Saturday, December 13, 2008

Labels, Schmabels

by Deb Baker, guest blogger

(Everyone who leaves a comment for Deb this weekend will be entered in a drawing for a free copy of her new book. Check back Sunday night at the end of the comments thread for the name of the winner!)

Thanks to my friends at Poe’s Deadly Daughters for hosting me. I’m on a blog tour to promote the launch of Ding Dong Dead, which hit the shelves last week. This is the seventh book I’ve completed. Whew! Time flies when you’re busy!

I’d like to jump into the di
alogue about mystery subgenres and the definition of cozy mysteries that we’re all trying to nail down. Not that I’m going to cause anything but more confusion.

When the professional book world (agents, editors, etc) labeled my first mystery as a cozy, I was bewildered. Wasn’t a cozy an English whodunit with tea and crumpets and feathery hats? I had written a story about the Michigan Upper Peninsula—trucks, beer, baseball caps. It’s a cozy, they insisted. No gratuitous sex, no onstage violence, no swearing other than an occasional ‘for cripes sake’.

By the time I wrote the Dolls To Die For series I knew what I was.

Okay, I wrote cozies. Cool.

It was clear in my mind.

Or so I thought.

Because when the Berkley team got together to brainstorm a title and cover for Ding Dong Dead they changed the rules on me.

This isn’t really a cozy, my editor said. Let’s leave ‘doll’ out of the title and keep the doll graphics to a minimum.

Hunh? If it’s not a cozy, what is it? The cover’s still ‘cute’ like a cozy. Granted, I’ve taken some liberties. For example, the story is told in multiple points of view. Lots of them, not just two or three. Peering inside other characters’ minds does ratchet up the tension a little, but I doubt that anyone will ever call this book a suspense.

So I’m back to bewildered.

Am I on the fence between mystery genres? Shouldn’t I stay on one side or the other? Should I care? And who makes up these rules anyway?

In the meantime, I’ll continue to write my stories, some in first person, some in third, these in multiple POVs, and you can label me however you want.

To celebrate the release of Ding Dong Dead, I’m running a contest for a $50 gift certificate to the bookstore of your choice! Here’s how to win. Get a copy of Ding Dong Dead, read it, go to my website ( before January 15th. Correctly answer three easy questions pertaining to the book. You will be entered into the drawing, which will take place at noon on January 15th. Winner will be notified through email and announced on my homepage. Good luck!


Auntie Knickers said...

I'm very much afraid that some publishers are using the "cozy" label for books they feel don't require much intelligence to read. Since there are some people who get confused by things like multiple POVs, a book with those might not be considered "cozy." Then, there's the doll thing. It may have been turning off some readers who thought "I'm not interested in dolls". So, now that those readers who are into dolls already know you and will buy your book regardless, maybe the publishers thought it was safe to move you to another level and attract people who just want a good mystery. I am one of those people, and the new cover, title etc. would probably suck me in and I'd be reading a doll mystery in spite of myself! Anyway -- I prefer the term "traditional mystery" and it's one of my favorite subgenres along with police procedural.

Deb Baker said...

I think you're right about my publisher's reasoning. They wanted to attract more readers. And whatever happened to 'traditional'?

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

"Traditional" is still in my vocabulary not only for my gritty but lighthearted book about recovery from alcoholism in New York City but for most of my favorites, from Margaret Maron's Judge Deborah Knott books to the female PI books of Marcia Muller, Sue Grafton, Laura Lippman, and Sara Paretsky to the police procedurals of Reginald Hill, Deborah Crombie, Julie Smith, and Cynthia Harrod-Eagles and the in-betweens like Nevada Barr's park ranger Anna Pigeon, Dana Stabenow's sometime pro, sometime involved amateur Kate Shugak, and assorted reporters and lawyers. On the fence: Earlene Fowler, whose Benni Harper books about a quilting curator, probably helped start the fashion for craft and "soft" art mysteries but do NOT contain quilting instructions, and Nancy Pickard's Jenny Cain mysteries about a charity fundraising pro. Both Fowler and Pickard have recently written superb standalones that are definitely not cozy, btw. Traditional!

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Oops! Delete that comma after "curator."

Donis Casey said...

this is a wonderful series, Deb. And you have come up with a couple of very good promotional ideas, here.

Anonymous said...

Do not worry about your book being a cozy or not - your fans will follow you regardless. I like the title Ding Dong Dead. What was the one with doll in it that they rejected?

Sandra Parshall said...

Remember to check back late Sunday (or early Monday) to find out if you won a free copy of Deb's book! The winner will be posted at the end of the comments thread.

Kenna Coltman said...

What's a genre and where do I get one? This was a question I posed to a group of fellow writers (some published, some, including me, not published). I am still confused.

I guess in the end you write what moves you and let the powers that be pigeon-hole you when the time comes (if it ever does).

Right now I'm writing what would probably be termed a cozy-type story, but in a noir style. Kind of weird, but I like it so far. Of course, that doesn't mean anyone else will ;)

Thanks for sharing with us today!

Deb Baker said...

The publisher warned me ahead of time about the doll-dropping title. But I always thought Guise and Dolls would be a fun one.

Anonymous said...


I think you're entirely correct. Who makes up the rules? Who decides what's cozy and what's not? And who cares anyway? We all like a good story -- which you definitely write. Keep 'em coming!

Anonymous said...


I just read your title idea - Guise and Dolls. Love it. Convince your editor to let you do it.

caryn said...

Hi Deb,
I'm not sure the title makes that much difference unless it's a cutsey pun. I mean, what is less cozy about Ding Dong Dead than Guise and Dolls? I don't see it myself.
I think the cover labels a book in readers mind more. I remember picking up Clea Simon's first book-I forget the title, but it had this sweet drawing of a kitty on the front which left the impression that it was a sweet light hearted little cozy. NOT! It was a great book as is the whole series, but the subject definitely involved cats, the story was fairly gritty. Traditional I guess, as her protag is an amateur etc etc.
Caryn in St. Louis

Chris Redding said...

I think the definitions change each year and they can be different from house to house.
It just is.

Beth Groundwater said...

My own approach to this problem is to call my books just plain mysteries and let the publisher, booksellers, readers, etc. classify them however they want. Labels can be so limiting and so wrong. The next label to discuss is "bestselling." Now, I've seen that used ALL kinds of ways!

Tricia Sanders said...

Hope it's not to late to comment. I don't much like the cozy label. For mine, I prefer suspense with romantic elements. Cozy reminds me of little old ladies knitting or snooping around wearing bifocals.

Sandra Parshall said...

Congratulations to Kenna, winner of a copy of DING DONG DEAD! Thanks to everyone for visiting PDD and commenting.

Deb Baker said...

Congrats Kenna!