The struggling, famished writer is a bit of a hackneyed stereotype but research shows it’s a truism, nonetheless. British newspaper The Guardian recently released a rather daunting article stating that most full-time professional writers make a paltry £600 a month – that’s under $1000 U.S. dollars. But of course, the authors we know about – those who come to the public attention – have already become celebrities, selling millions of books and making millions in the process. From the talented aspiring writer struggling to make the distant ends meet, to the world-renowned author winning international awards and making serious bank: What differentiates the two? Is it even possible to pin down the seemingly intangible nature of what makes one wordsmith successful over another? In an attempt to answer this question, perhaps we ought to look at certain celebrated writers – J.K. Rowling, E.L. James, and John Grisham, for example – and query what they have in common?
The answer is not immediately obvious. They all come from widely varying backgrounds, their novels are incomparable, and their styles disparate. However, each of these writers have one area of common ground; their successful novels are specifically ‘genre’ works. These authors are know, respectively, for fantasy, romance and mystery – and if the statistics show us anything it’s that genre books sell better than your average literary piece, short story collection or poetry. Literary novels, those which can ill be pinned into one genre, tend to attract a niche audience, the sort of people who label themselves ‘readers’, perhaps frequenting vintage bookstores and grand libraries in their spare time. Genre readers, however, might be more likely to browse through their Kindle and purchase the latest novelty at the click of a button. This is, of course, a generalisation and not true of all genre or literary readers; but the fact is, genre readers have a voracious appetite and it’s genre novels which are driving the publishing industry today.
The question of whether writers should limit themselves to a genre if they want to make a living depends, of course, on passion and investment. A writer, involved in the work for love over money, will write about what interests them. Sometimes, this will fit neatly into a popular genre. Genre writing, though, is notorious for having a rather formulaic checklist of things that need to be incorporated into the novels. Fantasy, for example, will need some form of magic, good and evil at war, and usually a hero or heroine. If you’re a budding writer or a curious reader, and you’re considering delving into the world of genre literature, you may well want to know which genres are the most popular – and which make the most money? With the increase in popularity of e-books, self-published authors now account for 20% of sales in the genre market – so this question isn’t just one for the industry people. Now, it’s relevant for any budding author with an internet connection! So, we’ve collated information on leading authors’ earnings and reports of industry trends to bring you this list of the 5 most valuable, highest-earning genres in the book business – according to the Romance Writer’s of America Association’s reported figures of Simba Information Estimates.
5. Horror ($79.6 million)
With genre leader Stephen King said to have a net profit of $400 million and Dean Koontz with $125 million, horror’s clearly a popular genre – but it’s undeniably a smaller niche than some of the popular genres, valued at under $80 million. Readers enjoy being scared and they’re loyal to their favourites, which is perhaps why King and Koontz – although having both written out of the genre – have been particularly prolific writers, each releasing fifty plus novels throughout the course of their career.
King generally publishes at least one book every year, including genre classics like ‘The Shining’, ‘Salem’s Lot’, and ‘It’. Horror can explore shocking subjects, often incorporating romance, fantasy and action along the way – but many people simply don’t have the stomach for it, making this one of the less popular genres.