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?Cozy mystery hooks: Click To Tweet
Photo via Visual Hunt