A writer’s confession

by Mike Van Horn

I don’t know what genre my stories fit into. Yeah, it’s science fiction. Not hard sci-fi, since my heroine flies off to other stars. I know what it’s not. Not dreary dystopian, not vicious alien invaders, not far fuzzy future. 

But what IS my genre? Maybe friendly first contact with personal journey? But try to find that in the Amazon categories. 

Someone called my stories space opera. But there’s not even a fat lady to sing at the end. 

I also don’t know who my target readers are. As I see it, my target readers are people who like my stories. But who are they? How do we even find out? It’s not like I’m writing romance or YA or steampunk or zombies, which all have definable audiences. 

When I look at my Amazon reviews, they seem quite diverse: women and men, American and European. Amazon gives us no info on who buys our books. I’d love to interview my readers to see who they are.

I don’t know what the market is demanding. All the gurus say, scan the other books in your genre and see what’s selling the most, then write that. Ugh. First of all, there are so many sci fi books out there that I think are just terrible, or full of clichés. Of no interest to me at all. 

Secondly, I don’t see many others that are “friendly first contact.” When one woman learned I was writing about friendly aliens who came as tourists and traders, she said, “That’s unusual.” I responded, “That’s why I’m writing it.” 

Thirdly, I write what turns me on. For a long time I’ve been annoyed by the hostile alien invasion trope, and I wanted to write something different. I did no market research on the demand for this topic.

I don’t plan out my stories ahead of time. What I’m writing now started out as a short story, then it metastasized into a trilogy. And now I’m writing Book 4 of the trilogy. And in Book 4, I have no idea what’s going to happen to my heroine at the end. I’m waiting for her to tell me. 

I don’t spend all my time reading other people’s stories, as gurus insist we should. Where would I get the time to do that? Most of my reading is non-fiction. And the novels I’m drawn to are often from years ago. 

I don’t know where my story came from. Interviewers ask, “Where’d you get the idea for your book?” My answer, “I don’t remember.” “Well, how come you have a woman as your MC?” “I dunno. She just popped up in my mind, like my anima or muse.”

I’m doing all these things wrong. I don’t know whether I even count as a real writer. 

But I’m having a great time doing it! 

Mike’s trilogy includes Aliens Crashed in My Back Yard, My Spaceship Calls Out to Me, Space Girl Yearning, and Alien Invasion: There Goes the Neighborhood.


19 responses to “I Don’t Know Nuttin’”

  1. GD Deckard Avatar

    I dunno. Any writer who creates a singing heroine as a main character (and writes the music she performs) for stories like, “Aliens Crashed in My Back Yard. -There goes the neighborhood” is not totally lost or completely unhinged. 😜 Probably.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. GD Deckard Avatar

      For those who might wonder about the music Mike writes for his singing heroine, here’s “Rocket Girl.”

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Liz Gauffreau Avatar

        I just listened to “Rocket Girl.” It reminds me of those hair band power ballads from the ’80s. Great fun!

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Mike Van Horn Avatar

          Selena, my heroine, says it’s a tribute to Elton John’s “Rocket Man.”

          Liked by 4 people

          1. Liz Gauffreau Avatar

            Interesting! I can see that lyrically; musically, I still say power ballad. 🙂

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Mike Van Horn Avatar

              Liz, I’m just the lyricist. I hired a guy to compose the music and a local blues singer as vocalist. So I don’t even know what a power ballad is.

              Liked by 3 people

              1. Liz Gauffreau Avatar

                Ah. “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” by Aerosmith was a big one.

                Liked by 2 people

  2. Carl E. Reed Avatar

    Thanks for posting examples of your work, Mike! As to following your own muse, writing-wise–what’s that quote of Oscar Wilde’s?

    “Be yourself–everyone else is taken.”

    Liked by 6 people

  3. Liz Gauffreau Avatar

    At a certain point, I do wonder if gurus are expert at being gurus, not experts at being writers. One thing I have noticed is that the type of writing the gurus are expousing is no different from television. It’s a product, a consumable.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. DocTom Avatar

    Well, originality may be its own reward, but unfortunately, it can also be its own burden.

    The problem is that publishers (like most people in the entertainment industry) are always on the lookout for the next sure thing. Since costs are so high, they are generally risk averse.

    Also, many readers are not all that adventurous – they know what they like and that’s all they want (hence the labels).

    Even those who are adventurous can get tired very quickly because there’s so much out there. A friend of mine told me that he used to dive into the Amazon 99cent Sci-fi kindle pile quite a bit. He was hoping to both find someone new and help out those writers trying to get started. He gave it up because he was “Tired of reading crap.” For a couple of years my daughter reviewed books for Online Book Club and then did line editing through them. She gave it up because she was tired of “reading garbage.”

    Both decided that at least a non-self-published book will be worth the effort because the publishers thought it worthy (now go back up to the sentence beginning “The problem is….”).

    So what’s the answer? If I knew, I’d either be a wealthy publisher or the most successful literary agent in the country. (BTW, I’m neither.) All I can say is keep plugging away.

    P.S. Nice song, Mike. I enjoyed it.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. Carl E. Reed Avatar

    @Tom: Got a great anecdote for you (and other drive-by readers) re: “Tales from the Slush Pile”! It concerns Ray Bradbury’s short story “Homecoming”.

    At the time, Bradbury was a struggling pulp writer: writing for pennies a word for mags most people regarded as, literarily speaking, little better than trash.

    He submitted his story to Mademoiselle, a glossy fashion magazine with a sterling reputation for publishing quality literary fiction. (Let us pause to think about that for a second–what a world we have lost!) Anyway, a young man tasked with the onerous job of skimming the slush pile searching for that one-in-a-million gem to put before managing fiction editor Rita Smith flagged “Homecoming” for consideration.

    Firestorm! Rita and the young man battled the magazine’s owners to publish the story; “the suits” objected: “pulp material”, “not for our audience”, etc. At one point another editor (not Ms. Smith) exclaimed, “But we’ve never published anything like this before!”

    That discerning young man placidly and coolly replied, “Then the magazine will have to change.”

    Mademoiselle accepted the story–in fact, designed their entire October issue around a Halloween theme. And Bradbury’s literary career began in earnest.

    The slush-pile-reading young man? A complete unknown named . . . Truman Capote.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. DocTom Avatar

      Great story, Carl. Unfortunately, a modern Capote would probably have found himself on the unemployment line. The fact is that many upper class publishers and mags don’t even have “slush piles” any longer. You need to submit through an agent or not at all.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. mimispeike Avatar


      Liked by 2 people

    3. GD Deckard Avatar

      I posted that as “- anecdote by Carl E. Reed” on Facebook. It is great, Carl!


  6. Mike Van Horn Avatar

    Just pennies a word, eh? Let’s see, novel is 100,000 words, that comes to a few grand. Dang, doesn’t sound too bad!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Carl E. Reed Avatar

      And that’s a whole other topic, Mike! Back-in-the-day there was a real market for high-paying fiction (thousands of dollars per short story) published in “the slicks”. That world is forever gone–as is the concept of the “middle-range author”, whose publishers would support for decades in hopes of an eventual “break-out” book.

      Liked by 4 people

  7. curtisbausse Avatar

    Your process sounds very similar to mine, Mike. Though I certainly fit in the ‘crime’ genre, I don’t know which of the various sub-genres I belong to. I figured I’d write a ‘cosy’ series, and read a few in that genre but they turned me off so now I just go where the MC takes me. And hope a few readers will follow.
    I love your covers, btw!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Mike Van Horn Avatar

      Thank you! So glad you like my covers.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Mike Gutowski Avatar

    can’t express enough appreciation for your candor. i share your perspective. i write what i like to write. before publishing on Amazon, i try to fit my story shape into the holes provided. sometimes works, sometimes not. all the best.

    Liked by 2 people

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