Self-publishing has come a long way since its days of being seen as an alternative for books that failed to go trade. It’s now a booming sector that, according to Forbes, is growing far faster than trade publishing.
Since self-publishing is no longer an “option B” authors are now asking themselves from the start whether the trade route or the self-publishing route is right for them and their books.
A lot of factors go into the decision of whether to self-publish a book – royalties, marketing, distribution (to name but a few), but one of the most important factors is genre. Whilst some genres are best served by trade publishing, others are better suited to self-publishing.
In this guide you will find a breakdown of which genres are the best fit for self-publishing, which I hope will help you decide the best route to publication.
Most Popular Self-Publishing Genres
Before taking the leap into self-publishing it’s important to figure out whether your genre is a good fit for this form of distribution. Many factors are at play here, like varying levels of commercial success.
For example, romance and thrillers are both heavy-hitting genres for indie writers – that’s great if that’s where you will find your readers, but not so great when you’re up against so much competition.
There are also logistical reasons as to why your genre might not be a good fit for self-publishing. For example, print quality for self-pub book printing and POD (print on demand) services, such as Amazon, are not the highest on the market. Therefore, if you are releasing an illustrated children’s book or a coffee table photographic compilation book, then much like with audiobooks, self-publishing won’t be the best option.
Similarly, if you are planning on self-publishing you also have to think about who shops online and who is likely to be exposed to your book. Since middle graders and young children don’t often read e-books and tend to choose books they can pick up and look through in a bookstore, then kid lit may not be the best choice for self-publishing either.
Do your research. The easiest way to do that is simply take a look on Amazon at the kind of book you plan to write and see what sub-genre lists it’s doing well in. You may be surprised by the sub-categories and their popularity.
To give you a better idea of whether your book will do well on the indie scene, here are the most successful genres in self-publishing:
The romance genre accounts for a whopping 40% of self-published books in the Kindle market. Romance readers are notoriously avid consumers and the self-publishing industry, which moves at a much faster rate than trade publishing, is able to accommodate this need.
Since self-publishing has lower overheads and a faster turnaround time, indie writers are also able to accommodate a variety of popular subgenres and niche subgenres. For example, where trade may have jumped on the back of the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon and produced a few similar titles, self-publishing is able to hit every niche of the erotica genre – from BDSM to Reverse Harem to even alien sex – without affecting their brand or worrying about stores stocking the books.
However, since romance takes up a profitable chunk of the self-published market it’s also a highly saturated genre and thus highly competitive. Romance has many sub-genres, so if you’re able to find a niche for your work, you have a better chance at competing.
We will discuss popular romance sub-genres further in this article. For now, let’s look at a totally different kind of action…
Mystery, Thriller and Suspense
20% of mystery, thriller and suspense sales in the book industry are self-published. Readers of this genre are just as fast and avid as romance readers. Therefore, because self-published authors often “rapid release” their work, self-published authors can fulfil their readers’ ferocious appetites faster than trade can (most traditional publishers only publish one book per year by each author).
Here are a few popular thriller and suspense sub-genres:
- Private investigator thrillers
- Mystery and espionage
- Legal thrillers
- Cosy crime
- Historical thrillers
- British detectives
As with romance there are many sub-genres to choose from, and this is just a small selection of the most popular ones.
Fantasy is a growing genre in self-publishing, especially since many genres overlap with fantasy. There’s an increasing interest in this genre, with around 50% of fantasy books sold on Kindle being self-published.
Here are a few popular fantasy sub-genres:
- Paranormal and urban fantasy (these cross over well with romance)
- Epic Fantasy
- Dystopian fantasy
- Sword and sorcery
- Fairy tales
Science fiction is another relatively popular self-publishing genre with around 56% of Kindle’s sci-fi eBooks self-published. Science fiction, much like fantasy, spawns a lot of hybrid sub-genres.
Here are a few subgenres in Science Fiction that are currently doing well on Amazon:
- Space opera
- Paranormal and Urban
Note that sci-fi shares many genres with fantasy, with the two genres often crossing over. Horror and bizarro fiction are also popular in self-publishing, as writers are free to push limits and try new ideas.
Non-Fiction, Self-Help and Niche Subjects
If you are an expert on something that you think people want to read about, yet there’s no book on the subject – then write it! But that doesn’t mean traditional publishers will want it.
Trade publishers don’t take risks, so they can’t justify publishing a book called (for instance) “yoga for dogs” – unless it’s been written by a celebrity, with a huge following, who is known for pet gymnastics.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a market for it.
For distribution reasons, your trade publishing journey often starts with an editor considering the target market, a specific territory, and the bookstores who will help get the book into the hands of readers. For this reason alone, a publisher needs to justify there are enough readers in that region for your type of book before they sign it. This can be hard to do if you are penning a niche book on (for instance) how water therapy can help PTSD. However, if you are writing niche non-fiction, or niche self-help, self-publishing could be the perfect answer for you as most distribution is online – so the world is your oyster.
Note that though self-help and personal transformation books do well in self-publishing, these books often come from authors with an existing audience (i.e. social media presence). This type of non-fiction requires trust from the reader, they need to believe you are an expert in your field, so in this case the building of the brand often comes before the book.
How to Pick a Genre for Self-Publishing
Needless to say, many aspiring authors want to make money with their writing, or (if really lucky) make a living from it full time. The best way to do this in self-publishing is to “write to market,” and to approach your chosen genre with commercial intent.
This means writing based on what is appealing to the market. Writing what sells. Sometimes the ‘best’ genre for a particular writer may be the genre they are most familiar with, like pilots writing in the war and aviation sub-genre, or ex-military personnel writing in the military sub-genres.
If you to want to self-publish we recommend you first select your primary genre, identify sub-genres within your selected genre, and research how well they do and what your competition is.
Self-Publishing and Romance
Now let’s go back to romance. As a writer of self-published paranormal romance (under the co-written pen name of Caedis Knight), my writing partner and I, who both have traditionally published books, purposely chose to self-publish this series and write to market. We saw a gap in the spicy paranormal world for books that were set outside of the US and we went for it. The reception we have had has been phenomenal – and that’s partly due to the research we conducted and being able to give our readers something that’s hard to find in bookstores.
Let’s take a closer look at sub-genres in romance – the most popular self-publishing genre worldwide:
Here are examples of popular romance sub-genres that sell well in both trade and self-pub, followed by niche sub-genres that are likely to do better in self-publishing (because there isn’t a lot of room for them in the trade marketplace).
- Contemporary Romance
- YA Romance
- New adult and College
- Historical Romance
- Romantic Suspense
- Rom Com
- Fantasy Romance
- Inspirational Romance
- Erotica in all forms (many agents around the world won’t even consider erotica, so self-publishing is a good place to start)
- Romance Westerns (and modern cowboys)
- Holiday romances
- Christian Romance
- Historical Romance (Regency and Scottish being the most popular)
- Classic retellings (Jane Austen being one of the most popular muses)
- Military romance (including army wives)
- Sports romance
- LGBTQ+ romance (this is available in trade publishing, but the self-pub market is much larger)
The romance genre, much like love itself, is varied and wondrous and has no limits!
Now You Know
As you’ve probably realised by now it’s helpful to determine where your book will fall in the market before writing your bestseller.
This might seem counterintuitive because you want to write the book of your heart, but your book (regardless of whether indie or trade) will have a much better chance if it can be marketed well, especially if you can position it in a sub-genre within a popular genre.
In summary, if your book takes your readers where trade publishing fears to tread (and it’s something you know people will enjoy reading about) – then go for it. And who knows? You may even invent a new subgenre!
Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer’s community.