On the plight of the cozy mystery: So, with all that popularity and variety, how is this subgenre under attack? Easy, traditional publishing houses, both large and small are cutting or reducing their cozy lines. Authors are being given notice that their series are not being renewed, or are being discontinued.
The Cozy is Dead – Long Live the Cozy
Genre writing is rife with pitfalls. Fashionable reads come and go with what seems like head spinning frequency. Right now, it appears that the cozy is under siege, and under siege from an unlikely source. Publishing Houses.
Cozies are not a genre. The genre is mystery in all its myriad of forms. The cozy is a subgenre of mysteries, as are traditional, historical, humorous, steampunk, noir, and the list goes on. (Who else just tapped their feet to Sonny and Cher?) A cozy can be set in the current time, past, future, even in a fictional world of fairies and wizards. What matters is the quest, and the crime. Usually murder.
What sets the cozy apart then? It’s debatable and there are as many answers as there are authors so this is a generalization. The cozy features an amateur sleuth, they are usually set in a small town, and typically, the sex and violence take place off the page. Oh yes, they usually have a tame vocabulary too. One cusses in a cozy, and curses in a thriller. Think Miss Marple.
The cozy has subgenres. Caterers and cooks are among the most popular, specialty shop owners, crafters, book club members, even soccer moms can be a cozy sleuth, and each subgenre has its devoted followers. Some of my best recipes came from Diane Mott Davidson books. If only I could figure out a way to send you a batch of Scout’s brownies! You’d see exactly what I mean.
So, with all that popularity and variety, how is this subgenre under attack? Easy, traditional publishing houses, both large and small are cutting or reducing their cozy lines. Authors are being given notice that their series are not being renewed, or are being discontinued. The last list I saw had over twenty series on it. One publishing house quote I read laid the cause at the feet of the decline in mass-market sales. Is this really about the rise of the e-book? Many of the big five publishers price their e-books in the $7 to $8 range. That seems like a lot when there are so many small press and quality independent e-books available in the $3 to $5 range. Economics figures into everything. Especially the profitability of a large press. They have a lot of mouths to feed after all and they may not be able to cut lower and keep the lights on.
There has also been speculation on blogs, but not in anything I’ve seen attributed to a publishing house, that there is a perception in publishing circles that the cozy is formulaic and the public is tiring of them. In other words, if you can dance at Arthur Murray’s, you can write a cozy. Just put your cursor in the footsteps and away you go. As an author of traditional mysteries, I can only say, “if only!” There is no cozy formula, any more than there is in any other genre. A reader enters into a contract with the author when the reader opens a book. That contract relates to certain expectations. How the author delivers those expectations makes, or breaks, the book in the reader’s eyes. If we judge by popularity, cozies have delivered on the promise.
So how does this bode well for the cozy mystery? At first glance, not at all, but writers write. That’s what we do. While we may lose some of our favorite series, those same authors will find new homes—or decide to strike out as independents. The cozy will go on. It may be changed, it may not be as available in neighborhood bookstores (the few that remain), but it’s a safe bet that the cozy will live.
Long live the cozy.
The best way to thank an author is to write a review. Reviews count with publishers and with standings on websites such as Amazon. This opens the door to the book being a suggested read and catching the attention of other readers.
Editor’s note: there is a lot of excellent information regarding cozy mysteries out here. I’ve included a few helpful articles below, if you’re interested. The article from Writer’s Digest is particularly insightful.
Writer’s Digest, “4 Things You Should Know About Writing a Cozy Mystery Novel”
Writing Novels That Sell, “10 Tips to Make Your #Cozy #Mystery Sell”
Huffington Post, “The Immense Popularity of the Cozy Mysteries”