Most Popular Book Categories & Genres

It’s hard to find conclusive information on this topic, but this is what I’ve found in my research.

Going by physical shelf space in chain bookstores, which I guess is largely Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million, these are the most popular categories:

General Fiction (includes mystery, suspense, and thrillers)
Non-Fiction/Religion/Inspirational
Romance (including historical romance)
Historical
Children’s (chapter books to middle grade)
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Young Adult
Biographies
Travel
Foreign Language
Graphic Novels
Horror

According to TheRichest.com, the following genres make the most amount of money:

Romance/Erotica
Crime/Mystery/Thriller
Religious/Inspirational
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Horror

According to Amazon, and here is where things get more interesting, sales breakdown in the following way:

Traditional Published
Literary Fiction
Thrillers/Mystery/Suspense
Children’s (including YA)
Nonfiction
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Romance

Indie Published
Romance
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Non-Fiction
Thrillers/Mystery/Suspense
Children’s (including YA)
Literary Fiction

More Kindle-specific analytics point to the following categories as being in the top ten, going by sales per day on Amazon according to k-lytics.com:

Romance
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Young Adult
Religious/Spirituality
Children’s
Self-Help
Biographies/Memoirs
Health/Fitness/Dieting
Business/Money
History

According to BookBub’s subscriber list (a popular freebie and discounted ebook marketer) via Quora.com, the following genres have a subscriber count of over 100k people, with romance toping 270k and Mystery/Thriller topping 360k:

Mystery/Thriller
Romance
Historical Fiction
Biographies/Memoirs
Literary Fiction
Fantasy
Religious/Inspiration
Women’s Fiction
Cooking
Science Fiction
Young Adult
Action/Adventure
Horror

What I guess we can gather from all this, is that if you write in the following fiction genres, you have the highest potential for success if you’re striking out on your own: 

Romance
Fantasy
Young Adult
Science Fiction
Historical
Children’s (largely middle grade)
Mystery/Suspense/Thrillers

A Look At Subgenres

Fantasy and Science Fiction are so often lumped together, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Fantasy is the more popular of the two, taking a cue from BookBub and merging that data with information I found on other sites that also broke them apart. Since fantasy includes high concept fantasy like Game of Thrones, urban fantasy, dark fantasy (which includes supernatural horror), and paranormal, this sparked me to delve into how this and other genres break down by popularity and sales. With the help of some opinions, sales figures from 2014, 2015, and 2016, and resources that I found around the web, I was able to find enough evidence to break the subgenres down in the following ways:

On Fantasy:

Historical
Urban Fantasy & Paranormal
Alternative History
Epic Fantasy
Contemporary
Traditional
Sword & Sorcery
Dark Fantasy & Horror
Superhero

On Romance:

Contemporary
Historical
Romantic Suspense
Regency
Erotica
Paranormal
New Adult
Young Adult
Western
Gothic
Christian

On Science Fiction:

Time Travel
Post-Apocalyptic & Dystopian
Space Opera
Hard Science Fiction
Alternative History
Steampunk
Military
Alien
Cyberpunk
Romantic Sci-Fi
Soft Science Fiction

On Mystery:

General
Noir/Hard-Boiled
Police/Detective
Cozy
Hobby
Historical
Paranormal

On Thriller:

Crime
Historical
Military
Psychological
Conspiracies
Environmental/Science
Supernatural
Legal
Espionage
Medical
Political
Technothriller
Terrorism

On Historical:

Women’s Historical Fiction
Fictional Biographies
European
African
Mysteries, Thrillers, & Suspense
Romance
Regency
Family Saga
Nautical & Pirate
Alternative History
Fantasy
Multi-period Saga
Western
Christian

I don’t pretend to know what all of these are. I did look up environmental thriller, and the best I could come up with are things like Jaws, The Revenant, Deep Blue Sea, Twister, The Day After Tomorrow. Things that have to do with man versus nature.

It’s impossible to get things in the exact order of popularity, as it varies, but this should offer some direction on the most popular breakdowns in each category and genre. I didn’t break down YA and MG, as pretty much nothing I looked at broke these categories down by genre, but I did find enough information to point to YA trending similarly to adult books, with romance and fantasy being on the top, and MG trending towards fantasy being on the top.

It’s also going to vary via route. The traditional route and what’s popular looks a little different than the indie and self-published route, but thrillers, romance, fantasy and science fiction, and historical are still at the top of both lists, minus literary fiction, which appears to be big in traditional publishing only. The children’s markets are also gaining a lot of ground in indie publishing.

Anyway, I thought this was fascinating and wanted to share my findings. ^_^

Also fascinating is this chart from AuthorEarnings.com (updated February 2017):

16 Responses to Most Popular Book Categories & Genres

    • LOL! There’s a definitely a decent demand for women’s fiction according to BookBub, but if you ever feel like venturing out into an Aussie historical… ^_^

  1. Romance has always been the big one, and honestly, that’s the one area where the authors I know make enough to live off of. Interestingly enough, a lot of the have migrated into self-publishing…maybe that explains the indie #s. I’m SO wishing for kids lit to do better on the indie end, but it’s a terrible beast in the marketing area. Guess romance it is 😉

    • ^_^ I think this is one benefit that’s come out of all the writing podcasts I’ve been listening to. Most of the full-time authors are in the adult fantasy and science fiction niches, and romance, of course, but there are several in thrillers, YA, and historical. I have listened to one interview featuring a full-time MG author. He can’t be the only one. 😀

  2. This is so cool, Krystal! Awesome job at all this data gathering and entry. Unfortunately, I haven’t written anything in quite some time, but maybe it’s time that I did!
    Also, what does Romance being scary successful say about us?? ;P

    • LOL! It is telling, right?! And it explains why they have a ridiculous amount of publishing and marketing options. YES! Write! It misses you. ^_^ I hear romantic suspense is a growing niche. 😀

    • It’s more that than anything. But I’m also glad to be in categories with a lot of traffic and resources. 🙂

  3. Romance is a hugely popular genre–I’ve been reading it on and off since I was a teenager and I’m discovering so many new romance authors now, so I keep reading ’em. They’re also pretty organized in that they have the Romance Writers of America, a ton of reviewers and websites dedicated to the genre, conferences and meetings and such.

    I don’t think I would only want to write romance, though, which is why I’m keeping an eye on Libbie Hawker’s career. She writes historical fiction and she’s indie published.

    • I’ve pretty only read historical romance under the romance umbrella, but it’s my favorite genre after paranormal and horror. Historical books are quite popular amongst all the subgenres though, so I think there’s a lot of potential there that a lot of writers aren’t tapping into yet.

  4. Thank you for sharing all of this intel! I don’t know that I’ll ever write what’s most popular. I am taking a break from a space opera right now to work on a MG superhero fantasy – which I’m pretty sure isn’t as popular as other genres. Oh well. I want to make money but I want to write what I love, first. (Well, most of the time, except on those days that I have daydreams of making enough money to send my kids to college – then I start thinking I need to write romance – if I could.)

    • I think it’s best to write what we love first. 🙂 I can write romance on very rare occasions. An MG superhero fantasy sounds pretty good though! It may not be Harvard money, but I think you can have both with that. ^_^

  5. Very interesting! Thanks for sharing. I write fantasy and I wouldn’t change that because of sales numbers, but it’s good to know it’s not a terrible decision. 🙂

    • Definitely not a terrible decision! One of the reasons given for why the genre is so big was because people who read those books consume a lot more books a year than say, people who read literary fiction.

  6. All of this sounds about right to me! The only thing I found surprising was Mystery/Thriller coming out on top on one list. And maybe the ordering of some of the sci-fi subgenres. I think romance has always been popular in some way, but as the stories have gotten more explicit, it makes sense that it’s so popular on Kindle (and other e-books) since people can’t see what you’re reading. 😉 Some might argue that in the past, fantasy and sci-fi got a bad rap for not being “real” literature, so that might explain the popularity on that list, too.

    • I was really surprised to see time travel pinging over post-apocalyptic, but then again, at the time of the post, the number three sci-fi book was a time travel book, after 1984 and a book that just got turned into a Hulu show. More proof I live in a box. 😛 I got SO fixated on the Mystery/Thriller fascination! I was expecting it to be popular, but it’s way more popular than I thought.

Hi! ^_^