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The Genre Wars: Which Books Will Survive?

The social media buzz around books typically surrounds the same authors and genres, leaving readers to wonder why that is.

Credit: Shutterstock/LStockStudio

A society that once feared that books were a dying art now fears that only certain kinds are thriving more than others. With the influence of beloved BookTok (book-centered TikTok videos) and other social media forms, some genres have seen a boom in sales while others trail in the dust.

Which Books Are Winning?

Before we can understand why certain books and their respective genres are leaping off the shelves, we need first to decipher which books these are.

Labelled fantasy shelf at Barnes & Noble.
Credit: Shutterstock/Colleen Michaels

Think of the last time you’ve been to Barnes & Noble. The books that are sitting at the forefront table labeled either “Best Sellers” or “TikTok’s Picks” are the winners of this imagined Genre War. This would include authors such as Sarah J. Maas, Rebecca Yarros, and Colleen Hoover. Or famous series such as Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings.

There are plenty of reasons these books ‘survive’ and sell, such as the author’s writing ability, intricate world-building, or even simply a pretty cover. However, it is no secret that some genres are succeeding more than others. Recently the bestselling genres are fantasy and romance. While lots of these modern best sellers may contain nothing distinctly “new” they are still rousing audiences at numbers unseen for decades. For lots of readers, this begs the question why?

Social Media’s Impact

Social media influences almost all societal decisions. It is where you choose what style you’ll wear, what show you’ll watch, and even what book you’ll read. This choice is mostly dependent on what is trending.

BookTok has been the recent champion in influencing book sales. While most authors haven’t yet made the transition to advertising their work on the app, readers have taken on the job themselves. BookTok has an astounding influence on younger audiences based on what influencers are recommending and which tropes are trending. More on TikTok’s particular impact is found in Audrey Bolin’s article BookTok: The Renaissance or the Ruin of the Publishing Industry?

However, TikTok is not the only social media platform to have this effect. Some authors have joined the fun on Instagram. Social media promotion is increasing with more and more writers opting to self-publish instead of going the traditional route.

Victoria Aveyard, a #1 New York Times bestselling author of the “Red Queen” series, uses her Instagram account as a fun way to interact with fans while broadening her base. Her Instagram page, @victoriaaveyard, features videos ranging from inside jokes for those finished with her series’ to custom cover releases.

While social media’s impact is undeniable, it is not the only thing pushing certain genres out to the masses more than others.

A Short History

To see the connection between social media and book sales, all you have to do is look at the timeline of consumer spending on recreational books. TikTok saw a boom in users following the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, and so did book consumption. A graph of this rise in recreational reading can be found on Statista.

Consumer expenditure on recreational books in the United States amounted to 25.92 billion U.S. dollars in 2022, up from just under 24 billion a year earlier. Americans tend to spend between 18 and 20 billion U.S. dollars on recreational books each year, but the years 2021 and 2022 saw the figure reach levels last seen in the early 2000s.

Amy Watson, June 14, 2023

Winning genres such as fantasy and romance have always dominated the book-buying world, and not by chance.

Blanched overlapping history images.
Credit: Shutterstock/Akos Nagy

Fantasy as a genre is used as a vital source of escapism. An article by Alison Duggan, Fantasy Movies and the Drive for Escapism, dives into how fantasy films provide this feeling, but much is the same for their bookish counterpart.

Fantasy books are so otherworldly and distant from reality that they can act as a distraction. In fact, these books provide the same effect that is gained from social media. It’s escapism, entertainment, and leisure all in one. Following the horrid events of the COVID-19 pandemic and social outcry from movements like Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ+ protests, and recent Pro-Palestinian marches, fantasy can be soothing to a very real-world ache.

Moving onto romance novels. This genre is also a great escape, but it seems to target one audience in particular.

Bouquet of flowers next to opened book.
Credit: Unsplash/Brigitte Tohm

Romance is a women-focused genre, with only 18% of romance readers being male. Many female readers choose the genre because it is one of the many varieties of written stories that focus on a woman’s character through her point of view alone. The tropes are often realistic and void of action sequences which gives the genre a softer allure. That is only in reference to traditional romance, not dark romance or romantasy, which differ greatly.

So, while it is easy to cast fantasy and romance as “new” or “trendy” genres, history will show that they’ve been here awhile and aren’t going anywhere any time soon.

Crown The Victor

It is easy to say the current victor of the Genre Wars is a tie between fantasy and romance. However, the art of literature is an everchanging battle. In the 2010s, dystopia and science fiction had their run on the podium. Who’s to say sonnets and comic books aren’t the next runners-up?

The Genre Wars are simply poking fun at the modern trendiness of books. The real takeaway is the overall rise in readers, and this should be considered a win, no matter the genre victor.

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Written By

Hello all! I am a writer from Baltimore, Maryland currently pursuing an English degree at Ohio University. I write in a variety of mediums including poetry, shorts, novels, articles, and screenplays.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Calliope

    January 16, 2024 at 4:28 pm

    I also believe that modern day sex addiction is so normalized that “smut” has become a beacon to readers. A lot of readers will automatically read a book if it is promoted as “spicy” and won’t really care much about the actual structure and content of the book. This is a great perspective!

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