Recently Fellow Wicked Edith wrote a great post in defense of genre books, which some cluless people consider less important than so-called literary fiction, You know, those books that the critics adore and review all over the place but that only 137 people in the world read. I might be exaggerating a bit, but you know what I mean. I’d like to think cozy writers like us have as many readers as they do, but most of them do not review for The New York Times. Many of you readers responded in defense of genre, and we thank you!
But if you walk through one of the increasingly rare chain bookstores, you will quickly see that some genre books share certain consistent characteristics. Like romances where on the cover everybody’s clothes seem to be falling off. Or, during that time when chick lit was popular, every cover for it was pink, with a pair of very long legs (no body) and stilettos.
And cozies have small furry animals on the cover. Why? There is a practical reason: if you see a book with a puppy or kitten or both from across the room, you can be pretty sure that the book is a cozy. That makes it easy for readers to find them (and buy them, we hope). So who decides on the cover design? The publisher, of course. We may write them, but often that’s the last control we have over them. And publishers generally know what sells books—it’s their business.
But recently I’ve been asking myself, which comes first? The cute animals or the story? And why do I care? Because I’m a cat magnet. I’m not exaggerating—these cats started appearing long before I started writing, most often when I travel (and no, I do not travel with a handful of cat treats in my pockets). I even have the pictures to prove it.
o 1998, Raglan, Wales, with my husband and daughter: we were touring Welsh castles (there seem to be a lot of them, mostly ruined) and I sat down on a bench to admire what was left of the castle somewhere out in the country. A cat showed up and sat next to me.
o 1999, Ireland, with my daughter: we stayed at a pleasant B&B south of the Shannon airport. They had cats. Lots of cats. I ended up clutching a tiger kitten (no, I did not bring it home with me).
o 2011, Ireland, travelling with a friend I had met online through genealogy: we stayed at a small hotel in Dublin, across from Christchurch Cathedral. We toured the church, and then, since it was a nice day, I sat down on a bench outside the church and people-watched. So of course the official church cat showed up, crawled under my coat, and went to sleep.
o More recently we stayed at a nice rental in Union Hall, in Cork—a place that I picked, sight-unseen. We pulled into the parking area and I said, “look, there’s a cat.” And looked again, and there was another cat, and another—I think the final count was six. One took a particular liking to me and watched through the kitchen window.
Those are just the cats I can remember (and that someone managed to take a picture of). I don’t recall that any dogs got quite so chummy. Cats seem to like me. I know, there are lots of cats and many are outdoor or feral cats and not particularly friendly. In fact, a lot of them run away and hide, or at least maintain a safe distance. But me they sit on.
But there may be a logical reason why cats appear on all those cozy covers. I wrote recently that we nice respectable ladies on this blog write about killing people, which seems odd when you think about it. But putting an appealing friendly pet on the cover signals that we aren’t bad people, that we are trustworthy, and that small animals like us–they send a message in shorthand. Not only are the fuzzy creatures a code for “cozy” but they signal that all will turn out well in the book.
What about you? Do you automatically reach for the book with the cat or dog on the cover?
Of course! At St. Petersburg’s wonderful independent bookstore, Haslam’s, there’s almost always an endcap display of “cat cozies.” There is a fine resident bookstore cat on hand too.
Bookstores and cats do seem to go together. When I was in New Orleans for Bouchercon, there was a great used bookstore right around the corner from the hotel–and a cat who sat on the front desk (or occasionally in the window) and welcomed people.
What a weird talent — and how wonderful! But now that you have your own cottage in Ireland, you are no longer just a moving target. Are the cats gathering outside?
One neighbor has an orange cat, who I’ve talked with (he also has a dog). The neighbor behind has a Golden Retriever, a pond full of giant carp, and ducks, but no cats. I think I’d have to hang around longer to attract any there (but I’d be happy to try!). But every time I visit the “real” Sullivan’s Pub (Connolly’s of Leap), I end up with their cat in my lap
Oh, Sheila, that is too funny, and the cat peering in the window, priceless. Like you, cats collect me no matter where I go, and I cherish their friendship no matter how brief.
As for looking for critters on the cover–when I’m in the mood for a cozy I tend to shop by the author, but if I see a book that catches my eye, yes, I seek clues on the cover and critters are one of those clues!
My husband and I were “staff” to 6 cats at one time. Sadly, we are down to 2. I adore cozies that feature cats and yes, absolutely inclined to pick up a cozy that includes a cat in the cast of characters!
I’m going to have to review my fictional pet population! (I have only three “real” ones, but one sister-in-law has six). Meg (Orchard Mysteries) has one cat, Lolly, who spends most of her time sleeping on top of the refrigerator; husband Seth has a Golden Retriever, Max. Maura in the County Cork series has never had a pet, but I could see a cat wandering in and adopting her–you know, just sitting in a quiet corner somewhere watching her. (I did once visit an Irish pub that had a pet chicken.) I think Abby in the Relatively Dead series could use a cat–a rescue kitten, no doubt. And then she finds she can communicate with it (which is sometimes what I think I do–cats and I just seem to understand each other). I’ve never had a dog.
I didn’t know you were a cat magnet, Sheila! But I’m not surprised. I’m currently writing a cozy series where the protag is allergic to mammalian pets, so she has a chatty African Grey parrot, instead. Lots of potential for fun covers!
Seeing a cat on the cover of a cozie always catches my eye. I’ve never been the one that the cats were instantly drawn to (it was always my father growing up, and now my husband) , but I still love cats just the same.
Maybe this is a sign that I should start liking dogs. 🙂
You don’t travel with cat treats? I travel with dog treats in my purse (hey, gotta be prepared!). I love dogs, and if there is one on the cover, I’ll probably buy the book, or at least be intrigued enough to check out the book.
Hi Sheila! I admit I do like cozies with cats and/or dogs on the covers. I like to read about them in the stories as well. I guess I an animal lover.
Love stories that have critters in them – be it dog, cat, bird, lizard (had them as pets growing up) and something else. I think it shows the “human” side of man and sort of softens the murder aspect. Whatever the reason, it works and hope cozies keep it up. 🙂 And yes, they do help draw my attention when critters are on the cover. Between animals and the bright colors, I know I’m looking at the right book for what I love to read.
I love this post! And as I recall cats find your house too!
That they do. The neighbors have a lovely cat Henry, who has to be at least 15 now. A few years ago he buddied up with a stray and brought him by our place–poor scrawny thing who obviously was lousy at foraging in the wild (we figured he’d been abandoned). Guess what: Oliver is still here, and much larger than when he arrived. The lovely thing is, he and Henry are still friends, and chat regularly.
The cat staring at you through the window is waaaay too funny! I don’t own a cat because of all the traveling, but I have two cats that visit often enough for me to think they may be neighborhood feral cats that have chosen me. The vole population has been almost non-existent since they started dropping by, so I welcome them. One of them is clever enough to have figured out a way to take off an outside crawl space cover, and stays under the house in bad weather.
That was a fun place to stay. The only problem was that you had to be very careful going in and out of the parking area, because there were cats all over. Sometimes they sat on the car.
That’s a LOT of cats. To answer the original question, I do reach for books with cats on the cover and especially enjoy the ones where the cat has a big part in the mystery.
I am drawn to book covers with cute animals on them. Maybe that’s because I’m drawn to cute animals in real life? I love that cat staring at you thru the window.
Isn’t that one sweet? The window was right over the sink, so she (he?) could watch us washing the dishes.
I seem to be a animal magnet, too. Maybe not to the extent you are, but then have you ever attracted a parrot? Two very different parrots in two very different parts of Peru adopted me. One loved to steal my room key, the other thought walking across my dinner was natural behavior (and maybe it was for her). Cats are by far my favorite and I will read almost any cozy that features them.
Now that you mention it, YES. A cat or a dog on the cover pulls me to the book. Murder and animals just seem to blend so seamlessly together.
I’m more about the punny title than the cute pet on the cover, but again, that is a conscious marketing decision to brand the book as cozy. And it works to help us mind more books to buy and read.
Hi Sheila, Sadly I always reach first for the book with the name of an author I know (wither in person or from loving their books). The cover art is always my bonus to enjoy when I put the book down to take a break from reading.
Cats on the cover are a plus. I am drawn to them like a magnet. I have 2 cats and then there is a stray that is trying so hard to adopt us but our 2 cats don’t want him in our house. It’s like WWIII when he sneaks in. I feed him outside and spend time with him. He is really cute.
I don’t automatically reach for them, but I know they are likely to be cozies (and many of them are adorable covers).
When I was writing my historical, I wasn’t going to include an animal. But a stray cat showed up one day and wouldn’t leave, so…
They do that, but then sometimes they play hard to get and you have to woo them (with food).
Well, the protagonist’s younger sister did feed the cat. So it’s her fault!
While I buy my favorite authors’ books anyway, I do look for animals on the covers. If they don’t have animals, the covers need to have food or books or all three. Cats loved my mother but she didn’t like them. She hated how they twined around your legs. Dad’s family was the one that had cats. Mom had dogs as a child. All we had was a crummy guinea pig, sets of those tiny turtles and a goldfish we won at a fair. Guess that’s why I like to read about pets.
I had a tiny turtle, that I managed to keep alive for a while (don’t recall what happened to it), and one of those lonely goldfish that I won tossing pingpong balls into the glass bowl the fish was in. My mother got rid of that. I did better with the box turtle I found and kept for some time, then released. And the small black snake I found and took to school with me, where it escaped and found its way into the kitchen which really thrilled the cooking staff (it did survive).
I do judge books by their covers and honestly have not read some cozies because I did not like their covers. I am so bad. If there is a cat or even more important a dog, there is a darn good chance I am going to get it. Actually if there are any animals I am going to be pulled to it. Love the photos by the way. I think my favorite is the last one with the wide eyed cat looking in the window!!
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