Wednesday, February 22, 2023


The first time I heard about the author’s contract with their reader was when I was working on my MFA at Seton Hill University. It was a new idea, but it was a concept that resonated with me. What contract you ask? Rather than a physical contract signed by two parties, the author contract is a commitment to meet readers’ expectations. Want to know more? Well, read on.

The author/reader contract is best described as a commitment between authors and readers of genre fiction to deliver what’s promised. In essence, authors are committing to adhere to the basics of the genre. If a book is a romance, then the reader has every reason to expect that there will be some kind of romantic elements. If the book is fantasy, then the reader is expecting magic elements. If the book is crime fiction, then…guess what? There should be a crime. Sounds simple, right? Things get complicated when there isn’t a clear definition of what genre or subgenre the book falls into and what the “rules” are for it.

I write cozy mysteries. Cozies are a subgenre of crime fiction. The basic elements that most people agree on (most of the time) are that cozies almost always feature an amateur sleuth—usually female. There’s no graphic violence or explicit sex, and no bad words (well, not many). Most cozies happen in a small town or close-knit community, and they tend to focus more on whodunit than on how it was done.

In a cozy, you will not get all the gory details about a murder. In fact, the actual murder almost always happens off screen (e.g., Jessica Fletcher stumbles across a dead body). For that reason, cozies are often considered “clean mysteries.” Those are the basics that MOST people agree on, but there are a lot of elements that people don’t agree on. Cozies are often humorous and lighthearted and often include themes, such as crafts, cooking, pets, or hobbies. If you go to a bookstore or Google cozy mystery, you’ll see covers that include cats, dogs, birds, knitting, quilting, and a plethora of culinary or food related themes.

So, what’s the contract that the cozy mystery author is making to the reader? In short, a cozy author is committing to deliver a mystery without explicit sex, graphic violence, or bad words (not many). Readers should be able to go to the cozy mystery shelf and pick up any book and know exactly what they’re going to get. And just like every other contract, the agreement between the author and the reader is a two-way street. That means the reader has a responsibility, too. Choosing a cozy means the reader is agreeing to “suspend disbelief” and accept that a small town baker/bookshop owner/librarian/quilter can outsmart trained law enforcement personnel and solve crimes, that an amateur sleuth can run a business, and still manage to track down a killer, and that sometimes animals really can talk.


While visiting the land of Miss Marple and Sherlock Holmes, bookstore owner and amateur sleuth
Samantha Washington finds herself on a tragical mystery tour . . .

Sam joins Nana Jo and her Shady Acres Retirement Village friends Irma, Dorothy, and Ruby Mae on a weeklong trip to London, England, to experience the Peabody Mystery Lovers Tour. The chance to see the sights and walk the streets that inspired Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle is a dream come true for Sam—and a perfect way to celebrate her new publishing contract as a mystery author.

But between visits to Jack the Ripper’s Whitechapel district and 221B Baker Street, Major Horace Peabody is found dead, supposedly of natural causes. Despite his employer’s unfortunate demise, the tour guide insists on keeping calm and carrying on—until another tourist on their trip also dies under mysterious circumstances. Now it’s up to Sam and the Shady Acres ladies to mix and mingle among their fellow mystery lovers, find a motive, and turn up a murderer . . .

Buy Links: Amazon, Apple, BAM,, Google Play, Hudson, IndieBound, Kobo, Nook

About the author

V.M. (Valerie) Burns was born and raised in South Bend, Indiana. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Dog Writers Association of America, Thriller Writers International, and Sisters in Crime. V.M. Burns is the author of the Dog Club Mystery series, the RJ Franklin Mystery series, and the Agatha Award nominated author of Mystery Bookshop Mystery series. Valerie is a mentor in the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program for writing popular fiction at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, PA, where she earned her Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree. She currently resides in East Tennessee with her two poodles. Readers can keep up with new releases by following her on social media.







  1. This concept of reader's contract is why some authors use different pen names depending on which genre a particular book is. That way cozy mystery readers won't be surprised (regardless of the book's blurb, cover, and advertising) to pick up a book by a favorite author and discover that instead of the cozy mystery they expected, they are now reading a steamy romance.

  2. A good reminder! Can't wait to "visit" London with your characters.

  3. Great points all, and something authors would be wise to remember. We all want to be innovative in our writing, but adhering to the conventions of our craft is also essential.

  4. Very relevant! Readers have expectations, and authors ignore them to their peril. That doesn't mean an author can't deviate from them, just that they should keep the expectations in mind.
    It's like the old saying that you can't break the rules effectively unless you understand them.

  5. Great points, VM. I still recall (bitterly) some mystery novels that didn't tie up loose ends because "that's what real life is like." Aargh! The contract!

  6. Excellent points, Valerie. Unfortunately, some cozy authors push the boundaries and readers get upset. I recently read a “supposedly” cozy mystery only to find it replete with four letter words. I won’t be reading that author’s books again. Her need to include language inappropriate for a cozy mystery cost her a reader.

  7. I love this post! So well stated. And that looks like another great book in your series. Thanks for being on our blog.

  8. So true. I've heard some authors complain meeting genre expectations means being "formulaic," but I disagree. There's still plenty of creative freedom available--you're just not misleading your readers into thinking your book is something it isn't. I love calling it a contract!