What Did You Really Write?

I’m about to go through the final draft of the final cozy (book 9) and decided before I do that I should re-read the entire series. I want to end on the right emotional beats and that requires bringing everything together that’s happened over the last eight books and two short stories.

It’s also a good time to make sure that I don’t have any inconsistencies across the books. I re-read for book six as well, so hopefully that won’t be an issue, but you never know when you’re writing a series over a period of years what slipped in your mind during that time.

So I’m re-reading to ramp up to the final draft.

And I just finished book four of the series. (It made me cry, in a good way, because it’s a turning point in the larger character arc for the main character where she decides to stay in the small town she moved to and to actually open herself up to a relationship with the cute cop she’s flirted with for the last four books.)

So far so good.

But it cemented for me something I kind of already knew. Which is that this isn’t really a cozy mystery series.

It has a lot of the elements of a cozy series. For the first four books it was set in a barkery/cafe, there are cute dog characters and quirky side characters, it’s set in a small town, there isn’t graphic violence on the page or sex scenes or cussing. Oh, and there’s a mystery to solve in each book.

But I don’t think it’s as cute and quirky as cozies should be.

And while I do think of all mystery genres there’s the most room in cozy for non-mystery parts to the story, I think what I actually ended up writing is a small town family drama series with equal amounts mystery and romance and a strong cast of canine sidekicks.

What I will do with this knowledge, I don’t know. Unfortunately I’m pretty sure there isn’t an Amazon category for what I actually wrote.

This is where having a publisher would’ve helped. Because they would’ve forced me to better stay in the lane I’d started in.

Of course, the joy of self-publishing is that I can write the story I want to write how I want to write it, so if my cozy mystery series slowly becomes a small town family drama with far more emphasis on the characters and the character arc of the main sleuth, that’s what I get to write.

(It’s just whether the readers stay with you when you do something like that…)

Knowing this, I do think it’s important to ask whether the current category and branding are the best given what I actually wrote.

Would small town/rural be a better category? (maybe) Would romance be a better category? (Probably not, because it’s a very slow burn. If I’d had a couple get together each book, I could’ve done romance. Book 4 standalone is actually a romance structure. But the whole series is not.)

So, yet again, do as I say when writing not what I do.

I’m mentioning it here because I think it can be helpful after you’ve finished a series to give it a little time and then go back and re-read and see what you actually wrote so you can know whether you’ve branded it properly.

Let me give another example.

One of the series ideas I have would be a contemporary fantasy romance trilogy a la Nora Roberts. She’s written about four trilogies like this where six people come together to do something supernatural and over the course of the three books pair off.

One of the characters in the series I want to write would be a shifter character. When I mentioned this series idea to a friend who writes paranormal romance she immediately thought that because of the shifter, contemporary setting, and the romance it would be a paranormal romance series.

And it does have some of those elements.

But it would fail miserably in paranormal romance because it wouldn’t hit the tropes of that subgenre. My shifter is not an alpha, for example.

Where I suspect it belongs is actually romance->fantasy because I think the fantasy elements would be too hand-wavey for fantasy->romance. But I won’t know until I write it and there really isn’t a good box for it to fit in.

Honestly, one of the reasons I haven’t written that series is the lack of a good category for it.

The closer you can hit to the center of an existing, established category the easier it is to sell your books. If you say I have vanilla ice cream for you and then you give someone vanilla ice cream, they are very happy.

It’s trickier when people go looking for vanilla ice cream and what you have to offer is this vanilla ice cream creation that also has pastry dough, hot fudge, and sprinkles.

Could be delicious. They might love it. But it’s not the vanilla ice cream they were looking for.

So, yeah, anyway. Categories matter and sometimes we don’t see what we’ve actually written until we have some time and distance to come back to it and reassess.

(Better to consider these things up front and stick to your target, obviously, but I’d say 1 in 10 authors even know what the target is for a particular genre and only 1 in 100 of those authors can hit that target consistently each and every time they try. I am not one of them.)

Author: M.L. Humphrey

M.L. Humphrey is a former securities regulator, registered stockbroker (although only briefly), and consultant on regulatory and risk-related matters for large financial institutions with expertise in the areas of anti-money laundering regulation, mutual funds, and credit rating agencies. Since 2013 M.L. has also been a published author under a variety of pen names and across a variety of subjects and genres. You can contact M.L. at mlhumphreywriter [at] gmail.com.

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