Does my Female PI Have to Wear a Pink Fedora and Carry a Cupcake?

Man working with Laptop and Notepad by Startup Stock Photo from

Startup Stock Photo

A couple of weeks ago, I used an aggregator (a company like Smashwords or Draft to Digital that acts as a sort of middleman) to add my books to some of the lesser-known ebook retailer and subscription services. Of course, then I had to check my books on each of the sites and see what had gone wrong, because something invariably goes wrong. Some sites don’t support any description formatting, or they support html but not that kind of html. Then there are the I-know-I-proofread-seventeen-times moments, when you discover that you can’t even spell your own name. (Hasn’t actually happened yet, but I’m still waiting.) I decided to tweak a synopsis or two, but there was nothing else I couldn’t live with. Until … I noticed that one of the sites had placed my Sydney Brennan Mysteries into the Cozy Mystery category, even though I had put them in Private Investigator and Female Sleuth. Odd. But these software glitches happen. I contacted my aggregator to see what could be done. The customer service person said she would notify the retailer, but (apparently not having a Female Sleuths category) the retailer always and automatically places Female Sleuths in the Cozy Mystery category. Huh.

For those of you who don’t voraciously consume mysteries or live with BISAC categories on a regular basis, a Cozy Mystery is one in which sex and violence are downplayed. They’re often described as “light” or “fun” reads, with an element of humor, and the protagonist is usually a female amateur sleuth. Sub-categories on Amazon include Culinary Cozies, Animal Cozies, and Crafts & Hobbies Cozies. I grew up watching Jessica Fletcher in “Murder, She Wrote,” and I enjoy all the different portrayals of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. But at the risk of being crude, why assume that my protagonist can’t kick ass because she has a vagina? After all, I would not enjoy being on V.I. Warshawski’s bad side, and I suspect I could talk my way around Patrick Kenzie, unless his partner Angie Genarro was there to shoot me first.

Female wearing boxing gloves hitting a man in a hat by Ryan McGuire from stocksnap.ioOkay, I’ll admit this may not have bothered me as much if I weren’t already prickly about FIFA paying the eliminated-in-the-first round American men’s soccer team FOUR TIMES the amount they paid the World Cup-winning American women’s soccer team. So maybe I was being hasty. Maybe I really had no understanding of the Female Sleuths category (definitely true) and maybe it contained predominantly Cozy Mysteries. A little research was in order. To that end, I took screen shots of Amazon’s Top 100 Bestsellers in the Female Sleuths on July 15, 2015. (Amazon was not the retailer in question, but they are—in the U.S. at least—the Big Dog, and I know how to navigate their site.) Then I put them all in a spreadsheet with some of their vital stats (thus the screenshots—it took a while to get all the information) and crunched some numbers. This is a single random day in July, but for what it’s worth, here’s what I found squinting at Excel.

On this particular day, Cozy Mysteries made up only 25% of the Top 100 Female Sleuth Bestsellers, so they were clearly not the dominant form of Female Sleuth mystery. I forgot to check the same day, but on July 30th, the total number of books classified as Cozy Mysteries on Amazon was 7,178, versus 17,137 Female Sleuth Mysteries. There were 2.4 times as many Female Sleuths books as Cozy books. Books categories are identified by the author/publisher, not some warehouse-sized CategoryBot, and obviously a chunk of the Female Sleuth books were also Cozies. Still, it’s hard to support the idea that putting every Female Sleuth mystery in Cozy is a data-based, business decision, rather than just a sexist one. That annoys me as a businesswoman, not just a person who’s sick of -isms. The Sydney Brennan Mysteries are definitely not Cozies. In them, sometimes bad things happen to characters you care about. (And sometimes, someone drops an F-bomb about it.) The bottom line is that I don’t want to offend unsuspecting readers—and get bad reviews—because my books are in the wrong category.

Once I had a little data, I couldn’t not putter around with it. The following things I gleaned about bestselling Female Sleuths may not be that interesting to the average person–feel free to click away now–but I’m sharing anyway for the number nerds out there.

  • Chocolate cupcake by Zoe Magee from stocksnap.ioThis is probably not a shocker, but most Female Sleuth mysteries—88%—are or appear to be written by Females. James Patterson is the most prominent exception. Others included Jessica Beck, one of at least five different female pen names that the male Tim Myers uses to write Cozy Mysteries.
  • A few authors accounted for a disproportionate number of bestsellers. There were fifty unique author names in the top 100, but the Top Five Names (meaning the ones with the most titles on the list) wrote 38% of books.
  • If your goal is a Female Sleuth Bestseller, change your name to Janet Evanovich. (I’m joking, but I have seen scuzzy people who use author-character pen names to confuse readers, then churn out crap that makes the rest of us look bad.) Evanovich’s name graced 9% of the bestselling covers, often alongside coauthors. An indie I’d never heard of had thirteen titles in the top 100, so I’m thinking she was running some crazy promotions. (I need to sign up for her webinar…)
  • Length: Some of the titles were short works—novellas or short stories—with 15% coming at under 175 pages…
  • But over half (56%) of the titles were 300 pages or more.
  • Books were pretty evenly split between relatively recent releases (47% were published in 2015) and older titles that were very sticky or had a resurgence when there were new releases in the same series…
  • Which brings us back to the perennial advice: write in a series. 91% of Bestsellers were part of a series.
  • At least 39% of the titles were written by Indie Authors. (The actual number may be higher; if I didn’t recognize an imprint name and didn’t quickly find it on the internet, I just assumed it was a small traditional press, though it may well have been an Indie.)
  • Price: The Indie presence probably had a strong influence on pricing. There were still a few ebooks only a buck or two cheaper than the paperback version, but 75% of titles were priced at $4.99 or less.

It would have been great to break down the books by the protagonist’s occupation (from PIs to law enforcement to vets to bakers), but that ended up being more of a time suck than I could justify at the moment. I had to close the browser tab with my library account as it was. (Ohh, that looks interesting. Let me just see…) So there you go. Mini-rant defused by data, at least until next week. (I’ll try to avoid the news and most human interactions, but no promises.)

[Man with laptop by Startup Stock Photos, Boxing female by Ryan McGuire, and Chocolate Cupcake by Zoe Magee, all from]