Angela Hoy of Writers Weekly (writersweekly.com) posted a question she received from an author who writes and publishes poetry asking about what he (or she) should produce to make money. Hoy referred to this article: "8 Popular Literary Genres."
The list won't surprise anyone. Neither will the top ranked genre: romance. However, it's a mistake to think that dashing off a story and publishing under the "romance" genre's umbrella will result in a deluge of royalties.
First the best selling genre is BIG. Think ocean, not pond. Any newcomer to the genre starts off as a tiny fish in that vast ocean. One can try to reduce the size of the body of water by targeting sub-genres, such as mafia, new adult, contemporary, paranormal, or other category falling under the romance umbrella. That helps a little.
Second, the genre is not only vast, it's densely populated by competing authors and their books. That means the author must expend effort, time, and money to market the book to potential readers in the hope of converting potential to actual readers. That's always easier said than done.
Any author looking to make a quick buck publishing a book won't. For most, I'm sorry to say, it's worse than a zero-sum game. Likely, you're going to operate in the red, especially self-published authors who must foot the cost of editing, formatting, and cover design themselves, as well as marketing. In all likelihood, they will never recoup the money spent on producing a professional quality book.
It's enough to make an author weep and quit the business.
Of course, many (most?) authors who embark upon this perilous journey do so because we have stories to tell, stories that must be told. We have dreams that refuse the crush of reality. We live in eternal optimism: maybe the next book will hit the bestseller list.
Most of us certainly aren't doing this for the money.
The question of how much authors make arises every year. In the February 2nd blog for selfpublishing.com, Angelica Hartgers writes, "the Authors Guild conducted a massive surveyin 2018 to get detailed financial information from more than 5,000 authors. Their research found a $6,080 median for all writers, while full-time writers have $20,300 median." Hartgers also takes care to specify that author salary or author income does not refer only to royalties received from sales of books: most authors have other streams of revenue to pay the bills and keep body and spirit together.
Hartgers further mentions that the larger the genre, the greater the audience, which mean a greater earning potential. The key word there is "potential." Not every nor even most readers of a particular genre will discover your book and buy it. If that were true, I'd be living in a house with central air conditioning.
"Publishing ends up being a 'winner-takes-all' market – a couple of authors at the top make the vast majority of the earnings," Hartgers observes. So, who are these top authors? Again, there's no big surprise. Of the top 11 highest grossing authors, three write romance: Danielle Steel, Nora Roberts, and EL James. The gap between those authors and just about everyone else runs into millions of dollars.
If you're wondering whether indie publishing is a viable pathway to success, writtenwordmedia.com has encouraging words: "Of the 100kers surveyed, 72% were indie and 28% were hybrid." (The term "100kers" refers to authors making $100,000 annually.) These figures don't take into account whether authors published "wide" or were "Amazon exclusive;" however, their research shows that 64% of 100kers published in KDP Select (meaning their books are exclusive to Amazon).
What I find encouraging--at least from the perspective as a freelancer--is that "96% of 100kers choose professional editors to edit their books." Their conclusion shows that authors who make a living from their books value good editing.
So, what should you write? First and foremost, write what you like to read. Anything else will come across as stilted and artificial. Readers can tell and they won't be amused. But don't expect to hit the "big time" without paying your dues in time, effort, and marketing. It's a journey: for some of us it's a long, long journey.