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:
- Adventure stories
- Fairy tales, fables, and folk tales
- Historical fiction
- Humour and satire
- Literary fiction
- Science fiction
- Short stories
- Women’s fiction
- Young adult
- Autobiography and memoir
- Non-fiction novel
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.