Following on from my post about being aware of the market, I was sorting through some of my boxes of papers and came across some handwritten notes about what makes crime cosy. I suspect they're from a talk attended long ago as they're torn from a notebook, but as I didn't note the source I can't give a credit. Sorry. But before chucking the notes away, I thought I'd write them down here in case they're of use to someone:
Amateur sleuth, probably female. Very likeable.
Characters are "normal", relatable - they could be your neighbours.
Victim - not likeable. They "deserved" it.
Village/small town setting.
Supporting characters - funny, eccentric. Want to visit them.
Crime takes place off stage.
No violence, sex, profanity.
Connections between everybody.
Sex - always off stage.
Sidekick who is in police (for access to confidential stuff).
Fast paced, several twists and turns.
Emphasis on plot and development.
When I wrote my first novel, Adultery for Beginners, I sent it to a book doctor, and later changed several elements according to what was in effect a list of rules/commandments. They included:
Rural setting less popular than urban setting - I changed the setting from a village to a small city (Salisbury mixed with Andover in my head).
Characters relatable, not too well off - I changed this, dropping the main characters down the pay scale.
Strong character arc - I moved from 4 viewpoint characters to a single viewpoint because the other 3 viewpoint character arcs were weak. (The book doctor recommended beefing up the other 3 viewpoints. Same problem, different solution.)
Male protagonist someone the reader could fall in love with - I didn't change him for the UK edition, but he was softer and more romantic for the US edition.
The change that taught me the most, however, came from my writing group. They had identified most with a character who is a newcomer, whose first action in the story was to go into a room full of people she doesn't know, who all know each other. That one action made an unlikeable character into everybody's favourite (much to my annoyance and dismay).
Guess what? In the next draft, the newcomer who goes into that room full of strangers was the main character. That version sold. A lot.
Sometimes these lists of rules work.