Updated: Jan 21
As a writer, getting your book published and making your writing profitable can be difficult. There are so many genres and so little time to write. When you sit down to write, a few things may come to mind: What do I want to write about? What is my story? Do I want to write fiction or nonfiction? Fantasy or Mystery? Romance or Horror? Will people enjoy my book? And even once you know what topic or genre you want to focus on, the questions can still pile up: Will people like my story? Will it sell? How do I know if people will be interested in my book? How much money does this genre usually make? How do I get a book publishing deal? How many books of this genre are actually popular? Worry no more, we’re here to help. Here’s a list of the five most profitable literary genres:
Romance & Erotica: the romance novel industry is worth almost 1.5 billion dollars, with the highest earners grossing between 50 and 150 million dollars. Danielle Steel, the best-selling romance writer, has sold over 800 million copies. The genre itself has many off-shoots and sub genres, including paranormal romance and historical romance. Young adult sci-fi novels are also often included within the genre, as many of them have romantic sub themes. Though the genre has the highest amount of revenues, the books are most often purchased in e-book format, whereas, crime novels and other genres are most often purchased in paperback.
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Mystery & Crime: Mystery and crime novels have been very popular since Arthur Conan Doyle wrote Sherlock Holmes in 1892. A 730-million-dollar industry, the mystery and crime genres are the second highest-earning genre. In recent years, fiction bestsellers have been mostly crime thrillers, and Hachette and Penguin Random House holds 75% of the market on the genre. Within the top 20 best-selling books of all time, Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” is #7, with 100 million copies sold. Classic and intricate mysteries like the Sherlock Holmes stories stand the test of time. A good mystery can always draw a crowd.
Inspirational, Religious, & Self-Help: Though many people steer away from the “Self-Help” section of the bookstore, it is home to the third-largest grossing genre. This genre is usually oriented towards a more specific writer— the most popular books are usually memoirs like “Becoming,” which was on Oprah’s 2019 best-sellers list. The most prominent marketing strategy for these types of novels is simply the reputation, glamour, and popularity of the writer. Seven of the 20 books on Oprah’s list were self-help and/or religious. Two of the twenty have more religious themes, while the other four are mainly self-help or inspirational novels. But some say the genre isn’t as rigid as it seems, even including “The Alchemist” as a transformative book in the religious genre. The genre itself has made more than 720 million dollars in revenue, despite its seemingly “bad” reputation.
Fantasy & Science Fiction (Mostly Young Adult): Among the 20 best-selling books of all time, about 12 of them were modern novels, and 8-10 of those were in the sci-fi, fantasy genre: The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe, and six of the Harry Potter books. This genre is a fairly recent and independent money-maker: sci-fi/fantasy book sales have doubled in the last decade and almost 48% of all sci-fi book sales are self-published or Amazon published. As a 590-million-dollar industry, fantasy and sci-fi novels, especially in the young adult sub genre, are very popular, and the industry is ever-growing.
Thrillers & Horror: Much like the crime and mystery genre, many people enjoy a good scare. Usually overlapping with fantasy and mystery, the thriller and horror genre is number five, valued at $80 million because of its smaller, more niche audience. Stephen King, the leading author in horror, has sold more than 350 million copies and made almost 400 million dollars, and runner-up, Dean Koontz, making $125 million. This genre, much like the romance genre, has many sub genres and flexibility. Koontz is well known for incorporating satire, mystery, and fantasy into his horror.
So, now you have some idea of the popularity of the different genres. It is true: we can’t all be Danielle Steel, Michelle Obama, or Stephen King, but who knows what potential your novel has? The romance genre, though it makes the most money, is heavily saturated with self-published books. So, perhaps your romance-thriller would do well through Amazon publishing, and your sci-fi crime novel might be more successful in print. The possibilities are endless.