book genres

Book Genres: Finding the Perfect Fit

Salmaan Ahmad

Salmaan Ahmad

April 20, 2023

There are several different book genres, but most books fit into one of the standard, recognizable categories recognized by the publishing industry. If you’ve just come up with an idea for a book, you may be wondering which book genres or subgenres it might belong to. Here’s a look at some of the top-selling categories.

What Are Book Genres?

The word genre refers to a particular style of music, art, dance, or writing. The choice of book genres affects everything about your book, including the focus, mood, and expected plot development. Readers of specific book genres expect a certain experience when they pick up a book in their favorite category. Writers who can create that experience in a unique, creative way are writers who command loyal followings and reach best-seller status.

Why Your Choice of Book Genres Matter

Book readers tend to prefer certain book genres over others. Most readers have two or three types they gravitate to over and over, and they usually won’t read much in other book genres.

These readers have lofty expectations when they pick up a new writer in their favorite category. They want a plot-driven reading experience that matches the typical outlines of their favorite books. If you fail to meet those expectations, your readers will be disappointed, and that leads to bad reviews and low sales.

Subgenres Also Matter

Even within book genres, readers have their favorites. For instance, an avid romance fiction reader may prefer romances that follow the “friends to enemies” plotline, the “meet cute,” or those that feature “an alpha male lead.” Readers of historical fiction divide between those that demand some solid historical facts as the basis for the story, and those who don’t care as long as it’s a well-told tale. Among mystery readers, there are those who like dark, disturbing stories about twisted killers, and those who like books that focus on the detective and police work. Others prefer so-called cozy mysteries.

When you choose your book genres, think about the subgenre readers you’re aiming at. Keep those readers firmly in your mind as you write. What do they expect from your book, and can you deliver it?

If you’re not writing for a particular book genre, you’re probably writing contemporary fiction or experimental fiction. This gives you considerably more leeway to reject plot formulas, characters, and other reader expectations that go along with genre fiction. However, you must make up for that by creating a rewarding reading experience for readers that accept the challenge of reading something that’s out of their comfort zone.

If you’re writing nonfiction, the rules may not be as strict, but readers still have a set of expectations you must meet to get their attention.

What Are the Most Popular Book Genres?

According to sales figures, the most profitable book genres are:

  • Romance
  • Mystery and thrillers
  • Religious/inspirational nonfiction
  • Science fiction and fantasy
  • Horror

What Are the Basic Book Genres?

All books can be classified into two basic types: nonfiction and fiction. Within those, there are several different subgenres.

Fiction Genres

  • Romance
  • Mystery
  • Thriller
  • Historical Fiction
  • Suspense
  • Horror
  • Fantasy
  • Women’s Fiction
  • Contemporary Fiction
  • Graphic Novel
  • Young Adult
  • Children’s

Nonfiction Genres

  • How-To
  • Biography
  • History
  • Food and Drink
  • Art and Photography
  • Parenting
  • Science and Technology
  • Self-Help
  • Social Issue
  • Life Guide
  • Spiritual Development
  • Political Issue
  • Memoir
  • Travel Guide
  • True Crime
  • Children’s Nonfiction

A Closer Look at the Book Genres

As we noted above, readers of each genre have their favorite subgenres. Here are some popular category breakdowns you might explore when creating your book.

Romance Subgenres

Romance readers want to be swept away on an emotional journey that ends happily despite the obstacles to true love.

  • Contemporary: As the name suggests, this is romance set in the modern era featuring real-life settings and relatable characters. Some popular titles in this category are The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks and Virgin River by Robyn Carr.
  • Historical: This genre is set in the past and offers readers a glimpse into the past through a romantic story. Well-known writers of this genre include Sarah McLean and Lisa Kleypas.
  • Sweet romance: This subgenre refers to romances that have no explicit or adult scenes. Examples include My Kind of Christmas by Janet Dailey and books by Kathleen Fuller.
  • Paranormal: This popular subgenre adds a touch of fantasy to the romance. Well-known titles include The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and the Sookie Stackouse novels by Charlaine Harris, which became the HBO series “True Blood.”

Science Fiction and Fantasy Subgenres

Readers of this genre want writers to create alternate, believable worlds where magic and fantasy are key parts of the story.

  • Alternate history: This explores what might have happened if certain historical events had gone another direction. Bring the Jubilee by Ward Moore imagines what the country would be like if the Confederacy had won the Civil War.
  • High fantasy: This subgenre deals with an imaginary world and features a young hero facing a tremendous personal challenge. Examples include The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien and The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan.
  • Dystopian: These stories paint a bleak picture of the future. Famous examples include The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

Mystery/Thriller Subgenres

Mystery readers enjoy a well-plotted story with enough clues to help them figure out who did it and why.

  • Police procedural: These books focus on the detectives who try to solve a crime and the forensics involved. Some well-known examples include The Night Fire by Michael Connelly and Along Came a Spider by James Patterson.
  • Serial killer: Stories about dark, disturbing criminals are a sure hit among readers who want to experience a thrill while reading.
  • Cozy mysteries: These are usually set in small towns and feature unprofessional sleuths who solve mysteries with the help of their friends or even their cats. Examples include The Booktown Mystery Series by Lorna Barrett and the Dead-End Job Mystery Series by Elaine Viets.
  • True crime: True crime readers want to read real-life accounts of killers from the past and the present. This is a nonfiction genre, but it has some similarities to the mystery and thriller genre.

Popular Nonfiction Genres

According to Amazon’s sales listing, the top-selling nonfiction book genres are:

  • Religion and spirituality
  • Biography and memoir
  • Business and money
  • Self-help
  • Cookbooks, food, and wine

Religion/spirituality subgenres

People read religious and spiritual books because they’re in search of deeper meaning. Some read to reinforce their beliefs, and others want to explore the possibility of becoming more spiritual.

  • Self-help: The most popular books in this category include those that also offer practical advice for daily life. Some examples include Think Like a Monk by Jay Shetty and Think Better, Live Better by Joel Osteen.
  • Biography/memoir: Many popular religious books feature the way religion helped someone overcome obstacles. Top sellers in this category include Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist and Shaken by Tim Tebow.
  • Inspirational how-to: This subgenre includes books that help readers awaken their own spiritual strength. They include The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp and Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely by Lysa TerkEurst.

Self-help subgenres

Self-help continues to be an immensely popular category. Most publishers group self-help books into five distinct subgenres or formats.

  • Step-by-step books: These feature a practical how-to that helps you achieve a set goal.
  • Progression books: The author focuses on small, incremental changes instead of specific how-to instructions.
  • Recovery: These books help people heal from addiction, grief, or other difficult situations.
  • Exercise books: These are structured like workbooks that give readers specific tasks to complete.
  • Component-based books: These books break down complicated subjects into smaller, digestible sections.

What Is Your Chosen Genre?

We’ve explored some of the most popular genres and subgenres in publishing. Does your book fit any of these categories? If you’re ready to write it, keep your readers and their expectations in mind as you write.

When you want a full-service, reliable publisher for a book in any genre, talk to Publishing Xpress.

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