Cozy Covers

I’m jumping from SF/F to cozies, just to give you the range of covers, because I can’t imagine a more different style than those two.

Before we go any further, let me explain cozies, because I found out when I asked for recommendations some time ago that in these days when we don’t have to bother submitting to gatekeepers, people have either never heard of (only they have to, because there’s searches for it on amazon) or completely forgotten what cozies are.

Cozies are also called “Malice Domestic” and someone proposed the definition “mysteries like Agatha Christie wrote.”  It’s not precisely wrong, as a definition, but it’s outdated.  So permit me a short digression on how cozies began and what they’ve become. (Well, shortish.  I’m working on my first cup of coffee which means I have issues keeping things short.)

Back in the dark ages, this was the definition for Malice Domestic, aka cozies, for the St. Martin contest, which WEIRDLY is still going on. Why weirdly? Well… note no winner for 2017. Cozies make money hand over fist in indie. They make almost as much money as romance, with less competition. Almost all the millionaires I know that you never heard of in indie (because distributed readership) write cozies and write them very fast (yes, I hear you. This is year from hell for travel, but I HEAR you and there will be more.) I presume only the clueless still submit to a trad CONTEST.  But anyway, here is the definition:

Murder or another serious crime or crimes is at the heart of the story. Whatever violence is necessarily involved should be neither excessive nor gratuitously detailed, nor is there to be explicit sex. The suspects and the victims should know each other. There are a limited number of suspects, each of whom has a credible motive and reasonable opportunity to have committed the crime. The person who solves the crime is the central character. The “detective” is an amateur, or, if a professional (private investigator, police officer) is not hardboiled and is as fully developed as the other characters. The detective may find him or herself in serious peril, but he or she does not get beaten up to any serious extent. All of the cast represent themselves as individuals, rather than large impersonal institutions like a national government, the mafia, the CIA, etc.

How it’s evolved from Agatha Christie’s time: for a while Christie’s phenomenal success resulted in a lot of spinster (with or without cat) books.  I read a lot of these, as well as all other kinds of mysteries as my “popcorn” books.  I.e. the books you read six of a day while doing everything else. In fact, I bought them used, because they were going to end splattered from being read while cooking or cleaning.

One of my favorite series in the early nineties was Dorothy Cannel’s The Thin Woman.   I can’t find a link to it, but boy the covers have changed. There are links to the rest of the series above.  Imagine Agatha Christie went in for humor.  There were also a ton of non-humorous ones.  Older son loved The Cat Who between the ages of 6 and 10, and we bought them for him by the bucket full.

The conceit was and is a mystery you read to hang out with the characters.  I mean, there is a puzzle to propel the story forward, but as I’ve found reading new writers who are indie, you even forgive a weak plot and meandering connections, providing the characters/setting are interesting enough and you wish them well.  Again, most of these people are people you’d want to hang out with in real life, go out to tea with, and possibly invite to your baby shower.

This changed a little (but not horribly) once the mainstream mystery presses decided that they HAD to kill the cozy, because it wasn’t “realistic.”  Rolls eyes.  Apparently they’re unclear on the concept of fiction.

I could say all sorts of things about their pronouncements on how only the police solve murders, or professionals are needed for these things, or…  The paranoid libertarian in me wants to think the point was to make us think that you needed a license to do anything, but the saner person knows that’s not true.

What they disliked about the cozies, mostly, is that cozies tend — by nature — to be popcorn books. You fall into a series and wallow in it and read everything in it, and want more, but none of it is going to change your view of the world, or give you some profound insight into the human condition. (Except that humans like to be entertained.)

This was the early to mid nineties when genre became invaded by graduates of the best schools, many of them with degrees in oppression studies or of course English and good manners. They wanted to be RELEVANT and publish relevant books.  I mean, who wants to tell mom and dad they paid over 100k for you to get a degree in prestigious university and now you’re under secretary to the second editor from the right, publishing “those cute books about the spinster and the cat who solve murders?”  No, they wanted to make a difference, be relevant and publish IMPORTANT books.  The clue was the ascendancy not of police procedurals (which I read, but which like Hard SF have a limited audience, because most people aren’t interested in the “real” details.) but of what I call “atmosphere and meaning” books.  What was pushed over the next decade were these deeply “meaningful” books which were sort of mysteries, insofar as a crime happened, but other than that had none of the expected genre books.  I don’t remember any of the names because I read two, then decided to weed them out when shopping. But they were more mainstream “literary” than anything else, and what you were left with was this feeling the world was all bad and society is the real criminal, and other sophmoric conclusions.  The cover I’m recalling, which I don’t know if it ever existed is an abandoned bicycle in front of a beach with a stormy sea, all looking very serious.  Which, btw, is not and has never been the purpose of cozies. The Dorothy Cannel of that period was “Down the Garden Path”.  If you look at the cover on that link, you’ll see what they were trying to do.  How to Murder the Man of Your Dreams was trying to look like Romance. I got nothing.

I don’t know if their bottom line plunged — I also never heard of that forcing a course correction on publishing houses, to be fair — or if someone just pointed out they were bleeding readers.  What I know is that within five years of the great Purging of the Cozies (I mean guidelines said no amateur detectives for most houses) we got craft mysteries.

The first craft mysteries I came across were almost borderline subnormal. I remember one (knitting?) where I figured out the murderer on page three.  It was so clear they were bought by editors who bought them in contempt that they were painful.  So I stuck to reading old ones, until I was told to do a craft mystery to finish out the contract for the historical that the house had killed.

This resulted in panic, because craft mysteries are centered on crafts and shows and stuff.  While I crochet and sew, I don’t do them as SOCIAL activities.  First because introvert. Second becaus who the heck has time for that kind of thing when you’re a writer?

What ended up happening was the furniture refinishing mysteries/aka Dyce Dare series. (More about that later.) Which I had a heck of a time getting back, because despite the statements being unreliable (they’re all unreliable, particularly for electronic. It’s not even malice, since the entire publishing business is drawers at accounting. I figure that it only always favors them because they have some sense of self preservation. Or sufficiently advanced stupidity is indistinguishable from malice. Whatever.) they seemed to sell and sell and sell, and I had a heck of a time getting the rights back. And yes, it WILL be continued and relatively soon.

But it wasn’t till KULL that I started chain reading cozies again.  There is a high ratio of duds to decent, but duds are easy to identify, and cozies run to dozens of books per series, so once I find one I’m set for a month or so.

Cozies now are still more or less things that Agatha Christie would recognize, except they’re series not just with the same detective but same setting and group of people, straining all credulity that this many murders could happen in a tiny town. (Never mind, it’s fiction!)

Murder has got softer and more air-brushed though and even if your character finds a week-old corpse, they have no reaction to, oh, color and smell (no idea why. I refuse to air brush to that extent.) Focus is MORE THAN EVER on relationships and people and how the murder affects them.  Craft mysteries, or culinary mysteries will also have a chunk on that.

There is now also a stronger component of romance.

In fact, if you think of Agatha Christie as appealing to both men and women (perhaps more men, as mystery was considered a male interest, because of the puzzle) think of it as cozies going intensely feminine.  In fact, you probably could sell mysteries that follow the trend of the latest romance bestsellers. Someone said you could sell millions of a book called the Cowboy’s Bride’s Baby. Add The Murdered Cowboy’s Bride’s Baby and it probably would also.

If I sound contemptuous, I’m not. Remember I fatten the bank accounts of a lot of cozy writers with my voracious reading of these.  Also I don’t think being feminine is a bad thing. I also don’t think it’s a good thing. It is merely a thing.  If I’m in the mood for a relatively relaxing read filled with pleasant people, I read cozies. If I want crunchy, gritty mystery with lots of rules and procedures, I read police procedurals. I see no reason to limit myself.

If you look at the covers, it often looks like someone went nuts with clip art. I know that’s how I felt when I got my covers. But it seems to be (more or less) the style.

So, first rule of cozy covers: drawn, not photo-realistic.  Second rule, if the book is funny, the cover should be cartoonish. (Though trad pub fails to get this — and so much more — cover also should be wink and nod humorous if you can manage it.  Of course, most indies can’t, so they just fell into the “clipart covers” trend.

These are the original covers of my Dyce books:

They’re a little better than collections of gifs, that was apparently just my recolection of it 😛 and I’ve seen a lot of cozies like that.
Here are the covers of books I’ve been reading (I don’t remember most of them, because it’s KULL so they don’t keep a record. Sigh.)
I haven’t read this one yet, but I’ve read most of the series.  The cover is rather spectacular of its kind, though:




And here is my new release of the refinishing mysteries, with covers by the very talented Jack Wylder:

However, look not upon this and despair.  There’s still ways to do it with minimal investment and free or cheap no-royalty art. These look simpler, though they might have had custom art for all I know (I haven’t read these, but doubtless I’ll get to them eventually):




And in case you hard core sf/f people wonder what this has to do with you… well, the line between cozy and Urban Fantasy just keeps thinning out.  Now most of them have at least SOME element of supernatural, even if it’s just:

Or full on:


Frankly, you could do worse than checking out the genre, at least as an indie writer.
Meanwhile, as you see, the first rule of covers is “know your genre and subgenre.”
Next week we’ll assemble a cover or two from found objects, and I’ll do one sort of custom too.

Till then, go cuddle your kitten or your witch or SOMETHING.




  1. > because it’s KULL so they don’t keep a record.

    Really? The ‘zon collects that data for author payments, so they certainly have it… odd they wouldn’t make it available to the reader, though.

    Mrs. TRX still keeps her cardfile, tracking what she reads by pen and card. She says the titles and covers of books nowadays tend to be so similar she forgets if she has read something before, and she hates to be a dozen pages into something before realizing it’s a re-run…

      1. Sarah, if you go Accounts and Lists, then click on Your Kindle Unlimited, and scroll down it will show all of your past borrows. I have a problem remembering stuff I’ve read, so this is unbelievably useful. =)

          1. It sounds like it keeps getting reset, then. That sucks. I just did a quick scroll of mine and it goes back to 2016. And I’m glad i did because there are some art books I want to play with, again.

          2. I have the same problem on my Kindle purchases. Every now and then the Kindle completely loses track of how far I’ve gotten into all of my books, and they all get reset to “New”. It’s only when I open the book that it syncs and resets the last page read. It’s very irritating.

            1. Once upon a time, long ago, I read a strange story about a group of people who seemed to “magically’ break almost anything technological they touched. Somehow they were (very carefully!) transported to a station on the far side of the moon and employed as Humanity’s Ultimate Testers – if the $THING survived them it was accepted for public use.

              1. But everything breaks sometimes even for the most careful users. That’s a good way to release nothing ever.

    1. GoodReads keeps track. I have no idea how that ended up happening, but there is some link between the two. I never signed up for GoodReads, yet have an account. I just signed in to double-check. I do not have an explicit GoodReads account. It’s a single-sign-on thing with the Amazon account.

      Speaking of popcorn books, I read the first book of The Valens Legacy on 25 Mar. I read the 14th on the 31st. There’s far more detail than I thought.

      1. Amazon bought Goodreads back in 2013. So the contributors to Goodreads provide “content” for free…

  2. I’ve always found it interesting what breaks from reality the establishment will and will not accept. Musicals are unacceptable, because people don’t really break into song and dance during emotional moments. Spy movies, however, are perfectly acceptable, and anyone pointing out that architects don’t really build air ducts large enough for the Rockettes to tap dance down is being an unreasonable nitpicker.

    Similarly with cozies. Yes, they’re unrealistic, and if things like this happen at all, they’re exceedingly rare. But of course the same is true of almost all mysteries, no matter how “realistic” they are. If I were writing a realistic mystery, it would go something like this:

    “Detective Bob investigated the case for three days and found no leads. He knew it had gone cold, and likely no one would ever find out who had killed they mysterious French dancer.

    Oh, well, he thought. She wasn’t the first to end up dead in the river, and she won’t be the last. He tossed the file aside and started making plans for the evening. The NCAA finals are on tonight. If I hurry, I can meet Fred at the bar and the two of us can get prime seats in front of the TV. He was filled with happy thoughts about beers and burgers and hot wings. By the time he reached the front door, he had already forgotten about the Case of the Strangled Ballerina.”

    1. People have different tolerances, often based on their own knowledge. One reader objects to the clothes, one to the modern philosophy. . . .

    2. Considering the sheer amount of crime documentary series that there seem to be…

      I was once tempted to write cozies (I thought of them as ‘light murder mysteries’, honestly) but wasn’t really sure what to do to get the detective to stumble into the story.

      There’s a lot of semi-adventure romances as well, cops, ‘mercenary group’ type-ish stories…but those tend to be the kind of thing where I end up doing more research and not writing.

    3. I recall a friend who had issues with musicals, overlooking that their heyday was during the Depression when Reality wasn’t much in vogue for entertainment, but Fantasy, even if not “High” was. Sure, musicals lasted longer than the Depression, but everything lasts longer.. and there’s this roughly generational nostalgia thing (“That 70’s Show” was int he 1990’s, the 1970’s had Happy Days… gee, about 20 years.. hrm…)

  3. Oh, and as an aside, “The Murdered Cowboy’s Bride’s Baby” makes me wonder who was murdered: the cowboy, the bride, or the baby. Given that cozies tend to shy away from the murder or innocent children, I suspect it wasn’t the baby, but that still leaves two potential victims.

        1. Oxford comma is clarity. Without it, the meaning can come through, after some deciphering. That deciphering step can go very, very wrong.

  4. I had heard the term, Cozie, for some time but didn’t know the definition. When I did discover the definition, my first thought was, “Hallmark Mysteries.” Almost every series on that cable channel is a cozy. I believe the Aurora Teagarden (sp?) is the most long-running.

    When most of the offerings on TV are crap, a Cozie is refreshing.


  5. Over on passive voice a ways back, there was a link to a mystery contest judge complaining about the type of mystery he didn’t want to see. Hyperbolically paraphrasing and simplifying from memory, evidence based detective work normalized the conspiracy behind mass incarceration of innocent black boys, because the national academy of sciences or the national science academy had a report out saying that forensics wasn’t strictly within the practice of science. He preferred more ‘scientifically sound’ psychology based mysteries. (I was tempted to do an arson investigation series that always hinged on the villains being intelligent, well educated, and stupid enough to use obscure accelerants that only they had access to. Far too much work for the trolling value of signing off each book with the same regurgitation of a bullshit psychological theory of motive.) The literary mystery type you describe sounds like that guy’s damage.

    The current hot mess I’m trying to develop a plot for is just close enough to a cozy to tempt me with that model, but is pretty clearly not a cozy. Body count far too high, more a result of the stresses on society than cause of it, and does not hang anywhere near enough on relationships. I think.

    I have no clue what I am doing, and need to catch up on sleep before making any permanent decisions.

    1. Lesson one of forensics is: wear white cotton when committing any criminal. Those fibers are everywhere. Problem is, of course, you look rather suspicious dressed “anti-ninja” style when actually committing any acts.

  6. Looked at someways I think the “… in Death” books by J D Robb fit the definition of cozies. A Noir version but cozies.

    1. More Police Procedural IMO but the relationships between the Main & Supporting Characters are important.

      There’s rarely a relationship between the victims/murderers and Eve Dallas which is something that I take as important in cozies.

    2. I’m not sure what genre they’re in, honestly.

      On the other hand, there are two or three books with fifty-odd different titles and covers… after you read a couple, they get really hard to tell apart.

    1. Someone around here (can’t remember who, sorry) described it as the point when Qwill went from a reporter who happened to own a couple of cats to a full-on gender flipped crazy cat lady. In the last one I read, we never even found out who the murder victim was, and I counted more mentions of Yum Yum’s thimble than there were of the crime.

  7. So what do you call a book that sort of falls into this genre but is not part of a series? (I’m guessing unsold….) I find the part about not too much police realism helpful in my current endeavor. Also, what’s the difference between a craft mystery and a cozy? And is there cover signaling there also?

    I also found the advice weeks ago about slightly cartoonish covers incredibly enlightening. I went to Amazon and looked at all the books whose covers I liked (beautiful pictures for example) and the actual books were going to be misery for me to read. Too much drama, not enough … something …. I also read several cozies none of which were my faves but they didn’t give me nightmares.

      1. The only specific memory I have of that show was the episode where Jessica solved the crime because the “furnindents” in the carpet proved that the desk had been recently moved.

      1. Yeah, Cabot Cove had a ridiculously improbable murder rate. But the series was fun as long as you didn’t think about that too hard. 😀

  8. “Apparently they’re unclear on the concept of fiction.”

    Sadly, a lot of fiction publishers are these days.

  9. I saw this on facebook. If your story is set in the 1920’s or thirties there may be a lot of things out of copyright that you could use>

Comments are closed.