For 5 days, I worked on a cozy mystery novel with Chris Patterson. Then I talked to an agent friend of mine about what she requires for a book to be labelled cozy mystery to sell. Those are insane.
The first requirement was no one close to the main character or major secondary characters can have died. Our books are set up to have gal pals be the core team. Basically, they can’t have any dead parents or siblings and no dead grandparents. She eve told me deceased extended relatives are a no go. Meaning all aunts, uncles, and cousins still have to be alive. Often the death of a relative, is done to build defenses and maturity into my characters and to try and keep the number of extra characters down when family figures into a story.
The second requirement no unmarried females. In our set up the bestie is single just like the main character. My agent friend told me that wouldn’t fly for a cozy, because the best friend poses a potential threat to the romantic interest developing between the main character and a secondary character. I find that as dumb as the first requirement. My best friend and I were often single at the same time. We are both rather independent and strong women. And we never posed a risk to each other’s romantic interests in the form of competition.
The third, our female love interest has to somehow enhance the life of the male love interest. I asked if the reverse was true and awoke to an email telling me no, he didn’t have to enhance her life. One of the things her and I discussed was that he wasn’t a bad boy, so I wasn’t sure how to enhance his life with our female character. She recommended making him an air head who is smarter when she’s around. Then she laughed. She knows I’m not much on vapid characters in general, regardless of character gender.
Requirements four, five, and six; I expected no real violence, no swearing, and it’s not erotica so no hot and heavy petting scenes. Then we discussed cozy mysteries as a genre. And I learned a secret, 75% of books marketed as cozy mysteries aren’t cozy mysteries, they are “humorous, romantic who-dun-its”. But that isn’t a solid genre so they get marketed as cozy mysteries because they appeal to cozy mystery readers. She also told me she didn’t think I could pull it off. This woman has handled the marketing of my books to publishing houses for over a decade, before I learned about indie publishing and we’ve had a few go arounds about what I needed to put into books to make them marketable.
She told me “[I] could pull off the who-dun-it, but I develop my characters too much for a cozy mystery.” While they aren’t supposed to be vapid, they are also not meant to be entirely fleshed out, like I have a tendency to do. It was interesting to listen to her tell me, my characters were too well developed for a specific genre. Her suggestion was that I aim for that 75% that is a humorous romantic who-dun-it that appeals to cozy mystery readers, but aren’t actually cozy mysteries. Then I can kill and develop characters as much as I want.
I admit, I’m not one for ticking boxes when I write, so this appeals to me. Onward tally ho.