2020 is that year that brought unexpected situations, events, and changes in almost every aspect of our life. And the world of writing – from the book genres to reading and publishing does not make any exception.

In this article, we will dig deeper into the transformation the book industry is going through, how readers’ preferences are changing, what genre of book sells the most, and which are the most profitable book genres.

COVID-19’s Impact on the Book Industry

The COVID-19 crisis caused countless lockdowns and social distancing measures. That made people turn to online channels for purchasing various goods and entertainment.

As a response, many industries had to take massive, urgent, and previously unthinkable actions to move into the digital world. A McKinsey Global Survey shows that COVID-19 has sped up the adoption of new technologies by seven years.


However, unlike many other industries, the publishing world has faced these changes for almost a decade. According to Statista, a total of 191 million e-books were sold in the United States in 2020. The COVID-19 outbreak was likely responsible for the dramatic spike in media consumption. This led to an increase of 21 million e-books being sold.

Direct access to bookstores was one of the last significant advantages of traditional publishing houses. Even though it used to be popular, it drastically reduced due to restrictions and people wanting to stay home.

The Industry is Reacting

This is good news for online bookstores and self-publishing platforms and bad for physical libraries. With other social distancing measures, we observed a rise in numerous e-book sales and publishing trends:

  • Reading devices have undergone many changes that now make the reading experience almost identical to a traditional paper book. They are becoming one of the leading factors influencing how people around the world read e-books. Many people use their phones, tablets, and other devices to read e-books worldwide and in different languages. This is making the demand for e-books go up all over the world, especially for translated books.
  • Online applications and services offer an inexpensive alternative to the typical book library. E-loans and e-book markets have also supported the adoption of e-books worldwide.
  • Publishers and libraries are also noticing increasing demands for e-books. Hachette Book Group announced they generated 2.38 Billion euros in 2019, up 5% from last year.
  • Environmental protection campaigns by governments worldwide significantly reduce paper consumption and save trees and increase the demand for e-books.
  • Libraries worldwide have closed most of their services to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. But many of them still offer access to reading electronic materials. Besides, due to the low cost of e-books, librarians can now buy more copies, thus contributing to market growth.

Reader Behaviour Is Changing

In those circumstances, it’s not surprising that smartphones have become even more of a lifeline than before. Recent We Are Social research reveals that 5.48 billion people all over the globe use a mobile phone. It represents an increase of 170 million since 2021.

Mobile phone users are still on the rise.

All these data suggest that content for smartphone users is an excellent focus for your digital publishing efforts this year. The same report also indicates that around 66% use laptops or desktops for browsing and reading.

It doesn’t matter how people access books. The most important thing about highest selling genre of books is that they reach people worldwide, regardless of their format.

It seems like the pandemic has affected how people read and buy books and the book genres. It started in 2019:

  • Nonfiction books for young readers saw the most increase in book publication rates this year. Perhaps it is due to lockdowns of learning facilities, leading to most younger people staying at home.
  • Books about social issues and social justice also gained popularity in 2020
  • Education/language/references and hobbies/games/activities were the most popular book genre for children’s non-fiction books categories.

No matter what new trends emerge in the book publishing industry, there are always some consistent bestsellers with a specific appeal. For 2021, for instance, there were four of them.

Best-selling book genres in 2021


What book genres are the most popular? In terms of book sales, romance novels are one of the most popular genres of fiction books. As human beings, we look for love stories, and romance book lovers invest a lot of money in their reading habits. That’s why romance novels are a billion-dollar genre: In 2016, they made $1.44 billion (including self-published titles).

Moreover, the Author’s Earnings annual report state that for most of 2017, around 51 million romance books were sold. And that for a total worth of about 163 million dollars.

Romance fiction will remain popular in 2021 because people are loyal to their favorite authors in this category. Popular romance subgenres include passionate romance, romantic suspense, young adult, contemporary romance, historical romance, and historical fiction.


Many popular mystery books attract many readers, standalone and series alike. A mystery novel has a simple structure:

  • A well-written story starts with an engaging opening,
  • keeps up the flow of suspense with speedy pacing, and
  • makes sense of everything when it comes to a close.

One of the best book genres, mystery books, can easily be turned into:

The best-selling mystery subgenres include cozy mysteries, police procedurals, true crime mystery novels, hardboiled detective stories, and scientific mysteries.

Due to their speculative literary character, thriller and horror genres usually overlap with mystery and fantasy. Both categories are equally well-read all year round. People constantly want to know about the secrets behind the paranormal and mystical, and dark side of human life.

Fantasy and Science Fiction

Despite their differences, book genres fantasy and science fiction (sci-fi) are closely related in multiple ways. Both genres tend to have many fictional and creative elements, considered speculative fiction.

Many sci-fi stories can take place in a dystopian past. Others are set in a frightening and insecure future. They have to deal with unexpected events generated by scientific and technological development complications.

Fantasy subgenres include steampunk, urban and high fantasy, dark fantasy, epic fantasy, and sorcery and sword. Specific fiction genres like magical realism blend the pure attraction of fantasy with the challenging techniques found in literary fiction. And Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude is an excellent example of this idea.

Thriller and Horror

Authors like Dan Brown and David Baldacci dominate the list of best-selling thriller books. On the other hand, Stephen King is still considered the master of contemporary horror.

Young Adult

Young adult (YA) fiction brings popular adult genres into literature for younger audiences. YA books will continue to sell in 2021. Some best-selling YA fiction books have the same powerful stories and captivating characters found in books for different audiences.

Often, themes for teenagers, such as adulthood or rebellion, overlap with existing literary tropes:

  • J.K. Rowling has been very successful in this niche with her Harry Potter series,
  • Suzanne Collins with The Hunger Games, and
  • R.L. Stine with Goosebumps and Fear Street.

Best Themes for Book Genres In 2021

Pandemic: In the following years, the COVID-19 pandemic and its crisis will influence the works of many writers. Some themes are prevalent in fiction and nonfiction that usually lead to drastic transformations, for example:

  • global isolation,
  • panic,
  • natural disasters,
  • social and political disorders, and
  • health crises 

Dystopian: Usually, dystopian elements are in books about fantasy and science fiction. But now, these elements will be used in other genres like YA (Young Adult) fiction. Literature became very popular during the pandemic and will surely inspire future work.

Artificial Intelligence (AI): Humanoid robots that own human intelligence have always represented popular and catchy characters in sci-fi. Due to the development of robotics and AI, readers will see an increase in literary works dealing with artificial intelligence.

Women: Female writers will continue to take the publishing world by storm. Many books about strong and independent women have already been published in fiction and nonfiction. Still, also some female writers publish in sci-fi.

Bottom line

We don’t suggest you decide to write a romance novel just because it’s the most popular book category. The best option is to write the book you want to write that will best represent you. But knowing where your fiction might fit into the marketplace is also essential. Knowing the genres readers enjoy will allow you to understand what your target audience will most enjoy, making promotion easier.