There are a ton of book genres and subgenres out there. And if you're an indie author, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the genres you plan to write in. Knowing the major tropes and characteristics of your book genre helps ensure that you'll write a story that meets reader expectations.
So whether you want to write a novel or a non-fiction book, we've got you covered with this in-depth list of book genres.
We'll start with fiction and then cover non-fiction genres after that!
- Fiction book genres and their characteristics
- Nonfiction book genres and their characteristics
- How to find the right genres and keywords quickly and easily
Table of contents
- Fiction Book Genres
- Nonfiction Genres
- Genre Research Made Easy
Fiction Book Genres
General fiction genres are numerous. In fact, Amazon has over 14,000 categories to choose from! Luckily, we'll only be going over the major ones in this list. Getting your book in the right genres/categories is an extremely important ingredient for the success of the book.
Once you have a good idea of the broad genre(s) that are right for your book, you can then use a software like Publisher Rocket to really dig down. Find the right niche for your book and get tons of keywords to use in your marketing campaigns with Publisher Rocket. More on this at the end of the article. For now, let’s explore fiction genres!
Action & Adventure
The action and adventure genre is one that overlaps with a lot of other fiction genres, like thrillers, fantasy, and science fiction. This genre is known for plot-driven novels in which the protagonist is up against a larger-than-life threat. And the hero (almost) always wins in the end. Everything from swashbuckling stories and race-against-the-clock thrillers can be housed under the action and adventure umbrella.
Average Word Count for Action & Adventure Novels: 80,000 to 110,000.
Children's books cover several subsections that are typically divided by age group. These include:
- Board books – Newborn to three (25 to 200 words)
- Picture books – Three to eight years old (250 to 750 words)
- Chapter books – Ages seven to nine (5,000 to 20,000 words)
- Middle grade books – Eight to twelve years old (20,000 to 60,000 words)
Some even consider young adult novels children's books. But for this article, we have a separate section for the young adult genre. The conventions of these books depend largely on the age range, so it's important to know your audience by knowing which subsection you'll be writing under.
Contemporary fiction doesn't fit neatly into other genres because it usually lacks those things that are common in those genres. Instead of sinister government agents, monsters, or space aliens to contend with, characters in contemporary fiction are up against everyday life in the modern age. Relationships, work conflicts, and professional success are all common issues in these stories, which take place in modern times.
Average Word Count for Contemporary Novels: 70,000 to 90,000.
Dystopian novels bring us a bleak look at the future. Often couched under the larger sci-fi genre, these books explore social and cultural issues, taking them to extremes. The future is dark, but the human spirit often (not always) prevails in these stories. A few well-known examples include 1984, A Handmaid's Tale, and The Hunger Games.
Average Word Count for Dystopian Novels: 60,000 to 90,000.
Dystopian Writing Tip: You can get really creative with this genre, throwing in elements of horror, fantasy, and science fiction. The most intriguing of these books put forth a unique twist on reasons for the rise of the dystopian society.
Fantasy is among the most popular genres and is home to many other subgenres such as dark, epic, and heroic fantasy. Magic and non-human creatures often play big parts in the stories of this book genre. Some fantasy novels take place in their own unique worlds with their own rules, while others take the world as we know it and add little bits of magic here and there. The Harry Potter books and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy are among the most popular fantasy stories out there.
Average Word Count for Fantasy Novels: 80,000 to 110,000.
Fantasy Writing Tip: Since there’s often a lot to tell the reader about the “rules” of a fantasy world, some writers get bogged down in exposition or world building. And while explaining the world to your reader is important, it’s best to do it piecemeal. Only give the reader what they absolutely must know to understand the action of the story.
The historical fiction genre takes historical events and locations, interweaving a fictional storyline with them. Some of these stories feature real people on the periphery. Others mix imaginary characters with real historical figures to craft a compelling and entertaining story. Although not a book, Forrest Gump is an excellent example of a historical fiction story.
Average Word Count for Historical Novels: 80,000 to 110,000.
Historical Fiction Writing Tip: Readers will notice inconsistencies in this genre. They want to be transported to a different time, so research is highly important in this genre. As they say, the devil is in the details, and any detail that’s inaccurate or takes the reader out of the story is a devil indeed. That said, you don’t want to bog the story down with details, no matter how accurate. It’s a delicate balance to strike!
Almost everyone has heard of the Master of Horror, Stephen King. He's known for excellent horror writing; inspiring fear and dread in his readers. Whether you do this with monsters, paranormal entities, or run-of-the-mill killers doesn't really matter. What matters is that the tension is there throughout the story, building to a crescendo. Horror is one of the few book genres where readers won't be upset if the book doesn't end happily — provided the story is well-written and compelling.
Average Word Count for Horror Novels: 80,000 to 110,000.
Horror Writing Tip: In most horror stories, the stakes are death. It can be the death of the protagonist, a loved one, the whole town, or the entire planet. Anything less than death may disappoint readers and make the story less interesting. However, the risk of insanity may be a viable alternative when done well. Cosmic horror, from the likes of H. P. Lovecraft and his successors, often features characters teetering on the brink of insanity.
Books with LGBTQ+ characters in prominent roles can fall under this genre. While some of these books are romances, they don't have to be. They can be action, fantasy, horror — whatever you want to write. But much of the time, these books are filed under the umbrella category of contemporary fiction.
Average Word Count for LGBTQ+ Novels: 60,000 to 110,000.
Literary fiction is characterized by “serious” subject matter that explores the human condition through a character-driven story. Literary fiction books don't fit well into any other genre and are considered more art than entertainment. There may or may not be a story arc, and a happy ending is not guaranteed. In short, there's no standard formula or well-defined reader expectations for literary novels.
Average Word Count for Literary Novels: 80,000 to 120,000.
Like a good fairy tale, the magical realism genre blends our world with magic — often in a matter-of-fact manner. Birthed by writers from Latin America, this genre now enjoys additions from writers from all over the world. The characters in these stories aren't wowed by furniture that moves on its own or animals that talk — it's all presented as normal. These literary devices are often used to critique societal problems like oppression and imperialism.
Average Word Count for Magical Realism Novels: 60,000 to 80,000.
Mystery is a hugely popular genre that overlaps with multiple genres, like crime fiction and cozy mysteries. Most often, it starts with a murder and ends with the protagonist (often a detective) solving the mystery and capturing or vanquishing the murderer. Also called detective fiction, there's certainly a formula and clear reader expectations in this book genre. If you want to learn from the master, pick up any Agatha Christie novel to see what readers are clamoring for.
Average Word Count for Mystery Novels: 70,000 to 100,000.
Mystery Writing Tip: Most mysteries fall under two major categories: whodunit and howcatchem. The first is all about figuring out who did the crime (don’t forget that multiple people can be guilty). The second is about how to catch the criminal and make sure justice is served.
While horror, fantasy, and romance subgenres can all feature paranormal elements, this genre has certain elements that set it apart. Most often, paranormal books are set in modern times and take place in our world (as opposed to a made-up world, as in fantasy novels). Some stories incorporate paranormal elements as an accepted part of the world, while others feature them as part of a hidden world that the public is unaware of. Most often, these elements include ghosts, magic, vampires, demons, psychics, and telepathy. You’ll often hear this genre called paranormal fantasy or urban fantasy. Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series and Kim Harrison’s Hollows series both provide great examples of paranormal books.
Average Word Count for Paranormal Novels: 60,000 to 90,000.
Romance is a popular book genre that is known for its voracious readers. There are many subgenres under the romance umbrella, including sweet, steamy, and paranormal romance. While many stories have romantic subplots, books in the romance genre have the romantic relationship as the central plot of the story. This is another genre that has clear reader expectations. Namely, the “happily ever after” ending. The details of how you get there and how much steam you have in the story will depend on the subgenre. Lucy Score and Debbie Macomber are two prolific romance authors to read for guidance.
Average Word Count for Romance Novels: 60,000 to 100,000.
Romance Writing Tip: There are many tropes to choose from in the romance genre. A few of the most popular include: enemies to lovers, friends to lovers, forced proximity, billionaire, fake relationship, and marriage of convenience. Romance readers will expect the story beats common with certain tropes!
Science fiction features stories typically set in the future or in an alternative universe where humans share their reality with strange creatures. Other sci-fi stories don’t have any strange creatures and instead explore technological advances and space expiration. Again, there are many subgenres within science fiction. Hard sci-fi readers want to see technology that's technically possible driving a compelling story. Space opera readers don't care so much about whether the technology is possible. Instead, they want a grand adventure that often involves intergalactic battles and happens in many exotic environs.
Average Word Count for Science Fiction Novels: 80,000 to 110,000.
Science Fiction Writing Tip: Like fantasy, it’s important to limit the amount of exposition or “info dumping” before getting into the conflict of the story. Additionally, an internal conflict readers can identify with is paramount to writing a good story. You can explore lofty ideas, but the conflict and stakes should still be clear so readers can invest in the story.
Thriller and Suspense
Thriller and suspense stories can have a lot in common with mystery novels. However, they can also be very different. What they all share is increasing tension throughout the story, leading to an exciting showdown between protagonist and antagonist. They generally have plot twists at every turn and are more plot-driven than character-driven. Lots of different subgenres are included in thriller and suspense. John Grisham is a master of the legal thriller while James Patterson is known for his suspense novels, just to name a couple.
Average Word Count for Thriller and Suspense Novels: 70,000 to 100,000.
Thriller and Suspense Writing Tip: Since this is a plot-driven genre, you may choose not to have a clear character arc for your protagonist. The most famous example of this type of story can be found in the Jack Reacher novels. Reacher is largely the same at the beginning of each story as he is at the end. His is an external conflict (i.e. seeking justice and/or vengeance), rather than an internal one. And for these types of thriller books, it works well.
Also known as YA fiction, young adult novels often have characters the same age as the reader group (12 to 18). The journey in these novels typically involves the trials and tribulations of becoming an adult. There are young adult books that also figure into numerous fiction genres, including contemporary, literary, romance, and young adult science fiction. The Fault in Our Stars, The Hunger Games, and The Catcher in the Rye are all examples of young adult novels.
Average Word Count for Young Adult Novels: 45,000 to 80,000.
Some readers just want bite-sized reads instead of entire books. This is where the short story genre comes in. Stories in this genre are usually between 1,000 and 10,00 words and can fit into any of the other categories on this list. Most short stories are sold as themed collections, either written by one author or several. However, you can also write and sell single short stories on Amazon, although the market isn't great unless you're a well-known author already.
Average Word Count for Short Story Collections: 60,000 to 90,000.
Like short stories, graphic novels can also be a part of many other genres. It's the form that's important with these books. They come with artwork, so it's like reading a long comic book. But they don't have to feature superheroes. Just look at the autobiographical Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi or the historical fiction graphic novel From Hell by Alan Moore.
Average Word Count for Graphic Novels: 30,000 to 70,000.
What is Speculative Fiction?
In discussions about fiction writing, you may have heard the term speculative fiction. While technically an umbrella genre of sorts, it encompasses many other genres on this list.
In short, speculative fiction is fiction that contains some fantastical elements that don't exist in our world. Often called “what-if” stories, the main genres of speculative fiction include fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and superhero novels. Essentially, it's the opposite of “realistic fiction,” thanks to one or more elements that don't exist or aren't possible in our reality.
What is Genre Fiction?
Genre fiction is another term that's thrown around at writing conferences and among authors. To complicate things, speculative fiction and genre fiction have a lot of overlap.
Essentially, genre fiction describes novels written to fit the tropes, archetypes, and general structure of a specific genre. This is in contrast to literary and contemporary fiction, where there aren't any clear audience expectations. Well-known genre fiction categories include romance, crime fiction, fantasy, horror, science fiction, mystery, thrillers, and suspense.
For indie authors, it's much easier to break into the business and see book sales writing genre or speculative fiction than it is writing literary fiction. This is because the audiences in these genres are well defined, making marketing much easier. If you're writing a literary novel, it may be good to find a literary agent who is interested in your novel first.
Nonfiction genres are often easier to figure out. But, like fiction genres, there can be some significant overlap. Luckily, Amazon allows you to change categories after your book is published if you want to. But before you can do that, you’ll need to know what the best genres are for your nonfiction book!
Art & Photography
From books teaching art to those discussing it, this genre has many different kinds of books. Coffee table books showcasing an artist's work fall under this category. You’ll also find things like tattoo books and how-to-draw books in this genre.
Average Word Count for Art & Photography Books: 5,000 to 100,000.
Autobiography and Memoirs
Autobiographies and memoirs are both written by the author (sometimes with the help of a ghostwriter) but focus on different things. An autobiography will detail the author's life chronologically. A memoir will explore a central theme, often focusing on a specific relationship, time, or event in the author's life.
Average Word Count for Autobiographies and Memoirs: 80,000 to 100,000.
Biographies are like autobiographies but written by someone other than the subject. They're typically about someone famous. The author will present a narrative that reads like a fiction book, but all the details are true and backed by research.
Average Word Count for Biographies: 80,000 to 110,000.
Yes, there are two children’s book sections; one for fiction and one for nonfiction. This nonfiction section is where you’ll find coloring books, activity books, and other nonfiction books aimed at helping children learn and develop. You’ll even find some true stories featuring children in this genre. So if you have an idea about a nonfiction book that will help children of any age learn something about themselves or the world, this is the genre for you.
Average Word Count for Children’s Nonfiction Books: 500 to 1,500.
Cookbooks are instructional books on how to make food, from barbecue and scrambled eggs to homemade ice cream and fancy meals. Usually, the recipes in a cookbook are bound by a common theme. A few examples include comfort foods, holiday cooking, or Italian recipes.
Average Word Count for Cookbooks: 15,000 to 80,000.
Crafts and Hobbies
From woodworking to crocheting, the crafts and hobbies genre can help readers get artistic and creative. If you've made a living selling cute magnets on Etsy or you've mastered creating realistic train models from scratch, you could write a book about it and market it under this genre!
Average Word Count for Craft and Hobby Books: 5,000 to 50,000.
Family and Parenting
No one gives new parents a handbook for raising their children. Luckily, you can find a book in the family and parenting genre that will help. There are books on the best things to do with a newborn baby, and others on how to deal with unruly teenagers. Some books in this section are just general guides on how to be a good parent and nurture the familial relationships. And while many of the authors in this genre are experts, experience does count for a lot. You could share your experiences raising a family by writing a book on this topic!
Average Word Count for Family and Parenting Books: 40,000 to 80,000.
Health and Fitness
The health and fitness industry is massive, and books are a big part of it. Whether it be a book of healthy eating tips or a body-building bible, you'll find it in this genre. If you’re writing a book on running, cycling, yoga, or just living an overall healthy life, it will fit well in the health and fitness genre.
Average Word Count for Health and Fitness Books: 20,000 to 50,000.
Learning from the past is important to ensuring a better future. And that’s what the history genre is all about. There are seemingly endless topics to write about here. Books about World War II, World History, Ancient Rome, and the Great Depression can all fit comfortably in this section. Biographies of historical figures may also be filed under this genre in addition to the biography genre. Even recent historical topics will go here, like the 2008 financial crisis!
Average Word Count for History Books: 60,000 to 100,000.
The humor genre includes any nonfiction book whose purpose is to make readers laugh. There are humorous autobiographies from comedians and celebrities, books of jokes, and “bathroom humor” books with silly essays and observations about life. Humorist David Sedaris has several hilarious books in this genre.
Average Word Count for Humor Books: 15,000 to 50,000.
Religion & Spirituality
Whether you're spiritual, religious, or even agnostic, there's bound to be something in this genre for you. Some books you'll find in this genre include those detailing the histories and beliefs of religions, inspiring true stories of faith lost and found, and even books about the beliefs of atheists and agnostics. If you've got something unique or inspiring to say about religion or spiritual beliefs, your writing could fit in well here.
Average Word Count for Religion & Spirituality Books: 40,000 to 70,000.
Science & Technology
The exponential advance of technology is hard to keep up with, but you can try with books in this genre. Usually written by authors with advanced degrees or experts in their fields, these nonfiction books can range from simple explanations of physics to in-depth postulations about artificial intelligence — and everything in between.
Average Word Count for Science & Technology Books: 60,000 to 80,000.
The self-help genre is big, encompassing books on how to improve your life or your well-being. From increasing your confidence to changing your ideas about money, there are tons of subjects that fit in this genre. If you have life-changing tips to share with readers that can help them better their lives, write a self-help book!
Average Word Count for Self-Help Books: 40,000 to 80,000.
Politics and Social Sciences
This genre includes a plethora of choices about complex political systems and the even more complex ways humans interact with each other. You'll find many social science topics in this genre, including psychology, sociology, and social work. Like many other nonfiction genres, the authors who write books about politics and social sciences are usually experts in their fields. So if that’s you, get to writing!
Average Word Count for Politics and Social Sciences Books: 50,000 to 90,000.
If you've done some traveling and have some great stories to tell, or you have some practical tips for fellow adventurers, this could be the genre for your book. You'll also find detailed travel guides in this section. Some of these books read like fiction, while others are packed with information, allowing the reader to pick out information about their city and interests.
Average Word Count for Travel Books: 25,000 to 70,000.
True crime is one of the most popular nonfiction genres out there. From drug deals to murders to white-collar crime, these books deliver the goods on real-life crime stories, often reading like a thriller or mystery with a clear narrative instead of just a sequence of events. The book Helter Skelter is one of the most famous examples of a true crime novel.
Average Word Count for True Crime Books: 60,000 to 90,000.
Genre Research Made Easy
Knowing your genre isn’t just important for the placement of your book in online and physical stores. It’s also a key ingredient in an effective marketing strategy. Placing your book in front of readers who are willing to purchase it is half the battle. Of course, there’s more than one way to do this. You can comb through Amazon or Goodreads, searching for books like yours and writing down their genres and subgenres. Unfortunately, this is time-consuming.
To solve this problem, we created Publisher Rocket, which combs through Amazon in seconds and presents you with all the information you need — including keywords to use in your marketing campaigns. A few searches on Publisher Rocket, and you can find out which genres are best for your book. You can even use it to find out what categories Amazon puts your book in after you publish it — something you can’t even do on Amazon itself.
You can learn more about Publisher Rocket here.