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What’s Your Mystery Subgenre?

Do You Know Your Subgenre?

If you don’t know your subgenre, you won’t reach the right audience. The mystery genre contains a variety of subgenres. When you are clear about subgenre, you’re prepared to write a story that appeals to the right readers. Someone who loves a cozy mystery may have no interest in your cop thriller or noir detective.

A subgenre is a subcategory within a genre. Within the mystery and crime genre a variety of subgenres. 

How you label your story will help you reach the right editor and categorize your book to self-publish on digital platforms like Amazon. Author Tammi Lebreque says readers are subgenre loyal, so take that as a cue. Know your subgenre.

First, understand the fiction  mystery genre where a detective, or other professional or non-professional, solves a crime. The backbone of the story is solving the crime.

The mystery genre is filled with a variety of diverse subgenres.  Let’s look at basic categories to help you identify yours.

Traditional Mystery

A legacy from the 19th Century when Edgar Allan Poe started, the traditional mystery sets the sleuth on the trail of the killer. Brains and are the sleuths primary tools for unraveling the threads that lead to discovery.


Set in a comfortable social setting, – a small town, an academic institution – a private citizen becomes an amateur detective to discover the killer. This subgenre has mild language, no violence, and ensures the safety of children and animals.


The hard-boiled detective is at odds with himself and society. He deals with corruption from his own moral code, usually at odds with society. Violence and strong language are not only acceptable but expected. Noir is darker than hard-boiled. Stories are gritty, dark, and the brutality is far from cozy.  

Police Procedural

A detective or department is the protagonist. The story emphasizes investigative procedure in solving the crime. Know your law enforcement details. Today’s law enforcement includes use of science and computers.

Amateur Sleuth

It’s personal. The protagonist takes on investigating the death, usually of a friend, and often because he or she feels the police have either ignored or bungled the solution.

Private Detective/Professional

The private detective is not a law enforcement officer, but works as a paid professional to solve crime. In real life, private detective’s rarely are involved in murder cases, but readers love this genre.


Historical mysteries are set in a time other than the present. These stories require extensive background research. The setting is like another character in the story, enriching the details. And, in the realm of world building, mysteries occur in future worlds as well.


This genre focuses on an amateur detective who is a professional It’s a popular genre but you need extensive background knowledge. These stories are frequently written
by someone who is a professional.

What About Thrillers and Suspense?

Writers often confuse thrillers and suspense with the mystery genre, but these are separate genres. Amazon clumps mystery, thriller, and suspense into one broad category, but the essence of the three are different.


Thrillers are action novels. The protagonist is often chasing or being chased by the antagonist. And, the clock is ticking. The protagonist must save the world or the President’s daughter before the antagonist can complete their evil plot. Think chase.

Suspense stories reverse the story so the antagonist chases or imprisons the protagonist. The protagonist must escape the villain through their wits. The clock ticks in these stories too. The hero or heroine must escape before they lose their life. Think trap.

Your Subgenre is A Reader Magnet

Readers know what they like. When you focus on your subgenre within the mystery category readers know what to expect. A clear definition of your subgenre attracts readers who like it. Also, readers who don’t enjoy your subgenre won’t read expecting something else and then leave poor reviews.

When you market your book, stating your subgenre tells readers they have found a book they will like. Don’t forget to mention it in your book blurb. For example: If you like cozy mysteries you’ll love Your Title.

Zara Altair

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