How I Learned to Relax About Being a “Cozy” Author and Just Write the Damn Books–Part III

Barb here, sitting on her front porch in Maine and writing on an flawless summer day

Back in February, I started a series of posts about how I came to terms with being a cozy writer. The first one talked about why this designation was an issue for me in the first place. The second, in March, was about how I came to be comfortable as a person with an identity as a cozy author.

Then life intervened. In April-May-June I was hit successively with Crime Bake website deadline-knee crisis-book deadline. But, though as a person I have many, many flaws, I am, at the end of the day (and usually literally at the end of the day), a completer. So herewith is Part III.

So when we left our intrepid heroine, she was happy to be writing a cozy series and comfortable adopting the image of a cozy author. Only one small issue remained.

Yes, I am going to say it.

Cozy mysteries often get no respect.

(She said it!)

There are a few reasons for this.

One is, there’s a bit of a hierarchy in fiction writing, and it looks something like this.

  • The literary fiction writers look down on the mystery writers
  • The mystery writers look down on the romance writers
  • The romance writers look down on the poets
  • The poets look down on the literary fiction writers
  • (cycle starts again)

Of course this is a weird, crazy exaggeration, but you know it’s there, right? And if I were more clever, I could probably fit lots more genres–horror, fantasy, YA, westerns, etc.–into the hierarchy. I remember vividly being at the Key West Literary Seminar and hearing just about every top name in the crime fiction world asked some version of the question, “So did you ever want to write a real book?” (My imperfect memory is that only Benjamin Black–who as John Banville is a renowned literary writer–and Joyce Carol Oates escaped this question.)

So there’s that.

There’s also a weird hierarchy within the crime fiction realm. It’s not as clear, but for sure “literary” crime fiction is at the top, followed by thrillers, traditional mysteries, noir, procedurals and suspense (in some order or another), with romantic suspense and finally cozies at the bottom.

So the question for me was not, can a mystery be good literature? [As pondered by so many, like Edmund Wilson in “Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?” (The New Yorker, January 20, 1945), Raymond Chandler in “The Simple Art of Murder” (1950) or even Dorothy L. Sayers in her Introduction to the 1928-1929 Omnibus of Crime.] That’s another discussion for another day.

The question was, can a cozy be good crime fiction?

Was it a reasonable question? I think it was. After all, a cozy has never won an Edgar® Award for Best Novel and most cozy writers believe one never will. So why would I want to work this hard at something a whole lot of people–to be clear, people whom I like and respect as writers–think can never be “good?”

Let’s take this apart. To do so, first we have to agree on what a cozy is. The most common definition I’ve seen is that a cozy is a mystery, usually, but not always, featuring an amateur sleuth. The cozy will offer a crime, usually a murder, and a solution, usually the identification of the guilty party and bringing of that guilty party to justice. The reader will meet the guilty party and all the suspects in the course of the book. The mystery will be anchored in a community, and the sleuth, suspects and guilty party will be a part of the community in some way -ie not just there to murder or to uncover a murderer.

Aside from the amateur sleuth bias, and perhaps a bit more emphasis on setting, I’ve just defined a traditional mystery. And no one would argue that a traditional mystery can’t be “good” or even “literary.” (Okay, a lot of people would argue that, including the aforementioned Wilson, Chandler and Sayres, but again, this is not about that. The point is, there’s no reason within our genre, cozy mysteries can’t be good.)

To that definition, many people append, “In a cozy mystery, cursing is kept to a minimum and most sex and gore are kept ‘off the page.'”

I personally chafe at this definition. But not because I have the slightest interest in writing something very gory or explicitly sexual. I don’t wander to my desk in the morning thinking, “Drat! Another day of not torturing children. I feel so restricted.” Because, believe me, I don’t. I just hate it that my subgenre is defined by so many people by what’s NOT in it. If what were important is what’s not in it, I could hand 350 blank pages in to my publisher and be done with it.

Is that final restriction why cozy mysteries can’t be “good?”

After all, if cozy authors deal with murder at such a remove that we can’t describe the horror or the sorrow, and can’t evince those emotions in our audience, then can we really be writing something “good?” I would argue we can, because I have seen many cozy authors very skillfully evoke the horror of unexpected, violent death by focusing on the reactions and emotions of the characters, rather than the blood and the guts. If anything, I think that’s harder and requires more skill.

So that’s not a reason a cozy mystery can’t be “good.”

Is it that cozies can’t be good because there is too much formula required? I don’t think so. Most crime fiction has to contend on some level with audience expectations as to form. As does most prose fiction. As did Shakespeare in his comedies, histories, tragedies and sonnets.

Nope, audience expectations don’t mean cozies can’t be good.

Slide12Is it that cozies usually deal with the small and domestic? Can a book that ignores the vast sweep of history or the maelstrom of current events or the conundrum of the human condition be “good?”

Well, first of all, most cozies don’t ignore those things. Almost all take place in a certain place at a certain time. While they might look at human issues from the inside out, or from specific to the general, instead of the other way around, that doesn’t mean they ignore them.

But also, lots of people have written lots of great, great literary fiction about the domestic realm. In fact, making big events real by showing the way they affect specific people is one of the hallmarks of great fiction writing.

So that’s not the reason cozies can’t be good.

So now let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Both of the subgenres at the bottom of the “respect” heap in crime fiction-romantic suspense and cozies– are primarily written by women for women. Is that why cozies can’t be good?

That is, of course, ridiculous. Or I wish it were.

For me, the best books transport me. They take me to a place outside of myself. When that happens, my problems, petty and serious, recede for a time, and the lives of others, the lives of characters, become primary. I learn about professions, human communities and places I can’t learn about from my friends. And I care what happens to the characters.

This is what I think of as the four Es of reading fiction–escape, entertainment, education and empathy.

You don’t need all four in every book, but you probably need three for a book to be satisfying. Or I do. I also need a level of complexity of prose, structure, plot and character  to engage me. I can’t be transported if any of those elements are so simply rendered that I can still mentally balance my check book while reading.

That’s my definition of a good book. Is there anything in my personal definition of a good book that says cozies can’t be good? Nope, not seeing it.

So that’s how I got comfortable with spending my time, blood, sweat, and tears writing cozies. And that’s why I say it loud and proud whenever people ask me what I write. Because there is no reason on earth someone can’t write a cozy that is also a good book.

John T. Irwin described literary mysteries as ones you can re-read and get something new out of each time, even though you know the solution. Do you think that could ever happen with a cozy?

I know I haven’t achieved it, but the fact that it is “out there” means there is something to aspire to.

Readers, have at it. Do you think cozies can be “good” books? Why can’t they get any respect? Does it matter? Does it matter to you?

76 Thoughts

  1. Another amazing post, Barb. I think cozies might be getting more respect lately. Or maybe that’s just my myopia, since that’s the world I’m immersed in. Of course I think they can be good books, and I’ve read a few lately that have upped the ante.

    I appreciate your in-depth assessment of the genre. Which made me wonder if my WIP is up to snuff (yes, the one due next week). Back to it!

    1. I’m sure your WIP is excellent, Edith!

      I don’t know if cozies are getting more respect, but I do see a lot of authors pushing the edges of the genre, and featuring protagonists who aren’t necessarily middle-class, or college-educated, or white. Or featuring foreign settings. Which does expand people’s perceptions of the genre, I think.

  2. As a reader I think cozies can be good books. I’ve read some very good cozies that I would rank as highly as any literary fiction book. I agree that some don’t view cozies as worthy of their time. I visited an independent book store last year and the man behind the counter made it a point of telling me that he really didn’t read cozies. I thought to myself, why not? It made me feel ashamed that I DO read them, but for less than a split second. All I know is that in my neighborhood, at our local second-hand book store, it’s nearly impossible to snag the latest cozy releases. If you don’t reserve them, you won’t get them. That’s got to account for something, right? Some of us just like a neat murder in a small town with quirky folks. What’s wrong with that? At least I can sleep at night without horrific images playing out in my head. And anyway, how could we live without those beautiful cozy covers?
    I really loved this post. I hope cozy authors keep writing these wonderful little murder mystery books. ( :

    1. Oh, thank you!

      Yes, bookstore guy. It’s you I’m talking about. Why would you ever want to make a customer feel badly about buying books and reading?

    2. I absolutely agree! I don’t watch Criminal Minds because of all the real-world violence and evil in our society. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if that’s what my mind was dwelling on. If I don’t like the characters in the books as people, there’s no way that I’m going to spend my time reading them. If I want gore, sexual molestation, drugs and lawlessness, filthy language etc. all I need do is read the daily newspaper of any major city or watch many of the movies made today. No thank you, not my cup of tea! I don’t read any other genre any more, just not interested.

      1. I feel the same way about characters. If I wouldn’t spend time with you in real life, why would I commit time to you fictionally? It is true that an indepth look at someone’s life and motivations can turn me around on them as a character, but when I can’t stand the “hero” or featured player and they show no signs of growth–forget it!

  3. Barb, Part 3 is just as good as the first two and really had me thinking. I had a book featuring a female attorney shopped unsuccessfully as a cozy by one agent, only to be told by a notoriously candid second agent that it was no wonder it didn’t sell because it wasn’t a cozy! There went three years of my life. Here’s another thought that has come to mind occasionally. Do you think the somewhat lighthearted, sometimes cute, and often very clever titles of cozies may contribute to the cozy-snobs’ disdain? Just a thought. In the end, really all I care about is that the writing is good, the characters engaging and the story satisfying. I’ve certainly read a ton of cozies that do all three.

    1. I had the same experience with my first book, which featured a female police chief, but which otherwise probably met the definition of a cozy.

      I personally don’t think readers object to a professional sleuth. I think publishers who aren’t sure what the magic that makes a book “cozy” is create some pretty arbitrary “rules.”

      Interesting point about the titles. To me, they simply say to the prospective cozy reader, “This book is for you.” But they could be saying to others, “This book is not for you.” I think the same is true for most of the covers, that may say to men, “This book is not for you.” But I know there is a small but significant male readership of my cozies–at least based on my e-mails, Goodreads and Amazon reviews.

  4. I believe character development is what defines a cozy. I am avid reader of most genres but my favorite and “comfort food” are cozies. I’m especially fond of books in a series simply because the characters become like old friends (or sometimes old enemies). Even the place becomes a character.

    I have many series that I read and re-read. They’ve taken me away from my troubles and give me respite. Just like any great book does. I absolutely believe there are lots of good books in good (sometimes even great series). I will be relocating in the next couple of years and at least 6 complete series will go with me (probably more). I’m going to need to go back to those familiar places when I’m living in an unfamiliar one.

    Barbara, I think you hit the nail on the head with the comment “are written by women for women”. The same issue is seen with female contemporary writers not getting the same respect as their male colleagues. It is ridiculous but unfortunately I think it is true. I can’t think of a single cozy written solely by a male (I can think of couples that collaborate) that I’ve read.

    Gillian Flynn’s quote is interesting. I’m a huge fan of Updike but he doesn’t write cozies but in my estimation neither does Flynn. Just because a book is in the domestic realm doesn’t make it a cozy. I can’t absolutely define it but I know it when I see it (or read it)!

    I’m glad so many great authors choose to write cozies even if you get no respect. You certainly have mine.

    1. Oh, how lovely of you to say we have your respect.

      Everything you have said about series is how I feel, too. And I also have some complete sets that have survived every household purging.

      I agree Gillian Flynn doesn’t write cozies. A number of female authors of much darker mysteries have gone out of their way to point out that it’s not okay to put down cozies simply because they are written by women for women.

      There are men who write cozies, usually using pseudonyms. Dean James writing as Miranda James comes to mind. And there do seem to be a lots of female/male writing teams.

  5. “Oh, you’re a cozy writer. I only read literature.” Which is why I have to wait for cozies off the hold list while the library shelves are stacked with multiple copies of more literary books. Readers have told me that they enjoy cozies on their tablets because no one can see what they’re reading. The shame of reading a cozy in public! Great post.

  6. Thanks, Barb, for another excellent post.

    In the end, there are good books in all genres. It’s all a matter of taste. There are good police procedurals, which I don’t read. There are good thrillers, which I don’t read. There is good science fiction, which I don’t read. They just aren’t for me.

    For all those folks who look down on any genre, how many of them have what it takes to write in that genre? It isn’t easy. My friend, the late Paula Schwaratz, who wrote regency romances under the name of Elizabeth Mansfield, used to bemoan the fact that regencies didn’t get any respect. She worked very hard ensuring the historical aspects, developing characters, plotting an entertaining story. What isn’t there to respect in that? Again, regencies aren’t everyone’s cup of tea.

    Cozy writers, which I am one, can take comfort in the fact that cozies are strong sellers. Obviously lots of readers think they are “good.”

    1. Fiction writing is hard, no matter what you write.

      I got a newsletter last week from a time management expert I respected, talking about how time in the chair is more important than word count for writers. It made two references to how easy and fast it is to write “formulaic pop fiction.” (The second reference was one of those “not that there’s anything wrong with that,” type of statements that’s more insulting than the original swipe.) I wish it was that easy. I wish there was a winning formula and I could just plug in details. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to find it.

      I unsubscribed from the newsletter.

  7. I think the term “cozies” is the problem as it denotes, as you have said, female and domestic, both at the bottom of the status hierarchy. So I guess enjoy the ride as it is or relabel the genre for a wider reach. But I do enjoy that you all have such fun together!

    1. Hi Joan–After listening to lots of authors insist they write “traditional mysteries,” in an attempt, I think, either to broaden their reach or gain some respect, I’ve decided to just roll with it and say, “I write cozies.”

  8. Hoo boy, courageous you for tackling the elephant! My problem was hearing “when are you getting a REAL job?” – and now it’s “how much money do you make?” ARRGH. But we really ARE in it for the FOUR E’s, thanks for saying that, cuz I had my finger on it and couldn’t put it in words any better than you. YUP. Somehow, when you mention Agatha Christie’s name as a colleague, you do get a touch of that “ooh!” from most readers. Great series of posts, Barb!

    1. I’ve had real jobs. Been there, done that. I loved my work while I was in it (except, of course, for the days you don’t), but at this point, for me, there’s no turning back.

      When people ask me the money question (and it’s surprising how often they do, since I can’t think of many professions where it’s okay to ask that in a public setting), I always tell them about something my (our) agent said to me along the lines of “Stick with me kid, you’ll make thousands.” Thousands? Thousands. It’s funny because it’s true.

  9. Hi Barb – I wonder if the reason cozies don’t get some people’s respect is their popularity? Some people think if something is popular, it can’t be “good” – “good”, as only they can define.

    1. Hi Shari–I think that may be true for the crime fiction world in general, but it doesn’t make sense to me as a reason people don’t respect cozies within the wider genre.

  10. A Ronda Rousey body slam of a post here Barbara (just to reference another arena where women were shut out for years until the wall came down). Marketing terms used by booksellers (cozy, noir, procedural etc) are useful only for pushing more books onto the public. But all of us writers are all guilty of participating. We asked to be a part of it: a substantial number of readers want to be told quickly in what genre a book sits.

    In terms of award winning writing, I think a “cozy” will win some best writing awards, but will end up being marketed as something else. It will be up to all of us to recognize it. “Strive to be a poet even in prose” as Baudelaire wrote. That is the guidepost for writers I admire, regardless of genre.

    1. I admit, I had to google Ronda Rousey, but that’s the fun of blogging–learning cool stuff from other people.

      I do understand the need for heavy branding, particularly of new authors–people who are not yet their own brand. There has to be a way to tell readers–this book is like others you’ve like. The ITW study of mystery readers was an eye-opener. Crime fiction readers are the most author loyal and the least likely to try a new author. (One of those things you’ve always suspected that turns out to be statistically true.)

      I agree that a cozy will win a major award without being designated as such. When I went back over the list of former Edgar® Best Novel winners, I looked at Dick Francis and thought, “They’re really male cozies.”

      1. I read the ITW study as well, interesting. A similar study in field of music showed people’s brains are kind of hard-wired to purchase songs that sound a lot like . . .songs they played a lot before.

        Male cozies, I love it. I’m sure the industry will coin some shorthand soon. Mozies.

  11. I worked at Waldenbooks for 11 years and our bread and butter was the genre reader (mystery, sci fi, romance) and most of my booksellers were genre readers as well. One of the first things that I learned was not to look down my nose at genre fiction because it paid my bills. One of my fears when I started working in a bookstore was that all I really read was mystery and that I didn’t know much about the other categories- but you learn!

    I actually like all the subgenres in the mystery category but maybe because I don’t feel bound to read one type. And if I had to pinpoint a favorite flavor, I would choose anything that has a touch of history- particularly if there is an historical mystery tied to a contemporary mystery- I’m in. I don’t know why except that I like them!

    But what really struck me about Barbara’s post are the four E’s! I totally agree! I read for entertainment for sure- I don’t won’t to work hard at the end of the day- I want to enjoy myself- revisit with some familiar people and places. I want to learn about something new- whether it’s organic pet treats or farming or consignment shops or whatever- I have an endless capacity to want to learn more that I chalk up to reading whatever seems interesting! I also want to read about something different than my day-to-day life. Every once in a while I’ll think, how do these people pay the bills or when do they do laundry? But that’s part of the draw of a story- they don’t have to do those hum-drum everyday things- and I love it!!! And loving the characters- that is what draws me to the stories. I want to see what has happened since the last installment and has the character grown? Or has he or she stayed the same? Or, and I am really amazed by this, when at the beginning of the story you really like one character and by the end? Not so much! Maybe that’s a cheap trick but I liked to be turned on my head a little bit!

    I really enjoy the Wicked Cozies posts! I learn something new each and every day!! Thanks!

    1. Hi Jacki-

      I also like mysteries that have a mystery in the past and one in the present. In fact, I am going to be writing one next. I’ve written several that had a crime in the past that impacted the mystery in the present, but not an unsolved mystery in the past. (If you like those, I recommend Lea Wait’s Twisted Thread–see next commenter.)

      I agree part of the attraction is the lack (or mere sporadic appearance) of issues like laundry and dishes. In fact, I think that is the attraction of the entire genre, especially police procedurals on TV. As Vida Antolin-Jenkins pointed out in a comment on Sherry Harris’s post on Monday, in real life lawyers and other law enforcement professionals are spread over many cases over many months. But I think we all love to believe that if something terrible were to happen to us, someone would take on the task of single-mindedly bringing them to justice.

  12. Great post, Barb! And I agree with everything you say …yes, I write cozies. But I’ll admit I’m one of those writers who prefer the term “traditional mysteries.” The word “cosy” really turns me off. And I recently got a (very positive) review in which one of my mysteries was called “almost as good as the best women’s fiction.” WHAT? It’s frustrating to write a book (mystery) which deals with serious issues … and then have readers buy it because there’s a cat on the cover. (Yes. I like cats. And YES — I like people buying my books! I even fantasize about some day making a living writing. But adding in a cat – which I’ve done — is a bit like adding in gratuitous violence or sex – which I have not done. In a quiet way, that, plus “cute covers” and “punny titles” drive me a bit batty. Clearly, you’re my role model on this — you’re accepting the publishing world the way it is, not the way you’d like it to be! (And if you think cozy writers are at the bottom of the respect list … don’t even start thinking about writers for children.) Thank you for writing this!

    1. Really? Children’s writers? Perhaps because everyone thinks they could do it. I used to say to the people in our marketing department, “Everyone in this company thinks they can do your job because they’ve been to a market.”

      Like you, I had all the same trepidations–about the puns and the covers and the cats. (I love the idea of gratuitous cats.) That’s why I had to work myself through all this.

      But at the end of the day, when you’re an unknown writer (which unlike you, I was), you need a strong brand identity to get people to try a new author.

  13. Great post, Barb!

    I read to be entertained and in order for that to happen, first and foremost, I have to like the main characters. It takes hard work to develop an engaging crime-solver that will remain interesting throughout a series and some cozy writers do that beautifully.

    I don’t know when or why the term ‘cozy’ came into being, but if it directs readers to the area of the virtual or brick & mortar bookstore that will guarantee a lack of horror or gruesome details or lurid sex passages, then that’s okay. Many of the followers of my book review site are women who enjoy reading about locked-room mysteries, but not necessarily about the blood and guts found in the room by the person who discovers the body. They love the genre and wholeheartedly support it. The label preselects the ‘safe’ books for them.

    Just because a book is missing the more sensational elements, does not mean that it is also missing clever plot development or wonderful settings. I took a look at the list of books that I started and did not finish reading in 2014 (I do this for statistical research for NBR) and I put down many more thrillers/literary/etc books than I did cozies. Why? Not because of the gory details (I do, after all, write a crime fiction blog) but because the books were not well written, and/or had unsympathetic lead characters.

    Good writing is not genre specific. Great characters that keep us coming back are not genre specific. A writer that tackles the cozy genre, thinking that it is formulaic pulp fiction, will undoubtedly find that his/her career will fizzle and die.

    1. So well said, Patti. Yes, there are lots of terrible cozies, but there are lots of terrible books in every genre. And my terrible often = your favorite book, because personal taste plays such a strong role.

      Recently I heard someone (and I wish I could remember who it was) say that for people who say cozies are “not realistic”–how many people have their wife kidnapped and then jet off to Europe where they confront a KGB assassin, etc, etc. Puh-lese.

      1. “Not realistic?” Can’t stop laughing. Maybe that person should be in the non-fiction aisle. lolol

  14. And along the lines of being able to find a book that isn’t offensive to a huge swath of people – I was asked yesterday to speak to a group of retired nuns who like mysteries. And was hugely glad to say that I’d be happy to, and that (unless they are undercover nuns who like to read gory obscenity-laden crime stories) my books will be easy for them to read!

  15. Cozies are traditional mysteries with the additional appeal of charming, likable characters, interesting settings, humor, and usually an element of sweetness and good feeling that you probably won’t find in a police procedural or suspense novel. As far as I’m concerned, they have all of the elements of literary mysteries and more! I love cozies, and traditional mysteries, and women’s fiction, and historical fiction, and mature chick-lit, and psychological suspense, and contemporary fiction, but certainly not every book in each genre. We live in a culture that LOVES labels and finds it easier to judge by those labels rather than taking the time to explore and learn and realize that EVERY book can be a treasure.

    As a librarian I run a book club, Christie Capers, where we read lots of mysteries, both cozy and non-cozy traditional mysteries. We have found that it is not the specific category but the talent of the writer that makes us love or hate a novel. It also depends on everyone’s personal preferences, of course. I happen to value setting and character above all else except writing talent and I have discovered many exciting new authors as a result of having to read mysteries that I thought I might not like. I also run another book club, called BookBuggs, where we meet to share and review books that we have read. Our motto is Betty Rosenberg’s famous quote, “Never apologize for your reading tastes,” but I have still heard people say things like, “Oh, I’ll like this book because it’s nonfiction” or “I don’t like romance in stories.” What? I guess my point is that it’s sad that so many people, including readers and those who nominate books for prestigious awards, rely on labels rather than quality to decide whether a work has merit or not. There are so many wonderful cozy series available that I could not ever begin to read them all. It bothers me when someone rolls their eyes at my (or anyone else’s) choice of reading materials (and it HAS happened). I read what I enjoy and what I find to be GOOD, and that includes cozies.

    1. Eileen–thanks so much for your comment. “Never apologize for your reading tastes.” I love that.

      I agree that good writing is the key, and also that people read for different reasons. Some people love the puzzle in a mystery and proactively try to solve it. Others float along on the setting and characters, and if they intuit the solution, fine, but it’s not part of the game for them.

  16. But I love the punny titles. There’s no such thing as a bad pun!

    I read mainly cozies and Middle Grade books. If those are the bottom of the heap, then I guess that says everything you need to know about my reading tastes. But I read to escape (one of those E’s), and I enjoy books that take me away from reality. If I want reality, I watch the news, not read for pleasure.

    But that’s not to say that you can’t find amazing, deep books in those genres. Not all authors hit that, but I don’t think they all strive for it. And that’s okay. If the author is doing what he or she set out to do, that’s how we should judge them.

    The Emmy nominations came out last week. The only show I watch that hit any of the major awards was a supporting actress nomination for The Big Bang Theory. But you want to watch some amazing acting and storytelling? Watch the season finale of The Flash. That may be a genre show (and a *gasp* superhero show at that), but I dare you to get through it without tearing up if not outright crying. It is that good. Watch for my gushing review of the first season coming in September. So it is something that happens across all entertainment. (Being on the CW doesn’t help that genre show either.)

    But I really do think that what isn’t it the cozies is one reason why they are looked down on. I’ve probably said this before in comments on this blog, but again, look at the award nominees and winners in ANY thing, from books to TV, Movies, etc. It’s usually the stuff that is “so realistic” which is code for filled with language, sex, and violence. You know, the stuff that turns me off.

    It’s taken me some time, but I am comfortable with what I like and I’ll stick with it no matter whether it is the stuff all the “cool” people are reading/watching/etc. If they are going to turn their noses up at it, they will be the ones missing out. Not me.

    1. Very well said, Mark. I remember hearing that many, many years ago when Billboard switched from a sampling technique to using bar codes scanned at the cash register to determine their top 40 lists, there was a much larger audience for country music than anyone reported.

      That is why book bloggers like you and others are so critical to our genre. We are not going to get the NYTimes reviews, but you are willing to tell your blog readers about our books. I cannot tell you how much that means to us.

      My husband is working his way through back episodes of The Flash on our DVR. My lips are sealed. I’ll wait for him to come tell me how fantastic the finale was.

      As to the Emmys, I am doing my own happy dance for Tatiana Maslany in Orphan Black. Amazing work and about time.

  17. My pet peeve is all the new “cozy” books (?) that are about 150 pages long and you have to read at least the 1st 3 books to finish the story. Usually, the characters are so silly, immature, etc. that I lose interest altogether. I’ve starting looking closely at the number of pages in a book before I begin, even if the e-book is “free”. If it’s not interesting enough to write a real book about, I don’t want to waste my time. If it’s a short story, say so. Most of the so-called “covers” on these e-books are silly as well. The authors in this group write REAL books in the cozy genre with likable characters and settings that I long to visit when the book ends and I can’t wait for the next installment. Keep them coming and know that you have loyal, dedicated readers who anxiously await your next release!

    1. Hi Phyllis–
      I think this new trend to shorter books that are essentially episodes is coming from the popularity of this format in some genres in the self-published world, along with data that suggests that many crime fiction readers will not commit to a new series until there are five or more books. (I think it’s five. I don’t have the data at my fingertips.) It’s really a return to the serialized novels of the Dickens era.

      I, too, find it annoying. I like short stories and novellas, but I want my novel-reading experience to be immersive, and for me that requires more than an episode. But I am old and cranky, so there’s that. 🙂

      1. Maybe that’s my problem too Barb, old and cranky, LOL. But seriously, there is a really good reason they can’t get published in a real DTB. Must be for those with short attention spans. I rarely read short stories but recently found an excellent one by Denise Swanson, Once Upon a Lie I think was the title. My preference is real printed books but I’ve gone primarily to Kindles due to vision complications. I do love series cozy books with likable characters but I still prefer a REAL book, complete within itself. Your books are an excellent example, I anxiously await the next release. Keep writing and know there are many readers out here who promote your books as much as possible.

      2. Thank you so much for your kind words. I, too, use an e-reader some of the time. As my husband says, “Now I finally have the words bumped up to the same size as they were when I learned to read.”

        I will look for the story by Denise Swanson. I do like a good short story.

  18. A very important conversation — and one I’ll be reflecting on as I review the next SIX cozy mysteries waiting in my TBR stack (where R is reviewed). There are about 15 non-cozy mysteries int he stack as well. I use the same yardstick for all of them: the essentials of a good book as you’ve described them, Barb. Glad to be part of this ongoing discussion. (And do visit to see what I mean!)

    1. Thanks for weighing in, Beth. I cannot tell you how happy it makes me to have librarians, booksellers and book bloggers joining in this discussion.

  19. What a great post! I write a romantic comedy/cozy mystery series and so often I waiver between the comments of ‘oh so you write those trashy books’ and ‘oh so you write those cutesy mysteries’. I try to write fun stories about friendship, romance, small towns, and murder (haha) that entertain and make people laugh and sigh at my swoony heroes and try to figure out the whodunit. Sounds like a pretty good gig. Thanks for shedding some light on cozies- I am flying my cozy mystery writer flag a little higher now! 🙂

  20. A good book is entertainment at its best. It sucks you in and doesn’t let go.Cozys are good books: no different than To Kill A Mockingbird or Gone With The Wind both, of which I read at the same time I was reading the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. Cozys ARE NOT JUST FOR WOMEN, they are for anyone who wants to be entertained, to see different places, to experience different types of work or hobbies; they are about life in all its varied formats. A good book is a good book because you enjoyed and not for any other reason. No book or author should ever be looked down on, no matter what or how they write. Just enjoy!

  21. Hi Barb and all,
    This is a great post, as have been the two earlier ones on this topic. I especially like this line:

    I have seen many cozy authors very skillfully evoke the horror of unexpected, violent death by focusing on the reactions and emotions of the characters, rather than the blood and the guts. If anything, I think that’s harder and requires more skill.

    You are right that in establishing the pecking order, sexism is alive and well. That goes without saying.

    I read widely within and outside the mystery genre, and enjoy a well-written cozy. All three of your Maine Clambake Mysteries fit that bill. Strong, believable characters. Interesting setting. Active, well-constructed plot. But they also talk about the blessings and drawbacks of family. Choosing between work that pays well and work that satisfies. How communities respond when terrible things happen. A lot of literature is built around similar themes.

    My protagonist is a newspaper reporter, so not really amateur, but not a cop, either. There’s some language, but sex is off the page and the impact of violence is not described in detail. Do I write cozies? Not exactly. Traditional? I guess so. It doesn’t matter to me, but as Eileen says, we live in a culture obsessed with labels. In or out. Up or down. Cool or not.

    I’m with Mark. As a reader, he refuses to be influenced by what is cool or in. As writers, we need to have the same attitude. It is hard enough to find one’s comfort zone as a writer without laying a societal expectations trip on ourselves.

    We need to support each other, whatever we write, and keep talking about these issues. At 6:30 tonight this post had 54 comments. Well done, Barb. Thank you.

    1. First of all, thank you for your kind words about the Maine Clambake Mysteries, Brenda. It thrills me when people “get” what I am trying to do, though in truth I am happy if they enjoy them, not matter what they enjoy about them.

      I would say Quick Pivot is a traditional mystery, though I am certainly no expert. I do love journalists as protagonists.

  22. What a great post! My first cozy mystery is coming out November 2015, and I’ve never thought about the genre not getting respect. I’ve also found a huge cozy mystery support system out there in cyberland. I’m looking forward to being known as a cozy mystery writer!

  23. Barb,
    As a new, about-to-be published author, it helps to know that even Agatha noms are subjected to the subtle and sometimes not-so subtle insults lobbed at cozies.
    After I told a casual friend I had written a murder mystery (I didn’t even mention the “C” word), she said, “Why would you want to write in that genre?” (pronouncing the “re” in genre as in “The Louvre”.) It hurt my feelings because she is someone whose accomplishments I admire.
    She’s entitled to her opinion, but after some reflection I decided aspiring to move into the same neighborhood as Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers isn’t exactly slumming!
    And there are hopeful signs that cozies are gaining some respect. It’s not unusual now for top cozy authors to hit the Top 20 on the New York Times mass market fiction list and that hasn’t always been the case!

    1. Hi Vicki!

      Yes, everybody gets those not so subtle insults. I imagine Stephen King is called to account for himself from time to time.

      I do think pronouncing genre like Louvre is hilarious, though.

      Congratulations on your coming release.

  24. Pretty damned brilliant post, Barb…not that I’d expect anything less from you.

    I’ve always thought of your books as traditional…what is the distinction between traditional and cozy…is Christie traditional or cozy?

    At least your “cozy” was nominated for the Maine Literary Award…does that mean you wrote a “real” book?


    1. Thank you, Kate! The nomination for the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction was definitely a highlight (and a surprise). I never would have believed they would have gone for a cozy, or for a mass market paperback for that matter, until it happened.

      It just goes to show.

  25. Interesting posts! I also write cozies for Annie’s Fiction–just submitted my 6th MS under contract. They unabashedly sell their books to women who are interested in crafts. Do I have a problem with that? No, it’s genius. I read very widely and in cozies, I look for the same elements as in any book: a voice I like, engaging characters, setting, interesting premise in plot and jobs/lifestyles etc. I enjoy the feeling of immersion in another world. I have to admit when my DD said one of my books made her feel cozy while reading it, then I knew it was a success. (she has no idea about “cozies” as a genre).

  26. I’ve been reading cozies for years. I don’t really think about them getting less respect than other books. I would be proud to read one in public (but not a romance book). One time when I was buying some books at the library book sale the person behind the counter asked if any of them were children’s books (lower price for them). One of them had a cat on the book cover: An Uninvited Ghost by E. J. Copperman. I love cozies with cats (or other animals) and knitting, crocheting, or other crafts, especially if I can’t do them. I mostly read cozies but I also like classic mysteries like Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes, and Dorothy L. Sayers. I like historical mysteries, too, preferably ones that are cozier. Rhys Bowen has books that are cozy and historical.

    Readers shouldn’t be put down for the books they read. I don’t like Star Trek or Star Wars, but if people want to watch those shows or read those books, whatever. Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel has lots of new cozy movies and the Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder based on the Joanne Fluke book had high ratings with more movies in the series coming. The Hallmark channels always show movies that aren’t violent and are cozier and good for families.

  27. Just wanted to let you know that our local (Chicagoland) B&N just split their mystery section into two parts–cozies and the rest. Someone is recognizing the power of the category.

  28. Aaaah! I have been waiting for this article since the second one! I’ve been a little nervous about my manuscript’s development into a cozy. (You know, that light, unimportant type of book.) It’s been reassuring to see you knock down all those concerns.

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