What do readers want? What are the most popular book genres, by sales and by earnings? We break down the figures to give you the publishing industry insight
When we write, we want to write what we love reading. That may be crime, romance, or something else.
But as writers, it's important to ask ourselves: what do our readers want? It’s really helpful to know how what we’re writing will fit into the marketplace.
If we’re aiming to write commercial fiction or non-fiction and make money from writing, it’s a good idea to be aware of what’s being read and what the most popular book genres are in terms of sales and readers.
We’re not suggesting you decide to write a crime novel just because it’s the most popular book genre, because it’s important to write the book you want to write.
But it’s also a good idea to know where your book might fit into the marketplace.
Knowing which genres are popular will help you make sound commercial decisions about where your fiction might end up in bookshops and who your readers might be.
But what makes a book genre popular? It’s a question we often get asked. Is it being most read, most bought or most lucrative? We’ve been trawling through figures and statistics to give you the low-down on the book genres that are most read, most sold and bring in the most revenue.
Crime and thrillers
As book readers, it seems we're obsessed by the dark side of life. In 2017, crime became the UK’s most popular adult fiction genre, outselling general and literary fiction for the first time.
• Readers are flocking to buy books in the crime genre. In 2017, Nielsen BookScan figures revealed that 18.7 million units of crime books were sold, compared to 18.
1 million of general and literary fiction. The value of the crime book sales increased from £106.3 million to £117.6 million. The general and litfic sales value was higher, though: at £125.
7 million it was the genre that generated the most cash.
• Nielsen BookScan data released at the London Book Fair this year showed that sales of crime fiction in the UK had increased by 19%, to 18.7 million.
• In 2017 Shari Lapena’s The Couple Next Door sold 404,099 copies, making it the UK’s bestselling crime title of the year, and the third bestselling book.
• Statistica’s research shows that mystery/thriller/crime was the US’s most popular genre too, with 47% of the survey respondents having read a crime book up to July 2015 – and with ebook readers the figure was 50%. According to the 2018 Author Earnings annual report, mystery, thriller and suspense ebook sales accounted for $187,673,043.62 of revenue.
• The popularity of psychological thrillers has given the crime book genre as a whole a huge boost. Paula Hawkin’s The Girl on the Train accounted for 1.3 million print sales and 2.4 million ebook sales in 2015, the year it was published. By 2018 it had been awarded triple platinum status at the Specsavers Bestseller Awards for topping sales of 3,000,000.
QUICK LINK: Plot and execute your bestselling crime novel with expert advice on our creative writing course, How to Write Crime.
We're all suckers for love stories, and romance book lovers are willing to invest serious money in their reading habit. Romance fiction is a billion-dollar genre, with estimated sales peaking five years ago at $1.08 billion according to Bookstats, and $1.44 billion including self-published titles.
• As reported by Nielsen BookScan, romance had a 34% share of the US fiction market in 2015.
• The figures for romance genre books do some serious talking. Author Earnings’ annual report notes that in the last nine months of 2017, $162,028,816.90-worth of romance ebooks were sold: 50,957,116 units.
• Statistica reported romance as the second most popular genre, with 27% of respondents having read a romance title, and romance was also the second most popular genre according to Nielsen BookScan, who five years ago reported romance book sales of $1.8 billion.
• Particular titles evoke a passionate response. In 2015 the UK’s top-selling title was an erotic romance novel: 50 Shades of Grey, which sold 1.1 million copies and generated £4.7 million in sales.
• You don't have to be an old hand at romance writing to generate the big sales. Cecelia Aherne may be one of the top names in romance writing now, but PS I Love You was her debut novel. By 2017, PS I Love You merited a Specsavers Bestseller Platinum Award for sales of a million copies.
• Our love affair with books in the romance genre shows no sign of abating. The latest figures from Nielsen BookScan show that in both 2017 and 2018, romance and sagas came in at number six of the top-selling book genres, shifting 5,213,548 units in 2017 and 3,313,444 so far this year.
QUICK LINK: Learn how to write a wartime romance or master the erotic arts with Stef Penney's advice on handling steamy scenes.
Children’s and Young Adult books
It takes a lot of skill to write books that younger readers will love, but if you can write well for children there are hordes of avid young readers (and their parents!) waiting for new books to feed their reading habit.
• Sales for children’s books in the UK increased by 16% in 2016 to £365 million, and in 2017, children’s fiction was the top-selling book genre in the UK, with sales of 19,296,898 units. Picture books were the fourth in the bestseller list, selling 11,100,918 units. YA fiction came in at number seven, with 4,468,538 units.
• In 2017 UK sales of children’s books were worth £239 million. Bad Dad by David Walliams was the UK’s bestselling children’s title, and the second-best selling book in 2017, with sales of 567,818.
• Globally, children’s book sales outstrip adult titles, and continue to grow. In the US, BookScan reports that in 2017, 233 million units were sold compared to 181 million in 2012.
• Particular growth areas are graphic novels for young readers, sci-fi and fantasy novels and what’s called ‘active non-fiction’, ie focussed activity books. Cross-platform products are also increasingly popular with a new generation of digital natives who love reading interactive titles on their screens.
QUICK LINKS: Writing for children is easy? Are you sure you understand what's required in modern children's books? Understand the differences in writing for children and adults with advice from from KJ Whittaker. And when you do, enter our Picture Book Prize Competitition!
Sometimes everybody needs a bit of help to understand the world they live in, and that's were self-help books comes in. You may not see them on the bestseller lists but they're steady sellers reaching a readership happy to pay to knowledge. Self-help, self-improvement and inspirational literature are a growth area for the publishing industry.
• At the end of 2013 the Guardian noted that the self help industry was worth $11 billion dollars a year, with $720 million of that generated by book sales according to TheRichest.
• The bulk of self-help and inspirational literature sales come from the USA, where in 2017 the top four bestselling non-fiction titles were self-help books.
Science fiction and fantasy
If you write well in your chosen book genre, two of the great rewards (besides sales!) are reader loyalty and reader interest. Science fiction and fantasy fans are always happy to discover excellent new titles in their genre, and spend money on new reading material.
• The loyalty of sci-fi and fantasy readers to their chosen genres is demonstrated by the consistent high sales of titles in these genres. In 2017 it was the third best-selling adult fiction genre in the UK, with sales of 3,225,915 units.
• Sales in these book genres are entirely reader-focussed and have a lot to do with the shift towards indie publishing.
Although sci-fi and fantasy sales dropped dramatically in 2009, Forbes reports that combined print and digital sci-fi and fantasy book sales have doubled since 2010, and because genre fiction is a particular growth area in indie publishing, self-publishing and ebook sales account for 48% of SF and fantasy sales across print, digital and audio formats.
• Interest in the sub-genres changes, though. Although epic fantasy and space opera still sells consistently, between May 2017 and April 2018 the most popular sub-genre in ebook sales was paranormal and urban fantasy, and the most popular ebook sci-fi genre was military sci-fi.
QUICK LINKS: Learn from the best: Nebula Award winning Jeff VanderMeer explains the importance of starting strong, Gareth Powell explains how to build a convincing world and RR Haywood explains how to write engaging science fiction.
22 Different Types of Books (Genres and Non-Fiction Options)
If you consider the thousands of different books available in the world, the adage, “So many books, so little time” takes on a completely new meaning. In fact, just the genres and sub-genres are so many that they are impossible to list down.
All book lovers have their own favorite genre — in fact, multiple favorite genres. In all honesty, there are so many genres to choose from, that there are many who have a preferred genre for every mood.
Book Genre Chart
What is a Genre?
A genre is a category or style of literature, music, art and other forms of entertainment. The genre system first began as a classification process for ancient Geek literature, including poetry, prose, and performance.
Each genre has a specific, distinct style relating to theme, content, tone, details, and intensity. Patterns of speech for a tragedy would not be appropriate for a comedy, for example. To make matters even more confusing, most works of fiction fall under more than one genre.
Case in point: “Gulliver’s Travels” by Jonathan Swift falls under classic, fantasy, satire, and adventure.
Types of Books
All books can be broadly classified under two main categories: fiction and non-fiction
A work of fiction is one that is derived from the imagination. The great thing about fiction is that it could be inspired or partially borrows from real-life situations, but that is as far as it could go.
Fictional books are often synonymously categorized under the umbrella term of “novel.
” The category of fiction is immense and has a huge plethora of sub-divisions or genres, which is both a boon and a curse for bookworms.
Definitions Of Fiction Categories And Genres
The following definitions have been excerpted with permission from Writer’s Encyclopedia, (Writer’s Digest Books)
A genre of fiction in which action is the key element, overshadowing characters, theme and setting. … The conflict in an adventure story is often man against nature.
A secondary plot that reinforces this kind of conflict is sometimes included.
In Allistair MacLean’s Night Without End, for example, the hero, while investigating a mysterious Arctic air crash, also finds himself dealing with espionage, sabotage and murder.
A life story documented in history and transformed into fiction through the insight and imagination of the writer.
This type of novel melds the elements of biographical research and historical truth into the framework of a novel, complete with dialogue, drama and mood.
A biographical novel resembles historical fiction, save for one aspect: Characters in a historical novel may be fabricated and then placed into an authentic setting; characters in a biographical novel have actually lived.
Stories and novels whose central characters are black, Native American, Italian-American, Jewish, Appalachian or members of some other specific cultural group. Ethnic fiction usually deals with a protagonist caught between two conflicting ways of life: mainstream American culture and his ethnic heritage.
The biography of a real person that goes beyond the events of a person’s life by being fleshed out with imagined scenes and dialogue. The writer of fictional biographies strives to make it clear that the story is, indeed, fiction and not history.
This type of category fiction dates back to the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
Contemporary gothic novels are characterized by atmospheric, historical settings and feature young, beautiful women who win the favor of handsome, brooding heroes—simultaneously dealing successfully with some life-threatening menace, either natural or supernatural.
Gothics rely on mystery, peril, romantic relationships and a sense of foreboding for their strong, emotional effect on the reader. A classic early gothic novel is Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. The gothic writer builds a series of credible, emotional crises for his ultimately triumphant heroine.
Sex between the woman and her lover is implied rather than graphically detailed; the writer’s descriptive talents are used instead to paint rich, desolate, gloomy settings in stark mansions and awesome castles. He composes slow-paced, intricate sketches that create a sense of impending evil on every page.
A fictional story set in a recognizable period of history. As well as telling the stories of ordinary people’s lives, historical fiction may involve political or social events of the time.
Howard Phillips (H.P.) Lovecraft, generally acknowledged to be the master of the horror tale in the twentieth century and the most important American writer of this genre since Edgar Allan Poe, maintained that “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.
These facts few psychologists will dispute, and their admitted truth must establish for all time the genuineness and dignity of the weirdly horrible tales as a literary form.” Lovecraft distinguishes horror literature from fiction based entirely on physical fear and the merely gruesome.
“The true weird tale has something more than secret murder, bloody bones or a sheeted form clanking chains according to rule.
A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible concept of the human brain—a malign and particular suspension or defeat of the fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguards against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.” It is that atmosphere—the creation of a particular sensation or emotional level—that, according to Lovecraft, is the most important element in the creation of horror literature. [Lovecraft and Poe produced classics in this genre]; contemporary writers enjoying considerable success in [horror fiction] include Stephen King, Robert Bloch, Peter Straub, and Dean Koontz.
Juveniles, Writing for
This includes works … intended for an audience usually between the ages of two and sixteen. Writing for children is a specialized art that’s harder than it looks.
The language must be appropriate for the age of the reader, the subject matter must be of interest to the target age group, the opening of the work must be vivid enough to capture the reader’s attention and the writing throughout must be action-oriented enough to keep it. … Story ideas begin with a strong character and meaningful, directed action.
The use of suspense and the interplay of human relationships are two features of effective juvenile fiction. Books and stories are told almost exclusively from a single viewpoint (in first or third person), as this technique helps to establish and sustain a sense of reader identity… .
Categories of children’s books are usually divided in this way: (1) picture and storybooks (ages two to nine)… ; (2) easy-to-read books (ages seven to nine)… ; (3) “middle-age” [also called “middle grade”] children’s books (ages eight to twelve)… ; (4) young adult books (ages twelve to sixteen)… .
Literary Fiction vs. Commercial Fiction
To the writer of literary, or serious, fiction, style and technique are often as important as subject matter.
… Commercial fiction, however, is written with the intent of reaching as wide an audience as possible.
… Commercial fiction is sometimes called genre fiction because books of this type often fall into categories, such as western, gothic, romance, historical, mystery and horror.
Fiction that transcends popular novel categories—mystery, romance or science fiction, [etc.]—is called mainstream fiction.
Using conventional methods, this kind of fiction tells stories about people and their conflicts but with greater depth of characterization, background, etc. than the more narrowly focused genre novels. It is not, however, experimental in style as are more avant-garde works.
Some examples of contemporary mainstream fiction would be the work of James Michener, John Updike and Joyce Carol Oates.
A form of narration in which one or more elements remain unknown or unexplained until the end of the story. The modern mystery story contains elements of the serious novel: a convincing account of a character’s struggle with various physical and psychological obstacles in an effort to achieve his goal, good characterization and sound motivation.
A work in which real events and people are written [about] in novel form, but are not camouflaged, as they are in the roman a clef.
In the nonfiction novel, reality is presented imaginatively; the writer imposes a novelistic structure on the actual events, keying sections of narrative around moments that are seen (in retrospect) as symbolic. In this way, he creates a coherence that the actual story might not have had.
The Executioner’s Song, by Norman Mailer, and In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote, are notable examples of the nonfiction novel.
Generally, a synonym for category or genre fiction; i.e., fiction intended to appeal to audiences for certain kinds of novels. … Popular, or category, fiction is defined as such primarily for the convenience of publishers, editors, reviewers and booksellers who must identify novels of different areas of interest for potential readers.
A narrative that emphasizes the mental and emotional aspects of its characters, focusing on motivations and mental activities rather than on exterior events.
The psychological novelist is less concerned about relating what happened than about exploring why it happened. … The term is most often used to describe twentieth-century works that employ techniques such as interior monologue and stream of consciousness.
Two [examples of contemporary] psychological novels … are Judith Guest’s Ordinary People and Mary Gordon’s The Company of Women.
Roman a Clef
The French term for “novel with a key.” This type of novel incorporates real people and events into the story under the guise of fiction. Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men, in which the character Willie Stark represents Huey Long, is a novel in this genre.
Also known as the category romance, the romance novel is a type of category fiction in which the love relationship between a man and a woman pervades the plot.
The story [is often] told from the viewpoint of the heroine, who meets a man (the hero), falls in love with him, encounters a conflict that hinders their relationship, then resolves the conflict. … Romance is the overriding element in this kind of story: The couple’s relationship determines the plot and tone of the book.
The theme of the novel is the woman’s sexual awakening. Although she may not be a virgin, she has never before been so emotionally aroused. Despite all this emotion, however, characters and plot both must be well-developed and realistic: Contrived situations and flat characters are unacceptable.
Throughout a romance novel, the reader senses the sexual and emotional attraction between the heroine and hero. Lovemaking scenes, though sometimes detailed, are not generally too graphic, because more emphasis is placed on the sensual element than on physical action.
Romantic Suspense Novel
The romantic suspense novel is a modern emergence of early gothic writing. This genre evolved in the 1950s with writers such as Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt. … The genre is recognizable when contrasted with other writing.
It is not a detective mystery story because the law (police) rarely gets involved in the action.
It also differs from traditional … suspense novels because it moves more slowly and has more character interplay and psychological conflict than the fast-paced violence of [most] suspense thrillers.
Science Fiction [vs. Fantasy]
Science fiction can be defined as literature involving elements of science and technology as a basis for conflict, or as the setting for a story. The science and technology are generally extrapolations of existing scientific fact, and most (though not all) science fiction stories take place in the future.
There are other definitions of science fiction, and much disagreement in academic circles as to just what constitutes science fiction and what constitutes fantasy. This is because in some cases the line between science fiction and fantasy is virtually nonexistent. Despite the controversy, it is generally accepted that, to be science fiction, a story must have elements of science.
Fantasy, on the other hand, rarely utilizes science, relying instead on magic, mythological and neo-mythological beings and devices, and outright invention for conflict and setting. … Contemporary science fiction, while maintaining its focus on science and technology, is more concerned with the effects of science and technology on people.
Since science is such an important factor is writing science fiction, accuracy with reference to science fact is important. Most of the science in science fiction is hypothesized from known facts, so, in addition to being firmly based in fact, the extrapolations must be consistent. Science fiction writers make their own rules for future settings, but the field requires consistency.
… Beyond inconsistency and an overabundance of gadgetry in place of a good story, there are few taboos in science fiction.
This genre utilizes many of the same elements as the thriller, with one major difference. In techno-thrillers, technology becomes a major character. In Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October [for example], specific functions of the submarine become crucial to plot development.
A novel intended to arouse feelings of excitement or suspense. Works in this genre are highly sensational, usually focusing on illegal activities, international espionage, sex and violence. A thriller is often a detective story in which the forces of good are pitted against the forces of evil in a kill-or-be-killed situation.
A term used … to refer to the books published for young people between the ages of twelve and seventeen.
These tips came from the course Fiction Writing 104: Advanced Novel Writing
Whether you write short fiction, nonfiction, memoir or poetry, chances are there is a novel yearning to get out. The idea of actually writing something as long and complex as a novel can seem overwhelming. You can set your novel free – by developing a plan with someone who has successfully negotiated this literary minefield.
You will learn:
- The components of a completely developed novel idea
- Character building and the selection of both your viewpoint character(s) and main characters
- Functions of setting, and how to use setting to generate plot
- To use dramatic and nondramatic scenes
- To keep readers holding on until the very end.
Learn More About our Fiction Writing 104: Advanced Novel Writing Workshop Today!
The 17 Most Popular Genres In Fiction – And Why They Matter
We have put together a list of the 17 most popular genres in fiction to help you with your writing.
What Is Genre?
Genre is a style or category of art, music, or literature. As an author, genre controls what you write and how you write it. It describes the style and focus of the novel you write. Genres give you blueprints for different types of stories.
There are general rules to follow, for example, manuscript length, character types, settings, themes, viewpoint choices, and plots.
Certain settings suit specific genres. These will vary in type, details, intensity, and length of description.
The tone employed by the author, and the mood created for the reader, must also suit the genre.
There are often sub-genres within genres, for example, a fantasy story with sinister, frightening elements would belong to the dark fantasy sub-genre.
Why Does Genre Matter?
Genres are great because they fulfil reader expectations. We buy certain books because we have enjoyed similar stories in the past. Reading these novels gives us a sense of belonging, of sitting down with an old friend and knowing we’re on familiar ground. There is also a camaraderie between readers who follow the same genres.
Writers can use this to their advantage because their boundaries are models on which to base stories. Genres reflect trends in society and they evolve when writers push the boundaries. Readers ultimately decide if the experiment has worked by buying these books.
The most important part of genre fiction, though, is that it fulfils our human need for good old-fashioned storytelling. We sometimes need stories we can rely on to blunt the harsh realities of life.
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The 17 Most Popular Genres In Fiction
- Romance.These stories are about a romantic relationship between two people. They are characterised by sensual tension, desire, and idealism. The author keeps the two apart for most of the novel, but they do eventually end up together. There are many sub-genres, including paranormal, historical, contemporary, category, fantasy, and Gothic.
- Action Adventure. Any story that puts the protagonist in physical danger, characterised by thrilling near misses, and courageous and daring feats, belongs to this genre. It is fast paced, the tension mounting as the clock ticks. There is always a climax that offers the reader some relief.
- Science Fiction. This genre incorporates any story set in the future, the past, or other dimensions. The story features scientific ideas and advanced technological concepts. Writers must be prepared to spend time building new worlds and using genre-specific words. The setting should define the plot. There are many science fiction sub-genres. There are also many tropes in the genre: 101 Sci-Fi Tropes For Writers
- Fantasy.These stories deal with kingdoms as opposed to sci-fi, which deals with universes. Writers must spend plenty of time on world building. Myths, otherworldly magic-based