The Future of Steampunk

I was on a panel yesterday at LepreCon in Phoenix, Arizona, entitled “The Future of Steampunk Literature.” As it turns out, my other panelist didn’t show up and I ended up being the only speaker. Still, it was a good conversation and I think several good points were raised that are relevant to questions about the future of any genre.

First off, I’ve encountered people who have suggested that steampunk has reached its peak in popularity and may even be past it. While I think it’s possible that steampunk has reached a peak in the general public’s consciousness, I see that the genre has a good strong, core following. I think this is helped by the fact that steampunk is not just a literary genre, but is strongly connected with the maker movement and has a vibrant music scene. Even if it didn’t have that strong core, I think it’s easy, especially for new writers, to put too much emphasis on writing to what’s popular and avoiding what’s not popular.

It’s true, the big New York publishers are going to base decisions on what they see in their marketing numbers and if they see steampunk on a rise, will probably buy more steampunk. However, they’re not going to be looking for what you send them in a month or two. They’ll be looking at what they already have in their reading stacks. If they see numbers trending upward, they’ll talk to authors and agents they know and perhaps get a few known authors on board. In short, the publishers are probably way ahead of you in the popularity game and it’s better for a new author to write what they’re passionate about than chase perceived trends. Of course, creating what they’re passionate about is one of the things steampunks do best!

Second, steampunk is a very multi-faceted genre. There’s alternate history, weird westerns, science fictional steampunk, magical steampunk, horror steampunk, post-apocalyptic futuristic steampunk and probably more than I haven’t thought of. Not only that, new authors are putting their own spins on it, punking up the diesel era, the atom age, and even going back to the stone age. Although these many facets can make marketing steampunk a challenge, the fact that so many people are being so creative with the basic idea speaks to the health and the vibrancy of the genre.

I can’t pretend to have any great insight into steampunk’s future, but the strong, evolving core following tells me it’s a healthy fandom and gives me hope that it will be a force in publishing and other areas for many years to come.

Clockwork-Legion

I continue to be on panels for the rest of this weekend at LepreCon, and will be engaging in more steampunkery. When I’m not on panels, I’ll be in the dealer’s room. Local Gamer Guest of Honor, Ben Woerner has graciously given me some space at his table. Be sure to come by the table and check out his cool samurai noir role playing game, World of Dew as well as my books. If you’re not at LepreCon or you managed to miss me, you can check out my steampunk books on Amazon:

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6 comments on “The Future of Steampunk

  1. Jack Tyler says:

    Encouraging outlook, sir. Hope for the future is always welcome. Wish I could have been there. It’s always a pleasure to hear you speak!

  2. therailbaron says:

    Have fun, David! Glad you take a positive outlook.

  3. It’s been interesting to see which genre fads took permanent hold. I remember when Cyberpunk was the new hot thing but it faded. Then Military SF was the new hot thing and it’s still going strong. To say nothing of Urban Fantasy. Time will tell, I guess.

    • Agreed. Part of my optimism is based on the observation that steampunk seems to have grown into something more than a fad. To my knowledge, no one has decorated their house in Cyberpunk nor have any bands devoted their entire musical repertoire to the genre. Of course, neither of those things is true with Military SF or Urban Fantasy that I know of. Thinking about it a little more, Steampunk reminds me more than a little of the Star Trek phenomenon. People bring it into their lives and make it their own in a way that isn’t necessarily true of other genres. If that parallel holds, then steampunk could be around for many, many years to come. What’s more, “steampunk” isn’t owned by a single mega-corporation like Star Trek is. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.

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