If you haven’t heard of this term before, write to market means (in simple terms) that you’re writing something readers are hungry to read. There is a lot that goes into the publishing strategy, and we will unpack that in this guide that will guide you to making the best choices for starting your journey as a cozy mystery author.
Setting the “Write to Market” Foundation—You Must First Become a Reader of Your Genre
This advice is given out so freely that I’m sure many authors are tired of hearing this advice. But, more than anything, this will set the precedence of your future publishing career as a cozy mystery author. If you want to start out strong without hitting any major roadblocks, we highly recommend following this advice that offers some hard truth:
Do not publish anything without first understanding what it is about the popular cozies out there that readers love. And, to do this, you need to become a cozy mystery reader yourself. You don’t need to spend several hours every day reading, but we recommend reading at least one cozy per week. And, if you land on the first in a series that really grabs you, focus there by asking yourself, “What was it about this book that resonated so much for me?”
Tina’s Cozy Mystery Insights
When I decided to take my cozy mystery author business seriously, I realized I needed to dive deep into what was so successful. I started first by recognizing what authors repeatedly landed on the bestseller lists regularly. I started taking notice of authors like Lili Harper Hart/Amanda Lee, Tonya Kappes, Richard Osman, Christy Barritt, Erin Johnson, Katie Gayle, Agatha Frost, Hope Callaghan, and Jana DeLeon. They clearly knew something about what readers wanted, and if I wanted to be successful, I needed to know that too!
These are the cozy mystery insights I learned from diving deep into their content:
Insight #1: It’s not ALL about the mystery.
Of course, the mystery is absolutely important, but the mystery isn’t the main plot of the story. Ideally your sleuths’ lives will have something that needs to be addresses in your main plot—something that will revolve around the hook of your story/series. So, you will start here and fashion a story that gives your sleuth a life outside of the sleuthing he/she does.
Insight #2: If there is a romance, it isn’t your typical romance.
Cozy mystery readers are not inherently romance readers—though, some might be—so, with that in mind, the romance is very light, sprinkled in tiny doses throughout the timeline of your story. There might be one or two dates (or none at all) throughout a book, but it doesn’t even get close to taking center stage of the story.
Insight #3: The victim should relate back somehow to the main plot.
How can you tie the murder (or mystery) into the sleuth’s main plot? This makes a much stronger case for reasons why your sleuth will want to get involved in the mystery. Maybe the body is found in a central location—like the sleuth’s backyard or place of business—or maybe it’s somebody from their past that connects with their current goals. This gives your narrative a much more natural flow so you don’t have to force her sleuthing activities.
Insight #4: Brainstorm hooks that have longevity and will be popular with a wider set of readers.
I was really impressed with Tonya Kappes Camper & Criminals cozy mystery series because she built that entire world on adventure and travel through focusing on a backdrop of camping. It’s worked out well for her as far as success and longevity; that series is currently on its 31st book at the time I created this page. And this is a foundational concept you can use as you craft your own ideas—not camping, per se, but an overall hook or theme that will really interest all types of readers.
These are just a few of the things I’ve learned as I read some cozy mysteries, and I’m sure you will come up with your own list of insights once you start reading too.
Your Secret Weapons—Build a Team of Beta Readers
To add to those insights you learn from reading, something else you should be doing is building a list of a handful of beta readers who are huge funs of the genre. They will give you honest feedback BEFORE YOU PUBLISH that could eliminate a disaster if you inadvertently put something in your story readers might not love. Obviously, you don’t have to take 100% of their comments as gospel, but you should at least consider their thoughts as you decide how to revise your book.
The “Write to Market” Icon—Your Book Cover
If you don’t have a genre-specific book cover, you will struggle to go anywhere with your publishing success. Look at the cozy mystery covers and identify the elements universal across all the covers. First and foremost, you will notice that cozy covers have a cartoony feel to them. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like them; this is the aesthetic of the genre. And, since they are typically illustrated covers, you will want to seek out a book cover designer who understands the genre and can make a cover that will serve as a spotlight, announcing to readers that you have arrived on stage.
Research. Research. Research.
This will be an important step of your journey as a cozy mystery author—you need to put in the time to research what’s trending and popular in cozies today. Here are some things you can look at that will help shape a story that will resonate with readers:
- What is the sleuth’s occupation?
- Where is the story set?
- What kind of animals feature throughout the story?
- Is there a romance?
- Are there multiple, related murders or mysteries to solve?
- Are they standalone or part of a series?
- How long are they?
- How much are they selling for?
- Are there certain hooks trending today?
And most important of all . . . what’s the “sticky” factor? In other words, are these type of books staying on the bestseller list week after week, or do they just make one appearance randomly?