A comprehensive guide to the different types of books

➡️  There are 19 major fiction genres and 5 major non-fiction genres.

➡️  Each type of book has differences in target audience, market appeal, expected word count, and price point

➡️  Knowing the conventions of each type of book helps you outline and write a great book for fans of your genre.

There are dozens of different book genres, from adventure fiction to self-help books. Many books also fall into multiple genres, and there are some well-known crossovers, such as fantasy and science fiction, or crime and mystery novels.

Each type of book has a different audience, ideal word count, and price point. If you’re thinking about writing genre fiction, it’s a good idea to know the conventions for your chosen genre before you start writing or planning your book.

Here’s everything you need to know about the different types of books.

What are the different types of books?

Here’s a rundown of every main book genre, including 19 fiction and 5 non-fiction book types:

Fiction

  • Adventure stories
  • Classics
  • Crime
  • Fairy tales, fables, and folk tales
  • Fantasy
  • Historical fiction
  • Horror
  • Humour and satire
  • Literary fiction
  • Mystery
  • Poetry
  • Plays
  • Romance
  • Science fiction
  • Short stories
  • Thrillers
  • War
  • Women’s fiction
  • Young adult

Non-fiction

  • Autobiography and memoir
  • Biography
  • Essays
  • Non-fiction novel
  • Self-help

What’s the most popular book genre?

All readers have different tastes, so it’s tricky to determine which book genre is most popular. However, taking a look at the all-time bestseller list (excluding religious texts) may shed some light on book genre popularity:

Title & author

Books sold*

Primary genre

A Tale Of Two Cities — Charles Dickens

200 million

Historical fiction

The Little Prince — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

200 million

Adventure

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone — JK Rowling

120 million

Fantasy

And Then There Were None — Agatha Christie

100 million

Mystery

Dream Of The Red Chamber — Cao Xueqin

100 million

Classics

The Hobbit — JRR Tolkien

100 million

Fantasy

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — CS Lewis

85 million

Fantasy

She: A History of Adventure — H. Rider Haggard

83 million

Adventure

The Da Vinci Code — Dan Brown

80 million

Mystery

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets — JK Rowling

77 million

Fantasy

*Figures taken from Wikipedia in April 2022. Rounded to the nearest million books sold.

With nearly half of these bestsellers falling into the fantasy genre, this is arguably the most popular type of book among readers. This is backed up by the popularity of series like Harry Potter, Lord Of The Rings, and A Song Of Ice And Fire.

Every book genre, explained

Let’s take a look at each of the major types of books in more depth, with key information for writers looking to explore each genre.

1. Adventure stories

Adventure novels whisk readers off to faraway lands. Unlike fantasy novels, they tend to stay in the real world (although there’s often a lot of crossover between these genres). Children’s novels often fall into the adventure category, since they’re designed to spark imaginations.

Adventure story bestsellers:

  • The Little Prince — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  • She: A History of Adventure — H. Rider Haggard
  • The Alchemist — Paulo Coelho

Number of adventure books available on Amazon: 60,000+

Average word count: 96,000 words

Average price for a paperback adventure book: £8.99

2. Classics

Classics encompass a range of genres — but they always stand the test of time. Classics include centuries-old stories like Homer’s Odyssey, but also more modern novels that have drawn significant acclaim and attention, such Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and George Orwell’s 1984.

Classic fiction bestsellers:

  • A Tale Of Two Cities — Charles Dickens
  • Dream Of The Red Chamber — Cao Xueqin
  • The Catcher in the Rye — JD Salinger

Number of classic books available on Amazon: 60,000+

Average word count: 96,000 words

Average price for a paperback classics book: £6.88

3. Crime

From murder mysteries to true crime stories, crime is an enduringly popular genre. It tells terrifying stories of wrongdoing, and the search for justice. This genre can be very lucrative, with many authors becoming household names, such as Agatha Christie, Val McDermid, and Harlan Coben.

Crime bestsellers:

  • And Then There Were None — Agatha Christie
  • The Godfather — Mario Puzo
  • Gone Girl — Gillian Flynn

Number of crime novels available on Amazon: 70,000+

Average word count: 89,000 words

Average price for a paperback crime novel: £8.94

4. Fairy tales, fables, and folk tales

Folk tales date back to ancient times, with Aesop being perhaps the most famous curator of these short-form stories. Many fairy tales are actually of unknown origin, but have survived through retellings down the generations. Modern fairy tale writers like Angela Carter often put a contemporary spin on traditional tales.

Fairy tale bestsellers:

  • The Adventures of Pinocchio — Carlo Collodi
  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull — Richard Bach

Number of fairy and folk tale anthologies available on Amazon: 3,000+

Average word count: 30,000 words

Average price for a paperback book of fairy tales: £10.66

5. Fantasy

Fantasy books are probably the most popular modern book genre. Thanks to series like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, it’s particularly popular with young adult readers, although more and more fantasy novels are written for adults (George RR Martin, we’re looking at you). These stories take readers on a journey beyond the known world, to places conjured in the author’s imagination.

Fantasy bestsellers:

  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone — JK Rowling
  • The Hobbit — JRR Tolkien
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — CS Lewis

Number of fantasy books available on Amazon: 60,000+

Average word count: 109,000 words

Average price for a paperback fantasy book: £10.44

6. Historical fiction

Authors like Hilary Mantel and Toni Morrison have popularised the historical fiction genre in recent years. These books give readers a glimpse into the past, with many stories set in times of great conflict and change.

Historical fiction bestsellers:

  • A Tale Of Two Cities — Charles Dickens
  • Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ — Lew Wallace
  • The Name of the Rose — Umberto Eco

Number of historical fiction books available on Amazon: 70,000+

Average word count: 102,000 words

Average price for a paperback historical fiction book: £8.99

7. Horror

People never tire of being terrified — so horror novels remain some of the bestselling books in the world. While the genre has origins in Gothic stories like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, authors like Stephen King and R L Stine have modernised horror for adults and children alike. The genre has also spawned hundreds of popular horror movies.

Horror bestsellers:

  • Flowers in the Attic — VC Andrews
  • Rebecca — Daphne Du Maurier
  • Jaws — Peter Benchley

Number of horror books available on Amazon: 70,000+

Average word count: 102,000 words

Average price for a paperback horror novel: £8.89

8. Humour and satire

From dark dystopian satire like A Clockwork Orange to comedic memoirs, the humour genre spans a range of titles. Comedy writing is a real art, so this genre can be hard to pull off for new writers — but a funny book is truly unputdownable.

Humour bestsellers:

  • Animal Farm — George Orwell
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn — Mark Twain
  • The Good Soldier Švejk — Jaroslav Hašek

Number of humour books available on Amazon: 70,000+

Average word count: No data available

Average price for a paperback humour novel: £8.89

9. Literary fiction

Literary fiction is reserved for books that don’t slot neatly into more traditional genres, although it can also be used to differentiate from lighter fiction. Most literary fiction books are character-driven rather than plot-driven, so they tend to be more introspective and meandering.

Literary fiction bestsellers:

  • The Catcher in the Rye — JD Salinger
  • To Kill a Mockingbird — Harper Lee
  • War and Peace — Leo Tolstoy

Number of literary fiction books available on Amazon: 80,000+

Average word count: 98,000 words

Average price for a paperback literary fiction novel: £8.99

10. Mystery

Mystery is often seen as a subset of the crime genre, but it’s so popular and enduring that it deserves a category of its own. Agatha Christie, master of the whodunit, is the second bestselling author in history, after William Shakespeare. Mysteries are full of suspense, and usually keep the reader guessing until the last moment.

Mystery bestsellers:

  • And Then There Were None — Agatha Christie
  • The Da Vinci Code — Dan Brown
  • Angels & Demons — Dan Brown

Number of mystery books available on Amazon: 70,000+

Average word count: 91,000 words

Average price for a paperback mystery novel: £8.99

11. Poetry

Poetry is completely different to novels in form, structure, and style. It contains a wealth of genres in itself, from nonsense verse to war poetry. Poetry has fallen somewhat out of favour in modern book sales, though poets like Amanda Gorman and Ocean Vuong are repopularising the form.

Bestselling poets:

  • William Shakespeare
  • Alexander Pushkin
  • Roald Dahl

Number of poetry books available on Amazon: 30,000+

Average word count: No data available

Average price for a paperback poetry collection: £10.19

12. Plays

Plays are written to be performed rather than read, but they’re still seen as a key literary genre. This is largely due to the enduring popularity of Shakespeare’s plays, as well as other theatrical greats like Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire and Oscar Wilde’s Salome.

Bestselling playwrights:

  • William Shakespeare
  • Alexander Pushkin

Number of playscript books available on Amazon: 60,000+

Average page count: 90-130 pages

Average price for a paperback playscript: £11.36

13. Romance

Everyone enjoys a good love story — which is why romance novels are one of the most popular types of books. Romance authors Barbara Cartland and Danielle Steel are the third and fourth bestselling fiction writers, with more than 2 billion book sales between them. Even non-romance novels often have a romantic arc at their centre, proving that love and relationships are central to many great stories.

Romance bestsellers:

  • The Bridges of Madison County — Robert James Waller
  • Love Story — Erich Segal
  • The Fault in Our Stars — John Green

Number of romance books available on Amazon: 60,000+

Average word count: 91,000 words

Average price for a paperback romance novel: £8.99

14. Science fiction

From Stan Lee to Ursula K Le Guin, there’s no shortage of famous sci-fi writers. The genre has grown in popularity thanks to the boom in science fiction films based on books, such as Dune and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Sci-fi is often combined with fantasy, and there are some similarities between these types of books. But sci-fi books are usually bound by the laws of science as we know them in the real world.

Sci-fi bestsellers:

  • Nineteen Eighty-Four — George Orwell
  • Dune — Frank Herbert
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy — Douglas Adams

Number of sci-fi books available on Amazon: 60,000+

Average word count: 98,000 words

Average price for a paperback sci-fi novel: £8.16

15. Short stories and novellas

Short stories are often found in anthologies or collections, which can be by the same or a variety of authors. Like poetry, short stories tend to be less popular with modern readers, though they remain popular with writers.

Short story bestsellers:

  • James Bond stories — Ian Fleming
  • Perry Mason stories — Erle Stanley Gardner
  • Jack Reacher — Lee Child

Number of short story collections available on Amazon: 60,000+

Average word count: 30,000 words

Average price for a paperback short story collection: £10.19

16. Thrillers

Thrillers are your typical page-turner. Full of action and suspense, thrillers can also often cross genres, particularly with crime and mystery. John Grisham, Stieg Larsson, and Gillian Flynn are some of the most popular thriller authors writing today, with Flynn’s Gone Girl among the top three bestselling books in the genre.

Thriller bestsellers:

  • The Eagle Has Landed — Jack Higgins
  • The Girl on the Train — Paula Hawkins
  • Gone Girl — Gillian Flynn

Number of thriller books available on Amazon: 60,000+

Average word count: 91,000 words

Average price for a paperback thriller novel: £8.99

17. War

War is a truly formative experience, on an individual, national, and international level. Perhaps that’s why stories of war fascinate readers the world over, and remain such an enduring theme in modern fiction. War stories are often (though not always) a subset of historical fiction.

War bestsellers:

  • The Eagle Has Landed — Jack Higgins
  • All Quiet on the Western Front — Eric Maria Remarque
  • All the Light We Cannot See — Anthony Doerr

Number of war novels available on Amazon: 40,000+

Average word count: 102,000 words

Average price for a paperback war novel: £8.99

18. Women’s fiction

Women’s fiction describes books that centre on the experiences and actions of female characters. It’s a somewhat controversial term — some people don’t like generalising fiction on a gendered basis — but it’s a common way for publishers to market these books. Women’s fiction encompasses books as wide-ranging as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americana to Jojo Moyes’s Me Before You.

Women’s fiction bestsellers:

  • The Women's Room — Marilyn French
  • Pride and Prejudice — Jane Austen
  • Fear of Flying — Erica Jong

Number of women’s fiction novels available on Amazon: 60,000+

Average word count: 94,000 words

Average price for a paperback women’s fiction novel: £8.99

19. Young adult fiction

Despite being targeted at 13-18 year olds, young adult books have sold more than perhaps any other genre in recent years. This is thanks to hugely popular series like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Twilight. YA books often have a secondary genre, too — Harry Potter and Twilight, for example, are fantasy novels, while John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars is a romance.

YA fiction bestsellers:

  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone — JK Rowling
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets — JK Rowling
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban — JK Rowling

Number of YA fiction novels available on Amazon: 70,000+

Average word count: 70,000 words

Average price for a paperback YA fiction novel: £9.39

20. Autobiography and memoir

Memoirs and autobiographies are popular among self-publishing writers who have incredible life stories to share. Many famous figures also write autobiographies, or hire a ghostwriter to write one on their behalf, giving fans a glimpse into their lives.

Autobiography and memoir bestsellers:

  • The Diary of Anne Frank — Anne Frank
  • Autobiography of a Yogi — Paramahansa Yogananda
  • Wolf Totem — Jiang Rong

Number of autobiography books available on Amazon: 70,000+

Average word count: No data available

Average price for a paperback autobiography: £9.99

21. Biography

There are millions of real-life stories out there just waiting to be told. Unlike autobiographies and memoirs, which the author writes about themselves, biographies tell the story of someone else’s life. These are often famous people — Irving Stone’s Lust For Life, for example, is a biographical novel about Vincent Van Gogh — but they can also be people you know, or lesser-known individuals of interest.

Biographical bestsellers:

  • Lust for Life — Irving Stone
  • Diana: Her True Story — Andrew Morton
  • Wild Swans — Jung Chang

Number of biography books available on Amazon: 80,000+

Average word count: No data available

Average price for a paperback biography: £9.99

22. Essays

Essays are much more academic than other forms of writing. They tend to follow a thesis set by the author, and elaborate on their perspective on a particular topic or theme. Essays can be book-length (such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists), or they can be part of an essay collection (such as James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son).

Essay collection bestsellers:

  • The Hite Report — Shere Hite
  • A Message to Garcia — Elbert Hubbard

Number of essay collections available on Amazon: 60,000+

Average word count: No data available

Average price for a paperback essay collection: £9.07

23. Self-help books

Self-help books are probably the most popular modern non-fiction genre, since they offer the promise of self-improvement and healing. (This also tends to make them a little more expensive than other genres). Books like Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People have become part of the modern self-help canon.

Self-help book bestsellers:

  • You Can Heal Your Life — Louise Hay
  • The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care — Benjamin Spock
  • Your Erroneous Zones — Wayne Dyer

Number of self-help book available on Amazon: 70,000+

Average word count: No data available

Average price for a paperback self-help book: £12.27

Which book genre should you write?

Most writers naturally gravitate towards writing the kind of fiction they enjoy reading. Learning more about your preferred genre helps you understand the market for your book, which is important when it comes to self-publishing your work.

Now you know a little more about your chosen genre, it’s time to plan your new book. Find out how to write a book outline — it’s a failsafe way to plan a book in any genre.

For the average price per paperback we calculated the average price of the top 10 featured books in the category.

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This article is always evolving and being updated regularly by our expert writers. Information featured in it has been fact-checked and verified.
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