Monday, November 26, 2012

Mystery on Monday - Guest K.B. Gibson on Labels in the Mystery Genre

What's in a name - or a label? Publishers and booksellers, and even some readers, put a lot of stock in the labels they apply to books. My guest today, author K.B. Gibson, has some interesting comments today about the label applied to her book, A Class on Murder. Welcome, Karen! ~ Sheila

I eagerly, yet with great trepidation, awaited the recent release of my first novel, A Class on Murder. As the wait time of months became weeks, the reviews started coming. When Publisher’s Weekly said, “cozy fans will appreciate the charm and humor,” I was so thrilled to be reviewed by Publisher’s Weekly that my eyes just bounced around the words. But when Kirkus Reviews called my book, “an academic cozy about murder,” I took notice. 

A cozy? I wrote a cozy? My protagonist was edgy. On occasion, she drifted into other realities, and Little People from the Cherokee Hills of Eastern Oklahoma may have saved her life in the nick of time. What’s cozy about that, I ask? A cozy is Jessica Fletcher and Miss Marple, brilliant detectives (and writing), but hardly anything that will keep a reader up past bedtime.  

The name ‘mystery’ once said it all. It was the daring stepchild to the perfectly irritating child known as literary fiction. Somewhere along the way, the mystery genre began to get a little respect, and as technology and digital connections increased, so did the subgenres. Suddenly, there was crime fiction, medical thrillers, techno thrillers, paranormal, police procedurals, true crime, suspense, romantic suspense, detective fiction, noir, the whodunit, chick lit mystery, legal thriller, psychological thriller, political thriller, historical, mixed genre, capers, and the previously mentioned cozies. 

I probably missed some labels that haven’t hit my radar yet or that have been invented since I started writing this blog post. It’s mind boggling until you realize how many mysteries are published each year. I tried to get my hands on numbers, but between traditional publishing, digital publishing, and self publishing, well, you can understand. A safe bet is that we’re looking in the tens of thousands…at least. Even the most avid reader couldn’t read that many books in a year. So subgenres make sense by allowing readers to more easily select those mysteries they find most appealing.  

To confuse matters even more, everyone seems to have their own definition of what each label means.

Many of the blockbusters are probably some type of thriller, but the paranormal market seems to be gaining. Most of the labels give some indication of what they contain, except perhaps mixed genre and cozies. Mixed genre mysteries do exactly that, mix the genres. A common example is the futuristic thriller that contains elements of both science fiction and mystery.  

I researched the term “cozy” and came away with common elements to put to the test:
·         A cozy protagonist is usually female.

OK, Ronnie (Veronica) Raven is female.

·         The sleuth is an amateur, i.e., she doesn’t make a living solving crimes or mysteries.

Right, again.

·         A cozy contains little graphic violence or sex.

Well, violence may be in the eye of the reader, but my gore level is pretty low. I come from the “use your imagination” school of violence, which explains why I found the movie Psycho so frightening and my children didn’t.

·         Cozies may be humorous.

                Guilty as charged. 

All right, I’m a cozy writer. Yet the more I’ve looked at the label from every angle, the more it’s starting to grow on me. A cozy calls to mind a stormy day. Under a blanket with a cup of tea or hot chocolate by my side.  And a mystery book to enjoy.

K.B. Gibson is the author of A Class on Murder, the first in her Ronnie Raven Mystery series from Five Star Mysteries. A Class on Murder has received favorable reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and Gumshoe Reviews. It is also a pick at The next in the series will be "Death by Drama". Writing as Karen Bush Gibson, she writes non-fiction for children, with more than 30 books published. You can find out more at or at


  1. I'm intrigued about your new book, and I guess I don't mind reading a cozy. Great post on labels and as a reader I find them more confusing than helpful at lot of the time.

    The only labels that really help are: fiction, non-fiction, horror, mystery, thriller, western, fantasy and the one I keep far away from : romance.

    I do confess, that with the exception of that single genre, romance, I will try almost any book that, upon a quick random paragraph read, is well written. I find a book that, for whatever reason, attracts me and I open to a random page to see how it is written. If I like the writing I'll most likely read it. If I don't I put it back. Writers who craft their words and books are special.

  2. I think you hit all the right buttons for a cozy in the end. I only take exception to one thing you said - that cozies aren't going to keep you up at night. I've had several people tell me mine do just that. A well written "who-dun-it" will keep people reading to answer the questions that arise in the plot. Of course, there will be some action and intrigue, but mostly a puzzle that the reader wants to resolve.

    I like labels a little more specific than Mystic Mom. Especially within the mystery genre, the range from bloody and horrorific to humorous, craft filled, or who-dun-it is too broad to know if I want to read a book that is simply labeled a mystery.

  3. I agree. The use of labels for subgenres can create more confusion, particularly as the creation of them seems to be ongoing.

  4. I've always found this subject interesting and a bit frustrating... When people ask me, "what kind of books do you write?" I never know what to say. Thanks for making it a bit clearer and congrats on your pending debut! :)

  5. So many different labels for mystery! I'm glad you listed some. I'd been thinking of my next book as a PI mystery, but now I think it's probably called a detective mystery. Hmm.

  6. Even though my protagonist in my debut novel A KILLING AT COTTON HILL (out next July) is a man "over the hill" and he is an ex police chief, I still think it's in the cozy genre because it is set in a small town and the violence isn't graphic.

    Like Mystic_Mom, I read widely. And as you say, Sheila, there is way too much to read. So I'll settle for cozy any day. Let the reading begin.

  7. My first comment disappeared and I can't figure out where it went. I also can't remember what I said, so here we go again.

    In the end, K.B. Gibson has pretty much nailed the description of a cozy. I only take exception with her earlier statement that they don't keep you up at night. I have several readers who have told me my cozies did exactly that. The trick is to keep the tension high, to make the reader care as much as the protagonist about finding the solution to the crime. There will probably be action and intrigue, but it is the puzzle, not the horror or fear, that drive the plot.

    And, in answer to Mystic Mom, labels do matter to me, especially in the mystery genre. The range, from horrorific and bloody to quilter and cupcakes, is far too broad to enable me to zero in on what I want to read without further help. Granted, I could peek inside every book and read every back cover, but I welcome the narrowing down those labels do for me.

  8. Turns out I've been writing capers, not cozies! I was never comfortable with the "cozy" label for a series with a male sleuth, but my book didn't fit in the "noir" or "thriller" categories. Labels help reads find books they like (I would read a "humorous caper" before touching "chick lit") but they can be confining too, especially for an author who wants to move out of one subgenre into another (how would the publisher sell it!). Thanks for an interesting post.

  9. I'm more of a caper person than chick lit too, Sally. I believe that writers should tell the story they want to tell (do we have a choice?). Publishers and some reviewers will categorize regardless.