Posted by: nancycurteman | June 4, 2010

7 Guaranteed-to-Sell Elements of a Cozy Mystery

Today’s cozy mysteries are a mix of the old and the new. The basic elements are still important: a body, a murderer, an amateur sleuth, and a professional investigator. However, new elements have become important in order to cater to modern tastes.

  1. An up-to-date lifestyle and setting is essential unless the novel is historical or fantasy fiction. Include modern-day tools—computers, cell phones, Internet.
  2. A sleuth with a profession or hobby sells well. Intelligent, capable independent female sleuths are very popular with today’s mystery novel readers who are mostly women.
  3. Include budding romance that suffers two or three setbacks. One mystery author claimed it’s best to have the hero and heroine meet over the dead body. An editor suggested that as soon as the romance begins to flourish, nip it in the bud and force suffering on the part of each character until they work out their problems and fall into each others arms.
  4. A great technique for grabbing a mystery reader is to open the first chapter with a dead body.
  5. Create at least two or three strong suspects. Methodically build evidence and proof of their guilt then just as methodically, eliminate them as suspects. One of them might be the killer or, even better, a totally unexpected character ends up the guilty culprit.
  6. Readers love it when the imperiled sleuth discovers the real murderer by finding herself in a life-threatening scene at the killer’s mercy.
  7. An important modern-day twist is this one. Instead of having the desperate sleuth saved by the hero, have her subdue the murderer herself by means of a skill related to her lifestyle such as a punch she learned in her self-defense class. Mission accomplished while the police are on their way to the scene.

Know what your modern readers want and give it to them. Your book will sell.


  1. One caution (not that you need it). If the killer is totally unexpected, that’s fine, but he or she DOES need to be a character in the story from nearly the first.


  2. Excellent point. There should also be some inconspicuous clues throughout the novel that the reader will recall in hindsight.


  3. This sounds like an outline for my third (unfinished – what else is new) novel. And the killer is in the very first scene. The sleuth though is an unintentional one.

    Yeah! Thanks for the tips.

    Is “posted in” a category list or a tag list?


    • Sounds like you’ve got a modern mystery winner. Good luck.


    • DC ~ First, wow! You should have posted a “spoiler alert” with your comment.

      Now I have NO REASON to read your uncompleted third novel since I already know the killer appears in the first scene. : )

      Second, “Posted in” = categories (on other blogs) and Nancy’s “Tags” follow immediately after her categories.


  4. Excellent list – I’ll have to keep this in mind!


  5. Your final tip reminds me of the Dixie Chicks song . . . Earl had to die. : )

    If you’re not familiar with the song, Earl, an abusive husband, ended up eating some “bad” black eyed peas served to him by a modern day heroine.

    He ended up being a missing person who no one missed at all!

    Great post!

    But now you’ve got me wanting to write a murder mystery . . . like a reincarnated Agatha Christie.


  6. Go for it. Good murder mysteries are like complex riddles. So much fun to solve.


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