Monday, August 1, 2011

What’s the Most Popular Genre?

Clarissa asked an interesting question: What’s the most popular genre sold in bookstores? Unfortunately this is not a simple question. There are so many variables that change the numbers. Some of these variables include:

Location: the most popular genres are different across countries, states, suburbs. I know that my local bookstore sells more children’s and young adult books than the bookstores in the city. It all depends on the demographics. It also depends on the shop itself. Independent bookstores tend to sell more literary fiction and non-fiction rather than genre fiction.

Date: the numbers vary widely from month to month depending on the current bestsellers—for example the popularity of the Harry Potter books made children’s books rocket into the most popular lists for a long while.

World events: For example, when the world falls into an economic crisis, the population turns to gambling. Strange, but true. Likewise, fanciful stories become more popular when people feel unsafe. For example, superheroes were born during the time of the world wars.

Trends: popular trends drive much of the market. A plethora of paranormal romance books are now popular in many locations because of the runaway success of the Twilight books and movies.

Data Accessibility: There are a number of holes in the accessibility of information regarding what exactly is most popular. Publishers of course know their own numbers through the royalty figures. Since 2001 in Australia that data has become a lot more public through a data provider called BookScan which provides point of sale data. It has allowed all the publishers to know how all the others are selling.

I found a list on Rachelle Gardner’s blog which might give you a vague idea of the popularity of genres. Remember, in terms of popularity, this is highly generalised and is subject to change depending on the variables I’ve mentioned above and it does not include children’s or young adult books. It’s also not a list of actual sales, but deals made in October 2010 and April 2011 covering 309 books:

38% General/other (non-genre fiction)
30% Women’s/Romance
11% Thriller
10% Mystery/Crime
6% Sci-fi/Fantasy
5% Paranormal
<1% Horror

The average writer can’t afford to tap into the data offered by BookScan because publishers pay $10k plus a year for the privilege. So, how do we find out the numbers for ourselves? We build a relationship with our local bookstores and libraries and we ask them.

What genres do you like to read and which ones do you like to write in and why?

If you’d like me to answer any questions, just leave them in the comments or send me an email.


  1. I read many different genres across the board.But, I write paranormal/horror coupled sometimes with slapstick,mayhem, and dark humor.

  2. Romance will always be my favorite genre. Even if I read another genre, it must have an element of romance. If it doesn't, I'm not interested.
    Good post! Very interesting.

  3. here in my country the absolute number one genre are the female books, so called chicklit. It takes probably about 70% of sales here.

    I personally love history, sf and profound sagas set in any period. And I love intelligent books with refined messages.

  4. I read most genres. As for writing, it's YA. Just not sure yet if it's standard or SciFi YA :)

  5. I'll read most genres, but I prefer YA, mystery, horror, and fantasy/paranormal. I write most of the same.

    When I worked a public library, it seemed mystery was very popular. They were always checking out.

  6. Romance near the top? That doesn't surprise me. I read science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, and occasionally horror. That surprises me it's such a low number. Stephen King will be bummed.

  7. I read a lot of literary, historical, and fantasy novels (which I also write). I've read two "romance" novels and a handful of women's literature. I don't think I'm the target audience for those. :)

  8. Shelly, yep, it's good to read a wide range of different genres.

    E R King, I prefer my romance when its mixed into other genres (as opposed to straight romance).

    Dezzy, wow, that's a huge stake in the market! Shame I don't write chicklit ;)

    Sarah, you could write both! :)

  9. Cherie, yep, I always thought mystery was higher in the lists because I'm always seeing people reading them. Or so it seems.

    Alex, nah, Stephen King has the monopoly on horror. My problem with reading horror is that I can't read it at night ;)

    L G Smith, hahaha me neither ;)

  10. Yay for romance! I read other genres but romance is my thing!

  11. It's so interesting. :) I like reading pretty much anything, but I'm a fantasy writer all the way.

  12. Romance consistently nabs a mando slice of the pie.

  13. I did ask that question but now I don't want to know.

    ;) Just joking.

    Why I asked the question is because I'm having a difficult time finding fellow mystery writers and critique partners. I thought everyone else is writing another genre. However, mystery is one of the most popular genres. Funny that.

  14. Very cool information! I read pretty widely - I like: romance, romantic suspense, fantasy, sci fi, and tame thrillers (I'm a wimp!) - as well as YA ang MG! :)

  15. I read and write thrillers. Why? Good question. I've yet to figure out the answer that question. I think it has something to do with being able to "push the envelope."
    You know, kill people, blow stuff up, scare my readers, keep them on the edge of their seats.

    Hummmmmm...I'm a sick puppy. LOL.

  16. I write historical romance.
    I read historical/cont/paranormal romance, mystery, thriller, and sci-fi.
    It's funny how, given that women's ficiton/romance is the most popular genre, romance writing is still treated w/disdain like they're not real books. Looking at the numbers is a little validating. :)

  17. For me it's not so much the genre as the writing and the plot that draws me. If the voice hooks me on page one, I'll read it. I usually read MG and YA and within that is literary to commercial. I love a good story!

  18. Fascinating, especially how hero-type stories flourish in times of war. Interesting that dystopian is popular now....also interesting that independent bookstores tend to sell more literary fiction! ;o)

  19. I generallt read fantasy. Sometimes they're crossed with science fiction, but on the whole, it's fantasy.
    So I guess it stands to reason that I write fantasy (some of which is also crossed with sci fi).

    Though the one I self-published ... I suppose it could be called a fantasy/paranormal-verging-on-being-slightly-occult romance with a dash of historical. I've still no idea where it came from. Okay, I do, I dreamt, but you know ... 'tis not what I read.

    As for why ... because I simply must write. I worry about genre later. ^_^

  20. I generally like to read what I write. Literary. But I love women's fiction, thriller and slipstream too :o) Interesting facts. I wonder what 'specific' genres are included under 'general'? Surely it's not just 'mainstream'?

  21. Interesting questions. Personally, I like to read and write science fiction. I also like horror. Unfortunately, science fiction doesn't seem to sell as well as other genres.

    Working in a supermarket that sells books, I can tell you we sell more crime/thriller books then anything else. Woman's and general fiction comes second. We hardly ever stock horror, but when we do they sell very well. We also sell a lot of YA speculative fiction.

    Ellie Garratt

  22. Amazing stats for non-genre fiction books!!

    Thanks for such an interesting breakdown!

    I always say this - my tastes are so eclectic - I don't really have a preferred genre, more a preferred author!!

    Take care

  23. I read many different genres, but I'm an historical girl, through and through. ;) Always have been since I was old enough to read.

  24. I don't seem to read anything except history at the moment. Good thing I like research.

  25. I read paranormal/UF romance and just about anything within the YA realm. For some reason, when it comes to YA, I read a lot more widely than I do in the adult genres!

  26. I write fantasy and paranormal romance. Frankly, there has to be a slight romantic element in the stories I read to keep my interest...but it sucks that fantasy and sci-fi are near the bottom considering that most of Rachelle Gardner's followers, according to her poll, are fantasy/sci-fi writers.

  27. I read somewhere that the figures for favourite genres are changing due to the fact that people can download books onto their Kindle that they might not have wanted to be seen reading in public. They can pretend to be reading a literary book when in fact it's a light romance.

    When I'm relaxing I prefer to read mysteries and good old fashioned who-dun-its.

  28. Great post, but I feel like there's so much to go into that another post of two would be equally interesting. For instance, what exactly is in non-genre fiction? Where does historical fiction fall? Do people who buy hardbacks differ from e-readers regarding purchasing habits? Now I'm really curious;\:)

  29. makes sense. I think women do most of the reading, and romance is a big genre. I write in both, so yay! Win~ :D <3

  30. I read many different genres. They are usually mood based. There are times I will just pick an author and read everything they have written. I love a good story!

  31. Nas, I had guessed that ;)

    Bethany, yep, I love fantasy too.

    Suze, it does. It's why I try to insert a little bit of romance in all my stories.

    Clarissa, maybe the mystery writers are the most quiet. ;)

    Jemi, haha I'm a wimp too.

    Bryce, lol.

    Erin, many of the 'most popular' in any genre also get that disdain. It might have something to do with a recognisable formula. Not sure.

  32. Laura, yes, voice is crucial.

    Carol, I've heard dystopian has passed trend-wise (of course--because I've recently come up with a dystopian story lol).

    Aldrea, hehe yep sometimes the story takes over and demands the genre regardless of trends.

    Jessica, general is generally (lol) non-genre. So that's mainstream, sometimes literary, stories of people in real situations with real issues in real places. Anything that's difficult to categorise.

    Ellie, yep, it's a shame when our favourite genres aren't the most popular. It doesn't stop us writing in them though.

  33. Old Kitty, I used to have a prefered author but it's rare for them to maintain the brilliance of their first few books. Now I have prefered stories ;)

    Alyssia, I love to read historical, but I wouldn't write it because it requires so much research to get right.

    Al, indeed ;)

    Sarah, there is a strong appeal in YA books. Overall they seem more positive.

    Laila, yep, I found that interesting--that there are more scifi/fantasy writers than there are readers. Which says to me, most scifi/fantasy readers are also writers. Perhaps it's the escapist elements of that genre that makes people want to write their own worlds.

    Rosalind, hahaha that's a great factor. I hadn't thought of that, but it makes sense.

  34. Mark, wow, good questions. I'll see if I can do some research and answer them in another post.

    LTM, yep, you've definitely made it easier for yourself ;)

    Maeve, good stories win every time.

  35. I like sci-fi, but more on the softer side.

    My mini market test was interesting. Romance has been my slowest seller.

  36. I read mostly Fantasy, some YA and thriller

  37. I am so eclectic in what I read. The only thing I don't read it erotica and horror. I love YA the most though. Give me a great book where the character is dynamic. I love coming of age books.

  38. Great post. there are genres I watch but don't tend to read like historical, classics, crime and sci fi. I tend to read realistic fiction, chick lit, autobiographies. I guess it's because of the style of writing. :O)

  39. I read and write YA and MG spec fic, though my reading strays to more areas than that. I love writing middle grade, because for me those years were a time that books just transported me, and I'd love to do that for someone else! YA lets me go to places MG can't, and explore the ideas that come next in life.

  40. I have been wondering about this for some time. Thanks for posting about it. I once asked in a Kindle group what they purchased most this year. The one that stood out was mystery.

  41. I LOVE fantasy.... I read and enjoy epic, but I write m/g and y/a only.

    I also enjoy reading memoirs, chick lit (rarely for fun), and edgy fiction.

    I also write y/a edgy contemporary.

  42. Fantasy/paranormal is my cup of tea!
    However, YA and thriller are my cups of coffee. :D

  43. I read several genres, but so far I have only written MG fiction. From past few months I have been reading lots of YA books.

  44. YA is definitely my favorite thing to read and write -- specifically urban fantasy. Great post!

  45. Somehow I think that list might be misleading and not accurately reflect actual sales figures. I recall trying to do some research related to the BookScan or similar data and you are right, it is difficult to get the info.

    Tossing It Out

  46. M Pax, interesting

    Jeff, many YA readers here, which is a good thing :)

    Betsy, yes, dynamic characters are wonderful

    Madeleine, interesting you say its because of the style of writing.

    Amie, yes, there is a wonderful charm about MG

    Cindy, I honestly think mystery is more popular than the stats often seem to indicate.

    Michael, lol, I like that you specified that you rarely read chicklit for fun ;)

  47. Funny, lol nice way of putting it

    Rachna, YA seems to be quite popular.

    Jenna, yes, I'm somewhat newish to urban fantasy. I used to avoid it, but now I love it.

    Lee, absolutely. That's why I stressed it was only deals, not sales. The stats are so changeable. It's a good thing in the long run it doesn't matter so much for the writer--we have to write what's in our hearts.


I'd love to hear your opinion. Thanks for leaving a comment.