nonfiction books more profitable

Are Nonfiction Books More Profitable than Fiction Books?

Ann O'Brien

August 11, 2022

With new books arriving on bookshelves every day, it’s no surprise that a writer’s ability to self-publish their own work has contributed to the book boom in recent years. Readers gobble up all kinds of books, from nonfiction tomes to the latest beach read or tantalizing mystery. But self-published authors tend to write fiction books, specifically the romance genre, more frequently than nonfiction books. So are authors that go the self-published route choosing to write the more profitable books or just writing what they love? Let’s take a closer look to see if publishing a nonfiction book is more profitable than a fiction book and how self-publishing authors can benefit when they choose to write either one.

E-book Sales: Fiction vs Nonfiction

Online giant Amazon is known for its vast selections of offerings in just about every category. Digital books are no different. E-book sales on Amazon skew towards nonfiction and for many fiction writers, this is no surprise. The main reason Amazon nonfiction sales outnumber fiction purchases simply has to do with marketing strategies tied to nonfiction topics. Nonfiction topics are usually searchable, which means that authors can follow standard SEO practices to help their book and content become visible to someone who searches it. By compiling online relevant content on a blog using keywords and terms that might be searched by seekers of information about the nonfiction topic, digital writers can direct virtual traffic towards their book.

Do SEO Strategies Increase Nonfiction Hard Copy Sales?

Fiction writers are at a disadvantage when it comes to keyword searches performed by book seekers looking for information about a topic. Because nonfiction books cover all manner of information from self-help books to naturalist journals and every topic in between, curious readers can use a search engine or a book-centric website like Goodreads to search for a book about the topic they are interested in learning about. Writers of nonfiction can integrate keywords and phrases into their books and online platforms like blogs. Social media can be used to link their hardcopy book sale platform to these as well. Nonfiction hard copy book sales have risen by over 22% since 2014.

Fiction Sales and SEO

Fiction books, on the other hand, don’t see this same benefit. Beyond keyword searches for a genre, author, or bestseller list, readers looking for a new book to read tend to follow authors and new book publication lists. Readers also rely heavily on book recommendations from other readers or trusted book sites. But fiction books are not usually searchable by topic or subject area, making them poor candidates for authors to attempt to utilize keyword search results as a strategy to drive readers to their books.

Book Pricing

One way to measure if nonfiction books are more profitable than fiction books is to look at the overall sales of each category. While book sales alone don’t indicate if nonfiction or fiction writing is more profitable for the individual authors, it does provide a good window into the categories as a whole and how writers can expect their book sales to end up generally. Of course, outliers in either category may have different outcomes for a variety of reasons. According to the School Library Journal, the average pricing for books sold to libraries by category and type in 2021 reflects a slightly higher average sale price of nonfiction books over fiction.

  • Nonfiction. The average hardcover nonfiction book price was $28.49. Paperback books were priced on average at $21.04.
  • Fiction. The average hardcover fiction book price was $27.45. Paperback books were priced on average at $17.89 with mass market paperbacks averaging $8.15 each.

 What This Means

Nonfiction book pricing is a little bit higher than fiction book pricing, simply meaning that for each book sold, the nonfiction author potentially earned a little bit more than a fiction author. But pricing is only one way to determine if it is more profitable to write nonfiction instead of fiction. The other metric is the number of books sold by an author.

Fiction vs Nonfiction Sales

Each author’s individual sales are dependent on many factors, including the type and genre of the book, the quality of the writing, the volume and strength of marketing, and book awareness that is brought to the market of potential readers. But looking at how fiction and nonfiction books sell is another element in determining which type of book is more profitable to write. The six genres/subgenres that make the most money, according to Book Ad Report are:

  1. $144 billion – Romance and Erotica (fiction)
  2. $728.2 million – Crime and Mystery (fiction)
  3. $720 million – Religious/Inspirational (nonfiction)
  4. $590.2 million – Science Fiction and Fantasy (fiction)
  5. $160 million – Children and Young Adult (fiction)
  6. $79.6 million – Horror (fiction)

What These Statistics Mean

Looking at the total book profitability by genre or subgenre doesn’t indicate whether an author chose to write books in these top money-making categories for their love of the genre or even their desire to be an author in a category that is most likely to sell or find an audience and become successful. It does tell us, however, that books written in these six genres or subgenres are in the categories that sell the most, and therefore may be good options for authors to choose to publish in to cash in on the likelihood of readers being interested in their book. While not a guarantee of sales, authors with an open mind about what they want to write could use these statistics as inspiration for their own writing focus.

Self-Published Books: Choosing to Write Nonfiction vs Fiction

Choosing what type of book to write is a decision authors must make as well as how they intend to take their concept from draft to a published book. Writers who want to guarantee that they will become published authors can work with printing companies like Publishing Xpress to bring their concepts to the printed page without having to rely on a traditional publishing company’s interest in their work to reach that goal. But not all writers have a specific topic or story in mind when they think about becoming a published author. So how does an undecided author choose what type of book to publish other than looking at statistics for book genre sales and book pricing data? Some of the other reasons why authors choose one category over the other are:

Nonfiction

  • Books about a specific topic or concept are more straightforward to research.
  • Authors can easily discover the other books that already exist on the subject.
  • Writers can include keywords and phrases in their book descriptions and social media or online platforms linking the book to reader searches, simplifying the reader’s ability to find the nonfiction book.
  •  Nonfiction books are less competitive than fiction since there are so many niches to choose from and fewer books in each relative to fiction genres.

Fiction

  • The number of unique stories to be told is essentially endless.
  • Genres and subgenres have a dedicated fan base usually willing to explore new authors in a given category.
  • Writing a series of books is possible, extending an author’s potential within one group of characters or a storyline.

Is Nonfiction Easier to Write Than Fiction?

It might seem like there are equal numbers of reasons to choose to author a nonfiction book as there are to write a fiction one. And while that may be basically true, some writers are convinced that writing a nonfiction book is easier and so is ultimately more profitable to write a nonfiction book. So how is writing nonfiction easier than fiction?

  • Nonfiction books can be organized through a straightforward outline of key ideas to include in the book
  • They can be researched through multiple channels including online research, other books as well as using primary sources
  • A Table of Contents can be used to make reading and completing the writing of the book easier
  • A typical self-published nonfiction book is only about 20,000 – 40,000 words in length compared to a 50,000 – 100,000 word novel average, depending on the genre
  • A nonfiction book can solve a problem or provide solutions for any informational topic, small or large
  • They can be written much more quickly than a novel in most cases

Writing Your Next Book

Those considering authoring a book may decide to write about what they love, a story they have in mind, or just about a compelling topic. But some writers want to publish a successful book and look specifically at data that will help them find the most profitable book type to write instead. But the truth is that both of these pathways to becoming an author can lead to a fulfilling, productive, and successful writing career. And knowing that nonfiction books may be more profitable for some authors due to the relative ease of writing one in comparison to penning a fictional tale as well as nonfiction’s growing popularity, you might decide to test the waters with a nonfiction publication for your next project. And Publishing Xpress is ready to help you turn your draft into a beautifully bound and printed book, ready for a new audience to discover.

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