Book Genres

Literary book genres were created to organize book stores. There is no official book genre list. Genres apply to both fiction and non-fiction. Some argue that their book spans genres but a book store will not stock a book in multiple places. Here are some strong lists.

This list describes characteristics of popular genres. It is useful when designing your book trailer. Used with permission of and developed by Dorothea Helms

Popular Genres and Their Characteristics

  • Good vs. bad
  • Conflict and suspense important
  • Emphasize plot over character growth
  • Exotic locale
  • Protagonist races to get to some coveted prize or goal first


  • Non-fiction about a real person, living or dead
  • Research key
  • Usually about well-known people
  • Sub-genre – Autobiography


  • Wide genre
  • Can be on specific business topics (e.g. customer service) or techniques (e.g. management)
  • Many bestsellers in this genre
  • Computer books fall in this category


  • Uses age-appropriate word choices, yet through context expand vocabulary
  • Fiction or non-fiction
  • Words about bodily functions popular


  • Revolves around faith or Christian life
  • Conflict and suspense important
  • No steamy love scenes


  • Recipes, recipes, recipes
  • Photos important
  • Glossary of cooking terms
  • May contain stories about food and ingredients


  • Written by fans as an extension of work by others, often TV or film


  • Set in imaginary realms, improbable in real life yet realistic, magic
  • Conflict and suspense important
  • Unnatural beings
  • Prize or quest
  • Uses fair bit of direct exposition
  • Sub-genre – Light Fantasy
    • Elves, fairies, talking animals
  • Sub-genre – Arthurian
    • Arthur and Camelot
  • Sub-genre – Heroic
    • Human muscular protagonist in conflict with supernatural
  • Suspense important
  • Early fantasy novel was The Hobbit


  • Has gay/lesbian/trans/bi main character in mainstream plots of other genres
  • Conflict and suspense important


  • A comic book with a lengthy storyline, usually with a beginning, middle and end as opposed to a series
  • May be collection of short pieces as opposed to novel
  • Bound more as a book than a typical comic
  • Intended for adults more than children


  • Hot market right now
  • Helpful information about the body
  • May be written by doctors or alternative practitioners
  • Huge growth in this genre in past decade with baby boomers aging


  • Set in past
  • Portray realistically
  • Invites reader to ‘experience’ time period
  • Conflict and suspense important
  • Uses more direct exposition


  • Extremely popular genre
  • Frightens readers
  • Often involves the occult
  • Good vs. evil
  • Conflict and suspense important
  • Darker than fantasy
  • Usually aimed at adults
  • Sub-genre – Vampire (although some consider Vampire a genre)


  • Emphasis on process
  • Task-oriented
  • Focus on technique
  • Results-oriented
  • Often an emphasis visuals


  • Can be used in fiction or non-fiction
  • Basis in reality critical
  • Element of surprise critical
  • Conflict critical
  • Unlike literary writing, use cliché
  • Sub-genre – Satire
  • Sub-genre – Cartoon
  • Sub-genre – Joke
  • Sub-genre – Parody
  • Sub-genre – Humorous essay
  • Sub-genre – Slapstick
  • Sub-genre – Absurdist
  • Sub-genre – Ironic Truth


  • Often published in hardcover
  • Inspires thought, reflection
  • Conflict and suspense important
  • Focus on style
  • Character-driven stories
  • Psychological depth of characters


  • Most well-known of plot-driven genre novels
  • May be published in hardcover or paperback
  • Often published as a series with a recurring detective-type character
  • Focus is on a crime
  • Involves multiple suspects and motives
  • Conflict and suspense important for clues
  • Reader MUST know clues the detective knows
  • Can include love scenes
  • Uses fair bit of direct exposition
  • Sub-genre – Amateur Detective
    • Usually male eccentric
    • Usually has helper
    • Usually encyclopedic mind
    • Antagonist known at climax
    • Holmes and Watson
  • Sub-genre – The Cozy
    • Least realistic
    • Violence minimal
    • Cozy setting
    • Local sleuth helps police
    • Jessica Fletcher, Miss Marple
  • Sub-genre – Hard Boiled
    • Gritty “noir” with tough, hard-nosed detectives
  • Sub-genre – Police Procedural
    • Realistic
    • Usually more characters
    • Sub-genre – Private Detective
    • Often doesn’t carry gun
    • Deals with street people
    • Security cases, family cases,
    • P.D. James


  • Started to appear on shelves in 1960s
  • Topics such as astrology, meditation, near-death experience, feng shui, etc.
  • Also Chicken Soup for the Soul–type books
  • Current hot title A New Earth
  • Market increasing for these books


  • Written in first person
  • Conflict and suspense important
  • The story is true, not fiction
  • Expands on a personal situation to comment on a universal topic
  • Difficult to define with precision
  • From strict format to open to prose-like structures; expresses ideas/sensations
  • May or may not use rhyme


  • Usually published in paperback
  • Character-driven
  • Heavy love scenes OK
  • Typical plot girl meets guy, girl finds guy unappealing, girl grows to love guy
  • Conflict and suspense provide obstacles to lovers
  • Aimed at women readers who want to escape everyday life
  • Sub-genre – Contemporary
    • Modern
    • Honest and open about sex
    • Exotic locale
    • Usually wealthy characters
    • Conflict often about business
  • Sub-genre – Gothic/Mystery
    • Strong suspense
    • Often supernatural
    • Usually young woman arrives
    • Strange things happen
    • Handsome man rescues her
  • Sub-genre – Regency
    • England during late English Georgian era (1811 to 1820)
    • Wit, charm, humour
    • Often mistaken identity involved
    • Research critical
  • Other Romance Sub-genres
    • Time travel
    • Alternate reality
    • Science fiction
    • Bodice ripper (out of vogue)
    • Erotic


  • Primarily paperbacks
  • Idea-driven fiction
  • Involves extremely devoted fans
  • Involves real or imagined science that affects society
  • Conflict and suspense important
  • Uses fair bit of direct exposition to explain science aspect if necessary
  • May or may not involve space travel
  • Sub-genre – Apocalyptic/Post Apocalyptic
    • Focuses on the end of the world or just after
  • Sub-genre – Cyberpunk
    • Set in a world of high-tech, almost robotic lifestyle
    • May involve hybrids of human/computers
    • Example The Matrix
  • Sub-genre – First Contact
    • Meeting between humans and aliens
    • Could involve invasion
    • Could involve harmless visitors to earth from advanced worlds
  • Sub-genre – Hard
    • Plot centres around believable science and technology
    • Character’s personal life takes backseat to ideas
    • Classic sci fi fits this sub-genre
  • Sub-genre – Military
    • Focus is on combat in space
    • Opponents may be human, machine, alien
    • Involves high-tech weapons
  • Sub-genre – Near Future
    • Takes place within next few decades
  • Sub-genre – Slipstream
    • Mainstream theme approached with a speculative treatment
    • Example A Handmaid’s Tale
  • Sub-genre – Soft/Sociological
    • Character-driven sci fi
    • Focus on social change
    • Personal psychology has major role
    • Interactions among characters key
    • Technology important only in how it affects people
    • Example A Handmaid’s Tale
  • Sub-genre – Space Opera
    • Good guys and bad guys shoot out in space
    • Example Star Wars
  • Sub-genre – Time Travel
    • Characters travel to past or future, or visitors from past or future come
    • Example Wells’ The Time Machine


  • How to learn about or improve some are of life
  • Help in how to solve problems
  • Pop psychology


  • Conflict and suspense are key
  • Spy has adventures against enemy
  • Defends country or saves the world


  • Often take place in exotic locales
  • Offshoot of Mystery BUT with differing points of view, not just detective
  • Thrillers longer than Mystery with more intricate plots
  • Protagonist’s job is to stop enemy plot rather than solve crime that’s been committed
  • More gore and violence than Mysteries
  • More characters than Mysteries
  • Cover a wider scope than Mysteries
  • More threat to protagonist than Mysteries
  • In a Thriller, the fate of a city or the world at stake
  • Often physical threat to protagonist in Thriller, not so in Mystery
  • No heavy love scenes in Thrillers; minimize danger, slow pace
  • Conflict and suspense critical for tension
  • Exciting action; clever plotting
  • The hero may be killed in the process of thwarting the enemy
  • Often involve serial killers sought by FBI
  • Example The Silence of the Lambs
  • Sub-genre – Action Thriller
    • Race against the clock
  • Sub-genre – Conspiracy Thriller
    • Example JFK
  • Sub-genre – Eco-Thriller
    • Protagonist challenged with averting an environmental catastrophe
  • Sub-genre – Legal Thriller
    • Usually lawyer protagonist
    • Usually courtroom setting
  • Sub-genre – Medical Thriller
    • Protagonist is health care professional
  • Sub-genre – Technothriller
    • Technology plays key role in plot
    • Research to make believable
    • Example The Hunt for Red October


  • Sub-genre – Travel account of interesting trip (sensuous writing)
  • Sub-genre – Destination guide (where to travel)
  • Sub-genre – Travel guide (how to travel)


  • Based on true story
  • Research thoroughly
  • Exciting retelling of newspaper accounts
  • Murder, robbery, etc.


  • Usually published in paperback
  • Takes place in the Old West – western Americas during post-Civil War era
  • Involves macho guys on horses
  • Often land conflicts involved
  • Often wealth such as a gold mine involved
  • Relationships critical
  • Usually a sheriff/lawman
  • May involve ‘saloon gals’
  • Revenge a common topic
  • Conflict and suspense important
  • Uses fair bit of direct exposition
  • Can include love scenes


  • Main character between 12 and 16
  • No explicit love scenes, but kissing…
  • Conflict and suspense important
  • Can be written into nearly every genre category
  • Example Harry Potter