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Which Type of Mystery Should You Write?

The mystery genre is consistently one of the top 5 selling fiction categories. And mystery fans will usually eat up every book in a series if they like what you put out there. How can you be sure that you are writing a mystery that your audience will love? We’ve got you covered, mystery writers!
Know your sub-genre. I’m going to give you an overview of the various types of mysteries and believe me when I say it makes a difference. There are certain tropes that you must follow if you want to keep your readers happy. And you do want to keep them happy so they will consume all the mysteries you put in front of them.
There is a range of categories that fall under the mystery genre. From cozy mystery to gritty police procedural, there are some very specific differences. Take a look at these nuances before deciding which kind of mystery you want to write.
Cozy Mystery: This is the tamest kind of mystery. The setting is usually a small town somewhere and most of the scary and or sexy events take place off stage. That means the murder isn’t something the reader sees. Usually the sleuth solving the mystery is an amateur of some sort and the language in the book will be relatively tame. Often you will see humor in a cozy mystery. Your amateur sleuth must solve the crime before the end of the book. Jessica Fletcher from Murder, She Wrote is a great example of a cozy mystery.
Soft-Boiled: Think of of this category as a sort of middle of the road compromise between cozy and hard-boiled. Soft-boiled will be edgier than a cozy mystery but the location will still usually be in a small town and the protagonist will still likely be an amateur. There may not be as much humor and their may be just a few more things that occur on stage in your novel. But don’t get too carried away. The readers of soft-boiled mysteries are still looking for relatively tame content. Think Janet Evanovich when you think soft-boiled.
Hard-Boiled: The main character is often a professional detective in a hard-boiled mystery and the setting is usually in an urban center. Language will be rougher, there may be some sex on the page, and overall your hard-boiled mystery will feel gritty and edgy. I think about Jessica Jones when I think about hard-boiled mystery.  There can be some genuine creep factor in these. Readers of these mysteries want to be a little scared, a little shocked, and very submerged in the drama of the story.
Crime/Procedural: Is your main character a cop? Is he tracking a serial killer? Are there specific and gory details in your book about the murder? Will the reader feel their adrenaline rush as they eagerly turn page after page. Suspense is significant element in a crime or procedural novel. But it’s different than a typical thriller in that we see so much of the story from the cop’s point of view. We see the details of their investigation and aren’t spared from any of the grit or horror of the crime. Michael Connelly’s books fall solidly in this category. This sub-category, more than any other, is heavy on investigation and not as heavy on quirky characters. Of course, you still want good interesting characters but the readers of this genre want to slip into the world of the cop or detective solving the crime.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself when trying to decide which type of mystery you want to write.

  1. Do you want your series set in a small town? (write Cozy or Soft-Boiled) Or a big city? (Hard-Boiled or Procedural)
  2. Do you want to write quirky characters who meddle in their neighbors affairs? (Cozy or Soft-Boiled)
  3. Do you want the murder/crime and sex to happen off stage (Cozy or Soft-Boiled) or do you want to write the details? (Hard-Boiled or Procedural)
  4. Is the character you plan on writing an amateur sleuth (Cozy or Soft-Boiled) or seasoned law enforcement professional (Hard-Boiled or Procedural)?
  5. Do you plan on focusing on the specific details of the crime and the procedural activities of your seasoned law-enforcement professional? (Write Procedural)
  6. Do you want your pacing to be slow and humorous? (Write Cozy)
  7. Do you want most salacious stuff to happen off stage but maybe have your main character have a little bit of an issue using bad language? (Write Soft-Boiled)
  8. Do you want to show the sex and the violence and the language, but don’t want to focus on the procedural and investigative details? (write Hard-Boiled)

You should be able to narrow down the category you’d be most comfortable writing in after answering those questions. Once you decide what you want to write, be sure you understand all the components of that. If you write what your genre’s readers want, they’ll keep buying your books. That’s a win for everyone!
What should you do now?

  1. Don’t hesitate to check out the many professional organizations for mystery writers.
  2. Once you’ve decided on a sub-genre (or if you need help deciding), read some of the greatest mystery authors of all time.
  3. Check out our FREE training below for insider tips on category selection!

Have you already written a mystery but feel overwhelmed by the category selection on Amazon? Do you wonder how exactly you need to set up your meta-data on your KDP dashboard in order to get your book featured in the best categories? We’ve got the perfect FREE training for you coming up in our webinar next week. Register now!


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