and check out their also boughts. Best of luck!

Offline Spin52

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Re: Exploring the cozy mystery genre (aka having an identity crisis)
« Reply #16 on: October 12, 2017, 09:46:53 AM »
I have noticed that the bricks and mortar Barnes and Noble stores now have a separate section for cozy mysteries, so if you have one handy, it would be easy to have a browse.
PS: Alice and Cecilia -- I also have apples in the orange basket. Perhaps we can start a new genre.
« Last Edit: October 12, 2017, 12:12:48 PM by Spin52 »


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Offline cecilia_writer

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Re: Exploring the cozy mystery genre (aka having an identity crisis)
« Reply #17 on: October 12, 2017, 10:24:34 AM »
I have noticed that the bricks and mortar Barnes and Noble stores now have a separate section for cozy mysteries, so if you have one handy, it would be easy to have a browse.
PS: Alice and Cecelia -- I also have apples in the orange basket. Perhaps we can start a new genre.
Yes - oranges are not the only fruit!

Offline Anne R. Tan

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Re: Exploring the cozy mystery genre (aka having an identity crisis)
« Reply #18 on: October 12, 2017, 11:42:47 AM »
I learned how to plot a mystery by reading "The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery." Though I've been a mystery reader my entire life.

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Re: Exploring the cozy mystery genre (aka having an identity crisis)
« Reply #19 on: October 12, 2017, 01:37:47 PM »
Cozy mysteries are fun and usually lighthearted.  My favorite authors in this genre center around Jana DeLeon (Miss Fortune Mysteries, the first one is Louisiana Longshot), Kathleen Bacus (Calamity Jayne Mysteries, first one is Calamity Jayne), and Angie Fox (Southern Ghost Hunter, the first being Southern Spirits).  Those are my current top three, and I think you can still get the first in JD's series and AF's for free.  Give them a try if you like.

Offline joyceharmon

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Re: Exploring the cozy mystery genre (aka having an identity crisis)
« Reply #20 on: October 12, 2017, 01:51:49 PM »
Cozy mysteries are a lot like chick-lit, with added murder. That insight occurred to me once when I was reading a chick-lit - 'this is just like a cozy, only no murder!'. It's common today to make them light-hearted and start a series focused on the (usually female) amateur sleuth. Her family, her wacky friends, her love life, etc. Readers come back to follow the heroine's story, as the sheriff's deputy she clashed with in the first book becomes her love interest, and so on. A great cast of characters can make up for a lackluster murder puzzle.

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Re: Exploring the cozy mystery genre (aka having an identity crisis)
« Reply #21 on: October 12, 2017, 01:53:59 PM »
I'm a genre hopper as a reader and a writer. I took a stab at cozy mysteries 2 years ago because they seemed like a good fit for my voice. I released 3 in that series (Saints & Strangers cozy mysteries by Keeley Bates) and the books did okay, but the hook wasn't strong enough so they were tough to market (although Book 1 just had a BookBub in Sept which went very well). I went back to UF and romance (2 different pen names) and then decided to try cozies again, this time with a paranormal bent. I launched the first book in January under the name Annabel Chase and sales under that name are quite respectable. They're all between 50-55k words and I get A LOT of binge readers. Although I enjoy creating the mystery puzzle, I find readers are more interested in the characters and the town. So don't be put off if you're not a mystery reader. Neither was I, although I read a crap-ton of them before I dove in. Just be aware that there are definitely 2 camps (paranormal and non-paranormal), and the readers don't seem to overlap at all.   

Online Rosie A.

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Re: Exploring the cozy mystery genre (aka having an identity crisis)
« Reply #22 on: October 12, 2017, 03:23:29 PM »
I decided to indefinitely take some time off from writing a few weeks ago because I was feeling frustrated, stressed out, and unsuccessful.

Part of the problem is that, after four books, I feel like I still havent found the right fit. My first book was purely what I wanted to write, no careful attempt to fit in a genre. It didnt do too well, and got mixed reviews.

My second book was Nonfiction. It got nothing but good reviews, but virtually nobody is interested in reading it. Its too bad, because I thought it was pretty good and I enjoyed writing it.

After that I studied genre more and thought that clean romance was the best fit for my interests and voice. I wrote a book that did pretty well. My most recent book did okay and doesnt have bad reviews, but it had an 18 year old protagonist and I think was a little more chick lit than romance, and didnt take off as well as Book 3 did.

Right now (well, before I stooped to take time off) I was writing another clean romance to be more like my third, most successful, book. But its just ... a struggle for me.

A couple writer friends suggested that maybe romance wasnt really my thing, and its true that I never really considered myself a romance readr. Most if the romances I read were for research purposes. I cant say that I truly love the genre as a reader.

Anyway ... this writer friend suggested that cozy mysteries might be a good fit for me, because my books are always short and I tend to like writing about quirky characters and somewhat humorous situtaions.

I never would have thought of that, but it sounds like an intriguing idea.

Obviously the first thing I will do is go out and read some cozy mysteries. (Any suggestions of some favorites?) And yes, Ive read Write to Market by Chris Fox multiple times.

But I wanted to get some thoughts about not only cozy mysteries as a genre, but this entire struggle Im going through.

Also ... how in the world does one write a mystery?? I always thought someone would have to be a genius to put together a situtaion, a motive, not make it too obvious, then wotk backward with various clues. I dont know if Im that smart! Any tips or resources in that part of it?

Thanks for being a sounding board.
Oh, girl. If you want to know and understand cozy mystery, Agatha Christie is the queen of all queens. No one could be a greater mistress/master of the genre. If you want to write mystery, start with her and M.C. Beaton. Read to your heart's content.

Far as everything else goes, go back to your roots. What genre do you love reading best? Let's set aside the money and fame for a moment--what books did you enjoy reading the most as a child and up to recently? What genre best fits your voice? What sorts of themes and tones are you most drawn to? Read read read. Listen to your heart in the process.

Finally, if you don't know where to start reading cozy mystery, how would you know how to write it? I've read cozy mystery my entire life but it doesn't interest me to write. Just saying, if you're already unfamiliar with the genre why think you can write in it? You might end up in the same predicament as with romance. Find the genre that best speaks to your heart.
« Last Edit: October 12, 2017, 03:25:41 PM by Rosie A. »
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Offline Sara Rosett

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Re: Exploring the cozy mystery genre (aka having an identity crisis)
« Reply #23 on: October 12, 2017, 06:27:31 PM »
Until about five or six years ago, if your sleuth wasn't a police officer or a PI, your mystery was considered a cozy/traditional mystery. The terms cozy and traditional were often used interchangeably. It's only in the last few years that cozy has narrowed to mean cartoon covers, a young female sleuth, a hot detective, a dog and/or cat, and a strong hobby/craft/culinary theme.

Part of the problem in writing cozies today is coming up with a unique cover that will stand out. They're all beginning to look alike to me--speaking as a reader here--and I can't keep the different series straight.

Agatha Christie is unmatched for plotting and dialog. The first cozies I read were by Carolyn Hart and Diane Mott Davidson. Now these would probably be considered more traditional than cozy. Besides the authors already mentioned, other cozy authors you might want to check out: Jenn McKinley, Zara Keane, C.A. Larmer, and Dianne Harmann.


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Re: Exploring the cozy mystery genre (aka having an identity crisis)
« Reply #24 on: October 12, 2017, 06:36:09 PM »
I would disagree. I think there are quite a lot of cozy writers producing books that are nearer 50-70k and doing reasonably well. I think Amanda's are fairly short?
Mine are all in the 50-70K range!