When you break it down, there are two basic reasons we choose to write. Either we write because we love it, or we write because we want to make money.
Many of us write simply because the creative process gives us so much in return, regardless of whether or not we earn a dollar.
No matter the form of art you choose (and yes, never forget that writing is an art), creating can be therapeutic. It was for me when I first began and still is, to a large part. It can also be mind-cleansing and, often, a great stress reducer. In fact, a majority of artists consider their passion for creating no more than a hobby, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
So, if you’re writing simply because it soothes your soul, write the book you want to write and let the number of books you sell be the last thing on your mind.
On the other hand, if your ultimate goal is to make a living with what you write, well then, you're going to want to write the kind of book readers want to read because, let’s face it, you've got a better chance of earning a living with your writing if you write to a larger audience than if you write to a small one. That’s what it means to write to market.
Thousands upon thousands of writers query literary agents and publishing houses every year without success. What most of these writers don’t realize is that their lack of success isn’t because they haven’t written a good book but because they’ve chosen to write a book that those literary agents and publishers believe won’t garner a large audience. And let’s get real here—literary agents and publishers are most certainly in it for the money.
That, my friends, is just one big reason why the ability to self-publish and the creation of ebooks turned the publishing world inside out.
Many of the writers who were rejected time and again by those literary agents and publishing houses got tired of fighting what they perceived as a losing battle. These writers also knew they had written a good book—heck, some of those literary agents or publishers even told them so— and one that many readers would love to get their hands on. That’s why they turned to self-publishing and why they’ve found the success they were looking for.
I read somewhere that in the U.S. alone, well over one million books are self-published each year. And I happen to know that many of those indie authors are, indeed, earning a living with their writing.
I mention this statistic merely to say that even if the “professionals” in the publishing world believe your book is not worthy of a contract, that does not necessarily mean your book will not find an audience or that you will not find the success you crave.
Still, if your desire is to become a best-selling and successful author, whether indie or not, you might want to seriously consider writing to market. To do that, you need to not only understand which genres are in high demand, but you also need to be able to write a good book in a genre that may not be your first choice.
Basically, all books are classified as either fiction or non-fiction. Under these two categories, you’ll find more than a few main genres and under each of those, you’ll find dozens upon dozens of subgenres, some much more popular than others.
When choosing which genre you want to write, be sure to find a genre that resonates with you, one you’re familiar with and, if not already, can become passionate about.
To write a good book, one that readers will recommend to others and one that will have those readers coming back to you for more, it needs to be a book you’d choose for yourself. After all, if you’re not interested in what you’re writing, how can you expect to write a compelling story others will love?
So, again, find that genre that speaks to you, and consider the following:
If you’re writing non-fiction, the most popular genres are:
Religion and Spirituality
Health, Fitness and Dieting
Politics and Social Sciences
Memoirs and Biographies
In particular, your self-help book should be focused on helping others improve a specific area of their life. Whether it’s human expression or relationships, business or career-related in some way, the subject matter should be something you are well-suited to discuss.
Actually, this applies no matter the subject of your non-fiction book. If you expect someone to purchase your book and spend the time to read it, understand that in return, they expect you to know what you’re talking about. So, please, for the sake of all of us writers, don’t plan on faking your way through it.
Oh, and you should know that the self-help genre is a billion-dollar industry with more possibilities than you might imagine.
Fiction is even more wide-reaching. My writing workshop on Genres and Themes is a three-hour course—it often goes longer—and I still can’t fit in every genre in that amount of time. I can, however, break down the best-selling main genres.
Young Adult/Children’s Books
Romance has been the top-selling fictional genre for a long time now, with well over a billion dollars a year in sales, and there are no signs of it going anywhere soon. The romance genre also has more subgenres and sub-subgenres than any other, some much more in demand than others.
The most popular subgenres of romance today are—in no particular order—said to be contemporary, historical, romantic suspense, paranormal, erotica and, believe it or not, young adult.
Mystery/Suspense/Thrillers follow romance in the top-selling category, and the difference in sales is likely wider than you might think, although certainly, nothing to wave a hand at.
Under these headings, spy novels are quite popular, as are psychological thrillers and stories involving crimes or heists. Also, adding a lot of action or sexy time will take your book far.
Religious/Inspirational fiction novels come in third in the top-selling fiction books category, which may be somewhat of a surprise to most. Mix that with a clean romance, and you’re sure to have a winner.
Science Fiction/Fantasy comes in fourth, and if these are the types of books you love, you should definitely write one.
Under the science fiction genre, lost worlds and detective-type stories will take you far, as will stories that are both apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic. In fact, I hear there are quite a large number of hardcore science fiction fans out there, as well as many readers who love space operas.
And if the fantasy genre is what gets you excited, the most popular subgenres here are heroic and historical themed, as well as epic and dark fantasies, not to mention magical realism, which is quite popular, and science-based stories.
Although Young Adult/Children’s Books come last on this list, they should in no way be overlooked. After all, getting our kids interested in reading will go a long way in setting their life’s path.
Statistics show children ages six to ten are most interested in both realistic and historical fiction; traditional literature such as fairytales and folklore; science fiction and fantasy, as you might expect; and informational fact-based stories where they can learn.
As for young adults, ages ten to sixteen, they’ll gravitate toward both contemporary or historical, depending on their personal tastes, and this goes for any subgenre under this heading.
Here we come back to romance or coming-of-age stories being among the most popular subgenres, as well as fantasy, science fiction and magical realism-themed novels. Young adults also love mysteries and thrillers, so whatever you do, don’t forget about those.
In closing, I want to stress that simply because you choose to write to market, your success is not guaranteed. You still must put out a good product. That means doing your research, both on your subject matter and your writing skills.
Spend the time—which doesn’t necessarily mean spending money—to study your craft and learn. Soak in the knowledge and write, write, write. Also, read, read, read, and particularly read other books in the same genre in which you’ve chosen to write. Reading these books will not only help you to see what works but also to see what doesn’t.
Just as important is to hire a good editor, and remember, your title, book cover and back cover blurb or book description comprise a reader’s first impression, so don’t skimp there either.
So, no matter if you’re writing to market or writing to your passion—which, of course, could be both—go forth, my writing fiends, and enjoy every moment.