Cozy Mystery Hooks

A cozy scene with a fireplace in the background, a book in the foreground, and the post title, "Cozy Mystery Hooks" superimposed on the top.

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

Cozy mysteries are a subgenre in a large field of mystery subgenres.  They’re primarily defined by their use of an amateur sleuth, lack of gore and profanity, offstage murder, and focus on the whodunit puzzle. These mysteries are frequently (not always) humorous, character-focused, set in small-towns, and are part of a series.

They also frequently employ ‘hooks’ or special themes, meant to appeal to the primary reading demographic, as part of the series brand .

Types of hooks: 

The encyclopedic site for cozy mystery fans is Cozy Mystery List.  They list hooks under ‘themes’ and include animal themes, culinary, super paranormal, vacation mysteries, holidays, hobbies (everything from antiquing  to dollhouse miniatures), professions, senior sleuth, and religious.

I was surprised to see ‘senior sleuth’ as a theme/hook.  I know that the agents and publishers that I queried in the early 2000s didn’t consider it one at the time (and it was the cause of many rejections for Myrtle).  Good to see that things have changed.

Advantages of hooks:

In terms of the story, a hook can help readers identify with your series more easily.  It can help set up interesting locations for the mystery to take place. They can also supply subplots and help develop the characters in the books.  It can give readers a window to a different, interesting world.

From a business standpoint, publishers definitely prefer them.  It helps them to categorize the story from a sales perspective.

What’s more, having a hook can help the book rank higher on Amazon.   Although the official BISAC code listing simply reads:

FIC022070    FICTION / Mystery & Detective / Cozy ,

Amazon will recognize:

Books > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Mystery > Cozy > Culinary 

Books > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Mystery > Cozy > Crafts & Hobbies

Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Mystery > Cozy > Animals

Disadvantages of hooks: 

Make sure that your hook is something you enjoy either learning about or doing, yourself. Otherwise, you’ll be spending a lot of time writing about something that you don’t connect with…which probably means your reader won’t connect with your hook, either.

Working the hook into the mystery: 

The hook could be the place of business for the sleuth: maybe she owns a quilt shop or a coffee house.  The store could give the sleuth a place to question her suspects.

The hook can offer an opportunity for conflict, too.  Are members arguing during the quilting guild?  Are customers creating trouble at the sleuth’s restaurant?

Maybe the hook simply gives the sleuth the chance to be out in the community more: asking questions and investigating.

Tips for using hooks: 

Make sure that the hook stays in the background. The mystery has to come first…these shouldn’t be how-to books.

Description is key to really help the reader feel as if he or she is experiencing the hook, especially if you’re writing a culinary or craft hook. My editor always encouraged me to describe textures, colors, etc. when including quilting scenes.

Although cozy mysteries have hooks in the spotlight, other genres have their hooks, too. What’s a hook in your genre?  And, are there any tips I’ve missed for cozy hooks?

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16 thoughts on “Cozy Mystery Hooks

  1. This is really useful, Elizabeth, so thanks. I honestly think that creating a hook is a challenge for those whose books don’t fit squarely in the ‘cosy’ sub-genre, or in the ‘PI’ sub-genre, etc… In a sense, it’s easier to find that hook if one’s work’s a little easier to classify. Does that makes sense?

  2. So interesting about these hooks. I had no idea. I think it would be so hard to get the whole puzzle of this type of mystery right. I admire writers like you who can. Happy Friday!

  3. Hi Elizabeth – so interesting to read how much things have changed in the nearly 20 years I guess … I really need to start thinking along these lines … hooks are so essential in so many ways – cheers Hilary

  4. I’ve always enjoyed the foodie hook on that old Columbo where the fellow was intentionally killed by restaurant reviewer. I haven’t seen the episode since the 70’s but I remember being fascinated by it.

    I don’t order Fugu.

    I love hooks.

  5. Thank you for this information and advice. Mary Higgins Clark says, when writers ask about where they should focus their writing, “Look at your bookshelves. What do you like to read?” I LOVE cozy mysteries, but never thought I’d write one. But, thinking of the hook, especially as setting or occupation, makes it clearer for me. I usually write plays, and setting is a big part of the hook.

    1. Hope you’ll give it a go! I think you’d have fun writing one. The hook is a great place to start. You could write a series set around a theater, for instance. So much opportunity for foul play and different casts of characters to be victims and suspects! Could even have a theater cat. :) Or you could do something completely different and write a hook about something you don’t really know that much about (my quilting books, e.g., which I had to research the dickens out of).

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