Cozy Book Promotion: A Soft Sell in a Hard Business

By Elaine Viets

TKZ regular Eric asked us to define “a true cozy,” as opposed to what he called a “cutesie,” and how to market true cozies. Eric’s definition of a “cutesie” was “novels that start with a silly pun in the title, usually having to do with food or animals or Amish, that have a cartoonish cover, and that go downhill from there into worse silliness.”
Eric’s novel is “somewhat like James Scott Bell’s Glimpses of Paradise, with more crime and mystery and more realistic language.”
Since I’m a former cozy writer who now writes forensic mysteries, Jim asked me to address your question.
Last time, I defined a cozy as “a mystery with no graphic sex, cuss words or violence. Generally, the murder takes place offstage. Dame Agatha is the queen of cozies, but Miss Marple is no pushover. ‘I am Nemesis,’ the fluffy old lady announces, and relentlessly pursues killers.
“Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes mysteries are not cozies, though they have many of the same elements. Sherlock has a hard edge to him, and some of his stories, like ‘The Man With the Twisted Lip,’ border on noir. Doyle, like Grafton and Sayers, writes traditional mysteries, but they aren’t considered cozies. You’ve lumped a lot of traditional novels together under the cozy umbrella. Traditional mysteries play fair – they give readers all the clues, though they may be cleverly disguised. You may be writing a traditional mystery.
“The ‘cutesies’ that you object to are simply one branch of the cozy sub-genre.”
Now, on to the promo part. These tips are for traditionally published authors. Self-published promo is a different world.

(1) Know the men writing cozies. Read their work. Here are a few: Jeff Cohen, aka EJ Copperman, who writes several series, including the Asperger’s Mysteries and the Haunted Guesthouse series.
There’s also Dean James, aka Miranda James and his Cat in the Stacks series,
And James Ziskin, whose Ellie Stone series has been nominated for the Edgar, and Lefty Awards and won the Anthony and the Macvacity Awards.
(2) Know the women writing cozies. Put aside your prejudices and read some really good cozies. I’ve mentioned Charlaine (Sookie Stackhouse) Harris’s Aurora Teagarden series. Marcia Talley’s Hannah Ives series, and Margaret Maron’s Judge Deborah Knott series. Keep on reading and you’ll find lots of cozies that have real social commentary.
(3) Meet your readers. Bouchercon, Thrillerfest, Left Coast Crime are some of the good mystery conferences, but if you really want to meet cozy readers, I recommend the Malice Domestic Mystery Conference in Bethesda, Md. ( Malice is devoted to the traditional mystery, but it has the highest concentration of cozy readers. Only a few men attend – lucky you. Also, think about a giveaway of your books for the Malice book bags. If your publisher won’t do it, buy a case of your books for the bags.
(4) Facebook. There are dozens of cozy sites. Get to know them. A few include Save Our Cozies, Cozy Mystery Giveaways, the Cozy Mystery Once a Month Book Club, “Friend” the cozy writers you admire.

(5) Bloggers you should know. Dru Ann Love and Dru’s Book Musings. Dru calls herself a “book advocate” and she is definitely a friend to writers. Dru Ann won the Raven Award for her work. Another book lover you should know is BOLO Books reviewer Kristopher Zgorski, who’s also won a Raven.

(6) Join writers groups. Stay in touch with your peers. Join the Mystery Writers of America, the International Thriller Writers, and don’t forget Sisters in Crime. They accept Misters. Each one of these groups can help you.

(7) Bookstores. Mysteries, especially cozies, are sold by word of mouth. Get to know your local bookstore. Stop by and say hello. Buy something, even if it’s only a card or a bookmark. And ask the owner or manager if they’d like to read a copy of your book. They may ask you to do a signing. Booksellers have done amazing acts of kindness for me through the years. When I was first starting out – and returns could have hurt my career – one bookseller kept a case of my books in her office for a year until she sold them all.
(8) Avoid cutesy giveaways. Pens, tea bags, emery boards, even lipstick, are often given as gifts by cozy writers to promote their books. Unless your publisher is paying for this paraphernalia, don’t bother. I used to work at a bookstore, and we had a box in the break room with all the cozy goodies. If we needed a nail file or a pen, we’d root around in the box. To my knowledge these gifts never sold a single book.
(9) Do get bookmarks. Those are worth your money. They sell books. Most bookstores like to keep them by the cash register, and so do many libraries – and libraries are big book buyers. They buy more hardcovers than the big box stores.
Can’t afford bookmarks? Get business cards with your book cover on the front and your information on the back – including the ISBN and a Website where your book can be bought.


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18 thoughts on “Cozy Book Promotion: A Soft Sell in a Hard Business

  1. This sheds a welcome light on definitions of genre. We tend to lump a wide range of writing under one convenient, though limiting, genre umbrella. Same is true of romance. Not all books with a love story are bodice busters but to label a book a romance, sets it up for that interpretation. Thanks for the clarification on cozies and reminding me to widen my horizons. I always loved the old-fashioned English murder mysteries. I never realized they were cozies.

  2. I am an UNpublished author, so I can’t speak from experience, but I reckon it’d be frustrating to write a mystery and then not know how to categorize it for fear of being lumped with cutesies, forensic mystery, or something it’s not.

    That being said, wouldn’t an agent help sort things out, and would it matter THAT much if a book is categorized as one thing when the author would have called it something else? I’m not trying to be flippant (especially since I’m speaking from a place of ignorance . . . did I mention I was UNpublished?) but seriously posing the question. Because it’s the end user, the reader, who either likes the story and looks for more in that series or doesn’t like the book and moves on to another author. Said another way, we’ve all walked into a bookstore to buy a scary vampire story and walked out with a sci-fi story instead because the science fiction book, not the category, caught our eye.

  3. Hi, Priscilla. Yes, an agent will help put your novel into a category, but in order to get the agent, you have to tell that person what you are writing. Some agents only rep cozies, others prefer thrillers and hard-boiled. So there’s some sorting necessary first on your part. Good luck with your book.

  4. “These tips are for traditionally published authors. Self-published promo is a different world.” I saw nothing in the article that can’t also be valuable for indy published authors. For that reason, I passed it along.

  5. I never knew that book promotion almost always is done by the author. The publishers don’t seem to be doing much to help actually sell books anymore. I have seen many authors who are camped out on a Saturday with a case of their books at a book store. A case of books they will schlep to anther store on Sunday.

    • You’ve nailed it, Alan. Publishers are doing less and less to help authors — unless the authors are super-successful and don’t need help.

  6. Book marks and book cover business cards are great. I have a stack from my favorite authors and give them away. Your fans will help you get new fans.

    My children are in high school now, but they did go to third grade with murder mystery book marks. We did warn the teacher. Although one did shock a teacher with the line, “Aunt Elaine knows where to dump bodies.”

  7. Thanks, Elaine. Helpful columns. Like Harvey said, these tips seem helpful to indie publisher also, which I’m likely to be.

    I would think that, even if one went POD and eBook, it would be good to buy a number of copies of one’s book to have with the visiting libraries and books stores.

    I’ve been reading Louise Penny (Inspector Gamache) and Julia Spencer-Fleming (Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne). Do those just get marketed as “traditional mysteries” or do they get marketed as cozies even though they’re not “cute”?

  8. I’ve been reading M.C. Beaton’s Hamish MacBeth series off and on for about a decade. I love those books. They feel a bit “cozy”, but our hero is a law-enforcement professional (though he’d rather be fishing or poaching), which tends to disqualify that genre.

    Anybody here know what the classification might be for this series?

  9. Pingback: Author Inspiration and This Week’s Writing Links | Staci Troilo

  10. MC Beaton’s Hamish McBeth series is a perfect example of a cozy. Have you tried her Agatha Raisin series, about a former London ad exec who moves to the Cotswalds?

  11. M.C. Beaton was at BookExpo in NYC a couple of weeks ago. Ninety-two years old and still going strong. Charming, gracious lady. She autographed The Witches’ Tree for me. The opening paragraph is quintessential cozy:

    • Oops, her quote didn’t get included above.

      “The evening was not going well. The late Agatha Christie would have been amazed to learn that she was destined to be the ruin of some genteel dinner parties. Otherwise intelligent people, after a move to a village in the Cotswolds, can become keen to ‘do the village thing,’ getting ideas of what it should be like from her detective stories.”

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