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Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Crime – for fun and profit - by Jenny Harrison

The cosy crime story is a subgenre of crime fiction that gives a reader the opportunity to be an armchair-feet-up-glass-of-wine kind of detective. It also gives them the chance to vicariously enjoy a good killing without all the messy stuff.

It is therefore no surprise that Agatha Christie is still considered the best-selling crime writer of all time. And it is no surprise to read that cosy crime is a better selling genre than the grisly sort. In spite of an increase in cosy crime, Natalie Rosenstein, senior executive editor of Penguin’s Berkley Books, says there is ‘a great untapped market for cosier mysteries that [is] not being met.’

Cosies have a specific formula: a protagonist who is an amateur and usually female and a police force just not up to scratch. The crime is often a small-town murder and the heroine solves it without flash forensics and by using plain old logic and cunning. There is always justice on the last-but-one page.

Probably the most important part of a good cosy crime novel is the ‘happy ending’ when the criminal has been brought to justice by the little old lady who works part-time in the library. We need our happy endings. We don't get enough of them in real life and that’s why we turn to books in the first place. Cosies fill the bill admirably.

Many cosy mysteries have some sort of theme; decoupage, quilting, cats (very popular), baking (with recipes), etc. The writer who can think up a series based on something quite different, can very likely break into the Big Time.

There are a few tips on writing the type of cosy that will bring a publisher panting to your door with at least a 3-book deal:

  1. Modern readers require a faster-pace than the typical Christie novel. Like any good book, the reader must be compelled to turn the pages not with gore and spilt blood dripping down the spine, but with intriguing clues and characters they can relate to.
  2. Publishers (and readers) like a series. Think the Elm Creek Quilts series by Jennifer Chiaverini. Think Kerry Greenwood and her Phryne Fisher books. Think our very own Theatre Mystery series by Bev Robitai.
  3. While detection is still the core of the cosy, the characters need to be solidly ‘real’ and ones the reader can relate to.
  4. If you can, join a group that is specifically for crime writers. Heck, join any writing group. Writers need shoulders to cry on.
  5. New Zealand is poverty-stricken when it comes to a popular cosy crime series. This is a market ready to flourish. Be the one to crack it.

So, Brothers and Sisters in Crime, get going, kill off somebody, invent a sassy, intelligent protagonist to solve the crime – and go forth and make millions.
Jenny Harrison
May 2014

[Editor's note: Jenny's own comedy crime series is deserving of attention too. Check out Rusty & Slasher's Guide to Crime, and Rusty & Slasher and the Circus from Hell. The protagonists are far from sassy, intelligent or female but are vivid and entertaining characters to read about!]

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