Finding that next life-changing book is not so easy with the number of choices out there. The rise in self-publishing has made the options more numerous than ever. These changes have also made publishing more accessible to female writers.
So join me as we go through the 30 best female writers you have to read from a variety of genres and writing styles including thrillers, science fiction, mystery, and many others.
1. Enid Blyton
One of the bestselling children’s writers of all time, Enid Blyton hails from London, England, and is famous for her many books including Noddy, Adventures of the Wishing-Chair, and The Faraway Tree series, and many others.
Other notable tomes include the Famous Five, Secret Seven, the Five Find-Outers, and Malory Towers books, as well as St Clare’s and The Naughtiest Girl.
One of the best aspects of Enid Blyton is her unbelievable amount of work produced: some years she produced over 50 books while still keeping up with her magazine and newspaper columns.
Blyton’s work ranged from fairy tales to animal tales and nature themes, to detective, mystery, and circus stories. However, her writing was notable as she often blurred the boundaries between many genres in her books.
2. Mary Shelley
Most famous for her pivotal work, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, Shelley also has a few historical novels Valperga and Perkin Warbeck as well as some other works.
A fateful trip in 1816 to Geneva to spend the summer with the famous poet Lord Byron was the genesis of the Frankenstein outline, after a discussion about the use of electric currents to bring corpses back to life.
The discussions led to nightmares that night where she saw the reanimation of Frankenstein’s monster which she began writing as a short story.
Percy Bysshe Shelley, the poet that gained huge popularity after his death, was Shelley’s eventual husband and encouraged her to expand the story into a novel.
Held out as having considerable influence on literature and on popular culture, Frankenstein likely spawned a completely new genre of horror and is a fantastic novel that has stood the test of time.
3. Ursula K Le Guin
Le Guin is famous for her works in the genre of fantasy and science fiction, particularly the Earthsea series but is credited with over 20 novels and many dozens of short stories.
The Left Hand of Darkness is another of her seminal works, winning prestigious awards such as the Hugo and Nebula awards for best novel; the first woman to do so.
She is known for her subversive themes, particularly the use of non-white protagonists or stylistic choices regarding storytelling, such as employing a part narrative, pseudo-textbook, and pseudo-anthropologist’s record seen in Always Coming Home.
4. J K Rowling
Known for the Harry Potter series, Rowling is one of the best-selling authors of all time. Her works are said to have revitalized interest in the fantasy genre and she has also been a prolific donator to charitable causes.
Her narrative in Harry Potter blends realistic and romantic elements as well as the common usage of Christian and fairytale motifs. The theme of death is prominent throughout her works, as well as what the nature of good and evil is.
Critics have highlighted that Rowling prefers to present good and evil as choices, rather than inherent attributes. This also ties in to redemption for evil characters if they choose to be good.
Rowling’s work has been credited as being accessible to a wide range of readers and bridge traditional reading divides.
5. Suzanne Collins
Collins is an American writer born in 1962, known for the The Hunger Games and The Underland Chronicles series.
Her works often touch on the themes of the just war, which is a philosophical doctrine concerned with questioning whether a war can be waged morally, according to criteria.
Collins also touches on dystopian and parallel societies, building rich worlds and storylines based on current human societies if they were to undergo significant deviations.
Her use of strong female protagonists and the theme of hope and rebellion have resonated with many readers, leading to Collins being one of the biggest selling authors on Kindle.
6. E L James
Born Erika Mitchell and taking on the pen name E L James, she is most famous for the Fifty Shades trilogy. While admitting the books are ‘my midlife crisis, writ large’, her books have become bestsellers despite being widely panned by critics.
James’ ability to package erotica into page-turners is no small feat and has been lauded due to its ability to talk about taboo topics, particularly female submissiveness in relationships.
The Fifty Shades trilogy is also praised for highlighting non-sexual themes of the relationship, such as how many readers enjoy the emotional aspects portrayed in the book.
7. Nora Ephron
Ephron is well-known for her plays and screenplays, having written the famous When Harry Met Sally…, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, and many others.
Ephron got her to start writing satirical and other pieces lampooning institutions such as the New York Post, eventually becoming a journalist and writer.
Ephron was known for her essays that didn’t pull punches and clearly laid out stripped-down truths that were attributed to ‘supercharging the essay form’.
She wrote on a variety of topics, with her collections such as the 1975 Crazy Salad: Some Things about Women touching on the themes of feminism, freedom, exploitation, reality and femininity.
8. Susan Cooper
An English author that often writes drawing heavily from Welsh themes, Cooper gained fame through her novels The Dark Is Rising, The Grey King, and Silver on the Tree.
Her work has been rewarded as having a significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature, particularly in the realm of epic high fantasy.
Cooper has been praised for her ability for world-building and creating societies and situations that feel realistic and authentic, particularly by invoking the Bildungsroman structure against a backdrop of mythical creatures and heroes.
9. N K Jemisin
Born in 1972, Nora Keita Jemisin is the first author to win three successive Hugo Awards for Best Novel, as well as the first to win for all novels in a trilogy for the Broken Earth series.
Her work is squarely in the science fiction and fantasy genre but deals heavily with cultural conflict and oppression, particularly amongst families and outsiders.
Her narrative style, particularly in works like The Fifth Season, switches between multiple points of view, and even goes into second-person point of view in a devastating reveal.
This writing style helps pull the reader in and feel immersed into the apocalyptic world Jemisin is creating like very few authors can.
10. Beverly Cleary
A bestselling author with over 91 million copies sold, Cleary wrote several books including the very popular Henry Huggins series, the Ramona series, and The Mouse and the Motorcycle.
Cleary is credited with bringing a level of emotional realism to her works, even though she primarily wrote children’s and young adult fiction books.
Cleary is also credited with being a positive influence on children by providing both entertainments while also giving them courage and insight into what to expect as they grow up from their family, friends and the wider world.
Her lively style and a perfect encapsulation of middle-class American childhood helped give broad appeal to her works.
11. Karin Slaughter
Slaughter is the author of 21 novels with 40 million copies sold, mainly in the crime, mystery, and thriller genres.
Her works include the Grant County series and the Netflix-adapted Pieces of Her.
Her writing style has been described as full of interesting characters, often with hidden trauma or secrets that they are hiding. Her creative process often involves thinking of a gruesome crime, then playing out how a character would react to it.
Slaughter is also known for featuring female characters in prominent positions, such as the protagonist Kate Murphy in Cop Town, who plays a police officer partnered up with Maggie Lawson.
Slaughter has won many awards, leading to her being acclaimed as one of the best crime novelists in America.
12. Mo Hayder
Born Clare Damaris Bastin and writing under the pen name of Mo Hayder, she has been described as one of the most brilliant yet disturbing crime writers of the last 50 years.
Her debut novel, Birdman, along with her next two novels, were all bestsellers that are centered around crime and depravity, particularly being controversial for themes include brutal violence and the treatment of pedophilia in The Treatment.
However, she is often praised for her use of accuracy and believable characters in her writing, which lends credibility to otherwise disturbing acts of violence by criminals.
13. Shirley Jackson
With six novels and more than 200 short stories to her name, Jackson dominated the horror and mystery genre for more than two decades.
Her novel The Haunting of Hill House is widely regarded as being one of the best treatments of the standard ghost story out there, with supernatural horror featuring heavily.
Her work The Lottery was so controversial that when first published in the New York Post, it prompted over 300 concerned letters from readers.
Jackson is unique in not being too keen on ever detailing her own life, particularly her influences on writing.
However, her works have been variously described as ‘perfect’ and Stephen King stated that The Haunting of Hill House is ‘one of the most important horror novels of the twentieth century.
14. Sarah Waters
Historical novels are Waters’ specialty, and she has written several books focused on the Victorian era that have been praised for their strong lesbian characters.
Her 2002 novel Fingersmith was, according to Waters, faithfully adapted into the 2016 film The Handmaiden and she has won multiple awards for her work, including being the 2003 British Book Awards’ Author of the Year.
Her work has been praised for a liberal usage of the first person narrative perspective, allowing the reader to understand precisely how the protagonist is feeling, thinking as well as everything they see and do.
15. Claire Fuller
A British writer, Fuller is known for her books dealing with familial relationships, often using a shifting perspective or different eras to bring aspects of the story and characters to life.
One of her most critically acclaimed works, Swimming Lessons, sees the narration take place over multiple timelines, including a 12-year gap. This allows the airing of the complexities within the family to be laid bare.
Fuller’s background in marketing and art shines through in her writing, which she only began in earnest at age 40. Her books feature the themes of resilience, hope, hardship, love, and survival, often set against vivid backdrops in unusual settings.
16. Joanne Harris
Of French and English heritage, Harris’ Chocolat, turned her into a millionaire partly due to its successful film adaptation. All of her subsequent books have become bestsellers despite straddling many genres, making it hard to pin down exactly what type of writer she is.
Harris is generally described as an author who takes on difficult or challenging issues, touching on the genres of fantasy, horror, and thriller.
Harris is also often praised for her exploration of identity, particularly in regard to family relationships and the wider community. She often writes about emotional resonance, particularly that gained from mundane or otherwise boring aspects of life.
17. Margaret Atwood
Famous for The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood is a strong feminist author that has been prolific throughout her writing career with a huge range of awards and accolades to boot.
Drawing heavily on myths and fairytales, Atwood is known for tackling head-on issues like gender and identity, religious themes, and the power of language, as well as critiquing power politics, especially through a sexist lens.
Atwood’s treatment of future dystopian scenarios, particularly totalitarianism, has seen her heavily praised as a writer of speculative fiction, in that she is writing about things that could occur rather than pure science fiction writing.
18. Celeste Ng
With her debut novel topping Amazon’s Best Books of the Year list in 2014, Ng’s work Little Fires Everywhere has also been adapted into a Hulu miniseries exploring how innocent choices can lead to massive upheaval in one’s life.
Ng’s work draws heavily on her childhood experiences, with her books often exploring the dynamics of family relationships with all the quirks and flaws that may be hidden to the casual observer.
Ng uses race heavily in her books, often using it as a way to show how simple matters can get complicated quickly.
Ng tends to use explosive pacing with her books, for example in Everything I Never Told You, the focus of the book, a family, is about to discover their daughter is dead but the reader finds this out before the family, and the book doesn’t stop accelerating from there.
19. Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Another genre-hopping master, Moreno-Garcia saw success with her science-fiction novel Signal to Noise which saw critical acclaim and awards including making The Guardian Science Fiction Novel of the Month.
However, her novel Mexican Gothic became a New York Times bestseller and has been praised for its unsettling themes and horror aspects.
Moreno-Garcia also utilizes strong themes of racism, colonization, class disparity, and vile abuse as permeating, intertwining narratives to give substance to her books. She has been praised for her use of headstrong and confident characters against the patriarchy.
20. Zadie Smith
Smith’s debut novel, White Teeth, was accepted by a publisher before being finished and immediately became a bestseller.
Known for using contradictory themes to stimulate confusion and to force the reader to approach with an open mind, Smith often interweaves existential dread into her novels to cause the reader to get sucked into her world while also examining their own lives.
Smith has also been candid about her struggles with self-confidence and has admitted that therapy has helped her open up in her novels like never before. This has not only accelerated her output tremendously but gives her fiction works a feeling of truth.
21. Geraldine Brooks
Hailing from Sydney, Australia, Brooks started out as many other writers do, working as a reporter.
After some initial success with her international bestseller Nine Parts of Desire, Brooks switched from non-fiction to fiction with Year of Wonders, chronicling the struggles of a 17th century housemaid dealing with a plague that hits her village.
Her 2005 book March won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and her writing style has been praised as both being remarkably consistent: she does not write bad books.
Her style is described as beautiful and poetic at times, touching on the themes of multiculturalism, prejudice, mutual understanding, and a strong feminist streak.
22. Kanae Minato
A Japanese writer specializing in crime fiction and thrillers, Minato is well-known in Japan for her iyamisu or ‘eww! mystery’ style of writing, which is mystery fiction dealing with the grisly or gory side of human nature and psychopathy (causing readers to exclaim eww!).
Her novels have been published in English, including her bestseller Confessions and the 2017 Penance.
Minato’s writing style often tries to get into the head of the dark thoughts of people that are hidden from everyone.
The switching of perspectives throughout Confessions allows the same event to be viewed differently, a very engaging device that allows someone like Minato to develop a truly terrifying conclusion.
23. Donna Tartt
Making Time magazine’s 2014 100 Most Influential People list, Tartt saw critical success with many of her books, including The Little Friend and The Goldfinch, the latter winning the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Heralded as one of the world’s most brilliant writers, Tartt uses a combination of sumptuous descriptions and off-the-wall references, interspersed with suspenseful twists and unexpected turns.
While it takes her approximately a decade to write a book, the wait is always worth it as the end product is full of mystery, rich characters and scenery that will make it so that you never want to put the book down, a tired trope to be sure but definitely true in this case.
24. Elizabeth Strout
Strout’s debut novel, Amy and Isabelle had widespread critical and audience acclaim, with her 2008 novel Olive Kitteridge selling over a million copies.
Olive Kitteridge was also adapted into an Emmy Award-winning series as well as received several awards including a Pulitzer and becoming a New York Times bestseller.
Strout’s writing style often revolves around presenting complicated characters that have deep flaws, while still striving to present to the reader the idea that honest recognition of these flaws is needed to understand their struggle.
Strout’s usage of subtle humor allows her to tackle thorny issues such as immigration and revenge, while not getting lost in a quagmire of partisan politics.
25. Alice Walker
With the themes in her numerous novels, poems, and other writings often heavily featuring black people, particularly women, and their lives while trying to live in a racist, sexist, and violent society, Walker has risen to the top of the literary world with her bold writing.
Most famous for her epistolary novel The Color Purple, Walker has been lauded for her ability to write emotionally powerful novels that probe the prejudice and illogicality of human behavior regarding race.
26. Octavia E Butler
The first science fiction writer to receive a MacArthur Fellowship, Butler had some modest success until her short story ‘Speech Sounds’ won a Hugo award. Her successive works became more widespread and her awards mounted up as her fame as a writer grew.
Butler’s writing often revolves around the theme of inherently flawed humanity, focusing on the innate tendency towards hierarchical thinking. In Butler’s stories, she uses this motif to explore how this can lead to intolerance and eventually violence.
Butler’s strong references to Afrofuturism have also drawn praise, with her writing having been described as ‘evocative and often troubling explorations of far-reaching issues of race, sex, power’.
27. Alice Munro
A Nobel Prize recipient for Literature in 2013, Munro is credited with almost single-handedly revolutionizing the short story genre. Sometimes referred to as the modern Anton Chekhov, Munro has received almost every award possible for writing.
With a strong regional focus often setting her stories in Ontario, Canada, Munro has built a reputation for putting epiphanic moments into her work, making the plot secondary compared to the development of the characters.
While her early work is often described as Bildungsroman, as Munro has aged, her narratives also matured with her. Her books tend to be centered around the ironies and ambiguities of life, while also contrasting the absurd nature of existence.
28. Joyce Carol Oates
Known for her books discussing rural poverty, sexual abuse, class warfare, corruption through power, and adolescence, Oates has forged herself as an author who often writes about cunning and hardy women who survive hardship.
One of her seminal works, We Were the Mulvaneys, explores how an idyllic American family comes to grips with a series of events that leads to their lives being shattered. The narrative is woven through the mechanism of the youngest son, Judd.
Oates uses the frustration of a father to bring the downfall of the family, touching on elements of impotent rage, and family dysfunction, and commenting on the delicate balance that so many people live their lives by.
29. Elena Ferrante
Another entrant to Time magazine’s 100 most influential people, Ferrante has taken the idea of a pen name to a whole new level, as her identity is still secret since her first novel was published in 1992.
Known for her four-book series Neapolitan Novels, Ferrante’s writing is described as candid and intimate, with an uncanny knack of being able to capture the beauty of individual moments while still weaving them into an engaging story.
Often seen to rail against the male-dominated society of Italy, Ferrante often includes admirably strong as well as ambitious female characters butting up against these societal blocks.
30. Annie Proulx
Winning the Pulitzer Prize for her novel The Shipping News, Proulx had further success when her short story ‘Brokeback Mountain’ was adapted into a 2001 film of the same name.
Starting her writing career late in life, Proulx is unique in that she often uses a place or setting to inform a book more than characters or plot. Known for her extensive research and background, Proulx’s work is not a mere surface treatment of these topics.
Her books often revolve around the dissolution of North American rural life. This is through a focus on both the inevitable changes in society, combined with their own obstinance to embrace this change.
Her intentional use of uncommon names also brings a unique feel to her works, and Proulx has commented that the ‘John Smiths of the literary world make me sick’.