When I loaded my last mystery on Amazon, a question box asked me to decide what category it fell under and to come up with tags for it. I’d just posted a blog where an author or two discussed that readers aren’t happy when you describe your book one way, but you do it wrong, and readers come to the book with certain expectations that you fail to meet.
The first description of my book was easy. Fiction. The next was easy, too. Mystery. After that, things got trickier. I just saw a newsletter from Goodreads that described the different types of mysteries and thrillers. The article listed: domestic thrillers, media mysteries, legal thrillers, crime procedurals, contemporary cozies, cold cases, psychological thrillers, new noir, and historicals. But when I searched online, I found an article with even more sub-genres: capers, suspense, soft-boiled, hardboiled, P..I., and supernatural. Other articles listed women in jeopardy and domestic mysteries, along with serial killers and British mysteries. I’m sure there are more, and some of them cross over one another. But when readers pick up a book with one of these labels, they have certain expectations. The question is, how close to the label does your book have to be?
When I buy a domestic mystery, I expect to find cooking, pets, knitting, or book clubs, etc. and I don’t want to meet a brutal serial killer. I want low-key, not the edge of my seat. On the other hand, when I buy a thriller, I don’t want to meet a cheerful owner of a bakery who tries to solve a murder as an amateur. I like cross-genre novels, but I want to know what those genres are before I choose the book. There was a time when I first started writing that I resented how publishers had to have a label before they’d publish a book, and if you fell through the cracks, you were instantly rejected. I’m glad there’s more freedom to bend the rules today, but those labels served a purpose. They helped readers find what they’re looking for out of the millions of books available.
With Jazzi and Ansel, labels are easy. I purposely write them as cozies–including George–a pug, two cats, family get-togethers, and offscreen murders. I think there’s a subtle difference between some domestic mysteries, though, and a cozy. For me, it’s more a matter of tone. That made labeling A Cut Above trickier. It has less of a cozy feel. Karnie isn’t warm and friendly like Jazzi. So I think of her book as more of a traditional mystery. When I had to choose tags for it, I struggled a while.
It has romance in it, so I listed it as a romance mystery. Karnie works in her family’s butcher shop and records podcasts on how to cook cuts of meat her Dad advertises as specials, so I thought about listing it as a culinary mystery, but I’m not sure it has the right tone, so I went with amateur sleuth and female sleuth instead.
I might fuss too much about categories and labels on books, but I think they matter. How about you? Do you think there’s a difference between a cozy and a traditional mystery? One you’d notice? Do you look at tags when you buy books?