Beyond good and bad

M. Louisa Locke has another good post up: It's supposedly about marketing for the holidays, but it's really about figuring out how to reach readers who like your kind of book.

She writes:

Over time . . . I started to notice that fans of the books also kept mentioning that they liked my books because they were “clean,” that they could recommend them to anyone, of any age, that they were a “comfort” read, that they were “gentle,” etc. It dawned on me (head slap) that these readers were saying they liked the books because they fit the format for a cozy mystery.

The common definition of a cozy mystery is that there is an amateur female sleuth with a partner––sometimes love interest––who is in police or legal profession, a community of secondary characters––including animals, and no explicit sex or violence. My series features Annie Fuller (widowed woman supplementing her income as a clairvoyant), Nate Dawson (her romantic partner and a lawyer), a cast of interesting characters (the people living in Annie’s boarding house––including Dandy the Boston Terrier), and the murders occur off-stage while the sex stays carefully within the bounds of 19th century middle class propriety.

At the same time, the few negative reviews I got mentioned the tameness of the romance, frustration that the mystery pace wasn’t fast enough––which also seemed to suggest these readers were looking for a book with either the more explicit sex of an historical romance or the tension of a thriller. Clearly I needed to make sure that the potential audience for cozy mysteries would find my books, and those who wanted something more racy or thrilling would look elsewhere.

This is precisely why I think it's important to read reviews and listen to reader feedback--not so you can beat yourself up over your shortcomings as an author or so you can say, "Well, that reader was stupid," but so you can figure out how to reach readers who will like your book. If Locke were insecure, she might have responded to the criticism by striving mightily to make her next book racy and violent (which--no, I just don't see that working for her); if she were dismissive she would have just bemoaned our violent and racy times.

Instead, she had the emotional distance and analytical propensity to realize that her book had this quality of coziness that divides mystery readers, and that if she appropriately labeled and categorized her book, it would get her more happy readers and fewer miserable ones. It also helped that she didn't think in terms of value judgements like "good" or "bad." Think about it: Is the quality of coziness good or bad? That's clearly an absurd question, because whether coziness is good or bad is strictly a matter of taste. And taste varies mightily among readers, even those readers who like mysteries.

Thinking about your book this way is a little like reaching the point where you realize that romantic relationships don't typically fail because one person is right and the other person is wrong: They fail because the two people are a bad fit. You want to attract a reader who is a good fit with your book--that's what really matters.