Cash and Categories: Which Genres Sell?

Today, we’re providing an insight into the ever-so-slightly touch-and-go territory of literary styles, their popularity, and consequently, how much they sell. This can be kind of a sensitive area because as an author, you really should be able to write whatever you want- and you can- but it doesn’t hurt to be clued into which genres sell the best in this day and age.

Which Genres Sell?

Romance: People take to media of all forms for escapism, and when it comes to literature, the mothership of escapism is undoubtedly the romance genre. Take a plausible, nearly true-to-life setting with a fictional angle, and you have yourself a book that a reader can easily imagine themselves living in, projecting themselves onto the rich, interesting characters and into the amorous and maybe sultry depths of the story. People long for romance, and in a world of disappointing first dates and insanity-inducing matchmaking apps, cracking open a love story that has the capacity to be heartwarming, heartbreaking, funny and sexy all-in-one is much more appealing. Romance has held the crown on best-sellers for decades, and it doesn’t look like that will change soon.

Horror: People love to be scared in that kind of “thrill of riding a rollercoaster” way, and the best horror writers know exactly how to get under a reader’s skin and hold a mirror up to their deepest fears. Horror is a literary tree with many different branches, as it permeates a great number of other genres, often with great success. Young adult horror, romance horror, sci-fi horror, fantasy horror, horror-thrillers and horror-comedy are all established crossovers, not to mention all of horror’s own specific subgenres, such as body horror, cosmic horror, apocalyptic horror, gothic horror, the list goes on. Authors such as the beloved Stephen King have sold over three-hundred million books, elevating the popularity of the genre and paving the way for new authors.

Sci-Fi: Science-fiction is another genre that often crosses over with other genres to create interesting fusions and intriguing concepts. Within the sci-fi horror genre, for example, exists Michael Crichton’s classic “Jurassic Park”, a novel that is as terrifying when it delves into the science behind it as it is when Crichton is describing a character being torn to pieces. “Star Wars” and adjacent books that abandon the specifics of science and opt instead for grand tales of space travel inhabit the “space opera” or “science-fantasy” subgenres. Cyberpunk is another that borrows from genres such as dystopia and noir, often concerning collapsing societies, authoritarian governments and economic decay, such as Phillip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”.

Self-Help: Moving away from fiction, self-help is a non-fiction genre that people flock to in droves, particularly when they are feeling lost. Self-help sells well because it appeals to people’s desire to find meaning and contentment in their own lives, and moreover, there are self-help books for everything life could throw at a person. Love life troubles, mental illness, confidence, procrastination and bad habits, you name it, there’s a self-help book out there aimed at helping you to your feet when you feel beaten down.

Memoirs and Biography/Autobiography: Biographies are a great way for readers to delve into the lives of fascinating figures throughout history-living or dead- such as celebrities, political leaders, religious figures, criminals, and everything in between. Moreover, an autobiography or memoir allows for audiences to gain an intimate look into the lives of well-known individuals, straight from- or mostly from- the horses’ mouth, so to speak.

Should Sales Truly Dictate What You Write?

As you can see, we’ve highlighted just a small handful of genres that sell. There are some seemingly popular genres that don’t sell quite as well, and some genres that have died out a little bit. Poetry, for example, is a niche market, and it can be hard to sell poetry books. Genres such as hard-boiled crime, military pulp fiction and westerns have also declined greatly since their boom in the mid-late 20th century.

That being said, don’t let numbers dictate everything you write. There are still plenty of writers who find success by being, well, good writers. As we have said time and time again, if your sole concern with your own writing is to make a stack of cash, then you might be approaching it with the wrong attitude.

02 Jun 2023