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A non-fiction book is a knowledge-oriented book aimed at people who want to find out more about a specific topic without being experts in this field ("interested laypeople"). A key word that characterizes the non-fiction book market is "Special Interest": The topics are increasingly structured due to the increasing specialization of technical knowledge and personal interests. The opposite pole is the specialist book , which is also knowledge-oriented - but is aimed at specialists who have prior knowledge of the topic under discussion and who need further information, e.g. B. need for their professional practice. Both are sometimes used synonymously with the English "non-fiction". Non-fiction then forms the counterpart to fiction in the broader sense, corresponding to “fiction” in English (from Latin “fictum”, invented).


Non-fiction and specialist books including textbooks differ fundamentally in their target group. Another genre are advisors, which are aimed primarily at those seeking advice and help and are benefit-oriented with regard to orientation and topics.

Reference works , encyclopedias , school books , music books or travel literature, as well as almanacs, are usually non-fiction books.

Bookstores , libraries and publishers divide their non-fiction books very differently into departments and focuses; there is no uniform system of product groups . A book on digital photography fits on the art / photography shelf as well as in the computer / image processing department.

Here is a list of the most important types of non-fiction books:

The German non-fiction book with the highest circulation was (and is) Gods, Graves and Scholars by CW Ceram , which, although it was called the “ Roman of Archeology ”, made the non-fiction book popular as a literary genre. The autobiography of Lee Iacocca is regarded as the best- selling non-fiction book of all time in the USA : Iacocca - an American career . The Guinness Book of Records is also the world's best-selling copyrighted book.


The German definition is controversial. The poetology of the non-fiction book likes to exclude the advice literature and only includes the so-called narrative non-fiction book in the category (see web link). Reference is made at various points to Sergei Tretyakov and his concept of the "biography of the thing". The following applies to the area of libraries : Non-fiction books are “... titles that are neither children's books nor comics, in which the informative, analytical or reflective character, not the narrative or linguistic character, is in the foreground. [...] Non-fiction books in the broader sense refer to a reality that is presupposed outside of the work, which of course can be purely intellectual in nature. ”In the book trade, a narrower definition applies that does not include advice, school and learning (textbooks), science and travel (see below ).

Another way to distinguish between fiction / ( fiction ) and non-fiction ( non-fiction ) is the question of the accuracy of the information presented. This does not apply to fiction.

Fiction ( fiction ):

  • Basic question: "good or bad?"

Non-fiction literature :

  • Basic questions: "good or bad?" + "Right or wrong?"

A general distinction is made between non-fiction and specialist books, although the distinction cannot always be made clearly. For example, a book that deals with psychological topics and is aimed at engineers and business people can be viewed both as a non-fiction book, since the target group is not psychologists, but also as a specialist book, since core topics of the target group, such as occupational safety , are treated. The classification depends, among other things, on which competencies the author grants his readers.


Around every third book sold can be described as a guide. A substantial part is now sold through and other internet providers. But the stationary book trade still generates the largest turnover with guides and non-fiction books, albeit with a slight decline. In recent years, this has increasingly been the case in the so-called "secondary markets" - that is, in stores that do not belong to the book industry, such as B. DIY stores, pharmacies, health food stores - a growing proportion of non-fiction books that are thematically related to the respective product range are sold.

The share of non-fiction books in total sales of books is very much dependent on the type of binding. In the area of hardcover -Books (fixed "bound" books), the proportion of non-fiction books at 84 percent, while in softcover -Büchern (paperbacks or paperback called) only 14 percent. Here, fiction leads with 54 percent.

Share of sales of all books sold in Germany in 2016: approx. 86,000 titles (of which 72,820 are first editions)

  • 31.5% fiction
  • 16.5% books for children and young people
  • 52.0% non-fiction books :
    • 14.5% adviser
    • 9.8% non-fiction i. e. S. (definition according to book trade)
    • 10.9% school and learning
    • 5.7% travel
    • 11.1% science:
      • 4.8% humanities, art, music
      • 3.8% natural sciences, medicine, computer science, technology
      • 2.5% social sciences, law, economics

See also


  • Oliver Gorus: Successful as a non-fiction author. From the book idea to marketing. 2nd, completely revised new edition. Gabal , Offenbach 2011, ISBN 978-3-86936-179-6 .
  • Andy Hahnemann, David Oels (ed.): Non-fiction and popular knowledge in the 20th century. Lang, Frankfurt am Main a. a. 2008, ISBN 978-3-631-56132-4 .
  • Sonja Klug: A book is a book is a book ... The successful path to your own non-fiction book. Orell Füssli, Zurich 2002, ISBN 3-280-02623-7 .
  • David Oels, Stephan Porombka , Erhard Schütz (Hrsg.): Non-fiction, canonical (Non fiction. Arsenal of other genres 2/2007). Introduction On the way to a non-fiction canon : PDF version
  • Stephan Porombka: How to write a (damn good) non-fiction book. In: Non fiction. Arsenal of the other genera. 1/2006 (The popularity of the non-fiction book), pp. 72–92 ( PDF version )
  • Klaus Reinhardt: From knowledge to books. Write technical and non-fiction books. Huber, Bern 2008, ISBN 978-3-456-84521-0 .
  • Michael Schikowski: Always factual. A short history of the non-fiction book 1870-1918, Bramann, Frankfurt am Main 2010, ISBN 978-3-934054-42-4 .
  • Erwin Barth von Wehrenalp : The social significance of the non-fiction book. In: Peter Vodosek (Hrsg.): The book in practice and science: 40 years of the German book archive in Munich: a festschrift . Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 1989, ISBN 3-447-02901-3 , pp. 587-611 ( limited preview in Google book search).

Web links

Wiktionary: Non-fiction book  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Martin Eichhorn: Kulturgeschichte der "Kulturgeschichten": Typology of a literary genre Königshausen & Neumann 2002, p. 15
  2. a b Technical book, non-fiction book, advice book What are the differences? lehmann's knowledge box on
  3. Konrad Umlauf . Modern book studies: books in libraries and in bookshops today. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2005 (2nd, updated and revised edition). P. 53.
  4. David Oels. ... what a non-fiction book actually is. Nonfiction Research Worksheets # 20. Institute for Book Studies at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, 2013. Archived copy ( memento of the original from September 2, 2017 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  5. Religion fuels the non-fiction market . In: The world . May 22, 2008, p. 27.
  6. Book and book trade in figures 2016 (Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels) [1] and [2] September 1, 2016