How to Pick a Genre for Self-Publishing

Updated on May 21, 2020
TraceyE LM profile image

Tracey loves writing and enjoys sharing their experience with writing for profit.

Choosing What to Write About

For this sake of this article, I'm going to be talking about writing for profit. Now, before I start a writer war, there is nothing wrong with writing for love, writing for purpose, or writing for whatever other reason you want. There are as many reasons to write a book as there are books (well, not quite, but you get my drift).

But since I can't cover all of the other reasons here, I'm going to focus on choosing what to write about based on what sells.

Or at least, something that sells, that overlaps with something you want to write about.

Your first decision is to choose whether you're going to write about non-fiction or fiction. I predominately write fiction, although I have got a few non-fiction books published as well.

I'm not going to talk about non-fiction on this page, because while non-fiction can sell well, generally you need some expertise in the subject matter. Either that, or it needs to be researched thoroughly, and that can cut into writing time, which can cut into profits.

I only suggest you tackle non-fiction if you are already an expert on a particular topic.

Top 5 Fiction Genres

The top five best selling genres (in order) are:

  1. Romance
  2. Mystery, Thriller & Suspense
  3. Fantasy
  4. Young Adult
  5. Science Fiction

This is a broad look of course, there is a lot of sub-genres within those categories. And in fact, once you decide which genre you want to write in, you should narrow down your sub-genre.

That's because:

  • The higher you are to the overarching category, the harder it is to break into the genre.
  • So, you must drill down and find a niche within that main category. It will be less crowded and easier to break in.

For example, romance is a huge market, but if you write a general romance you'll get lost in a crowd of traditional publishers and the top indie sellers. You might never break out even though your books are excellent, simply because it's hard to get noticed.

As of writing, in the last 30 days on Amazon, 22,399 books have been published in Romance. That's over 700 per day. It's easy to get lost amongst all the other books.

But romance has lots of subgenres that are easier to break into.

Romance is one of the top fiction genres.
Romance is one of the top fiction genres.

Romance Subgenres

Here's a list of all the current subgenres of romance in the books category on Amazon right now:

  • Action & Adventure
  • African American
  • Anthologies
  • Clean & Wholesome
  • Contemporary
  • Erotica
  • Fantasy
  • Gay Romance
  • Gothic
  • Historical
  • Holidays
  • Inspirational
  • Lesbian Romance
  • Military
  • Multicultural
  • New Adult & College
  • Paranormal
  • Regency
  • Romantic Comedy
  • Romantic Suspense
  • Science Fiction
  • Sports
  • Time Travel
  • Vampires
  • Western
  • Writing
  • Werewolves & Shifters

A lot right! So how do you choose?

Which Genre Do You Prefer?

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First, Choose Your Main Genre

Before you go deciding you're going to write Urban Fantasy or Shifter Romance, you need decide which top level genre you are going to write in. I've listed the top genres above, so choose which one appeals to you the most.

I know, I just said that you can't write a top level book and expect it to sell well, that you have to niche down. That's true. However, if you want to make money at this, you first need to choose which genre appeals to you most. The one that appeals to you the most is probably the one that is going to sell the best for you.

Notice I said, for you. Because every writer is different. They have different styles, different ideas, different ways they arrange words. Basically, their 'voice' is different (which is something you should embrace).

Some writers love science fiction, others prefer the fast-paced thriller. You need to make a decision now, which of the top-level genres you want to write for.

Don't just choose romance because you think it's the easiest (it's not—the plot might be simple in a romance, but the emotional journey of the characters can be difficult to pull off unless you understand nuance and can create a believable love story). Likewise, don't choose fantasy because it sells well unless you read in the genre and understand the tropes and what readers what.

Choose the one that you think matches your skill set as a writer and the one you like writing in. It helps if you love the genre too because you should (and need to be) reading in that genre so you understand it and what readers love about it. If you're already a reader in that genre then you're ahead of the game.

Next, Research

You've chosen your top-level genre, now we are going to drill down into the subcategories to find out which of those subgenres sell the best and aren't too competitive to gain a foothold in. That's coming soon.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


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    • TraceyE LM profile imageAUTHOR

      TraceyE LM 

      3 years ago

      I write different genres too, although I made the decision early on to use pen names to differentiate them. I struggled with the decision early on whether to use my real name or not (I do have books under my real name), but in the end went with pen names. It's more work, for sure, but I think it helps readers and me keep things organised. (I've got four pen names - five if you count my real name).

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 

      3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      I have five books on Amazon and they are all different genres. I know I would make more money if I picked a genre and stuck to it. But I don't pick my books. They pick me.


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