Cindy Spencer Pape, author of the Gaslight Chronicles (Carina Press), blogged at Steamed! in late 2013 about the possibility of her series coming to an end:
“One of my first projects for 2014 is to finish and turn in Ether & Elephants (working title), the last book so far contracted in the Gaslight Chronicles. While I won’t swear that this is the end, the cold, hard fact is that steampunk isn’t selling anywhere near as well as publishers originally expected. Fewer and fewer publishers are contracting the genre at all, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that steampunk is far more lifestyle than literary.”
In related news, Zoe Archer and Nico Rosso’s Ether Chronicles has ended with book five, Skies of Gold. This occurred despite potential for more stories in their shared world, so Ms. Pape might not be the only author re-evaluating the steampunk romance path.
Ms. Pape also left a comment about the state of steampunk romance, stating that “The truth is that in the fiction world, it never really took off, barring just a few major authors.”
Her post and comment, as well as the discussion that followed, raised a few points worth noting.
First, I must commend her as well as other steampunk romance authors for taking a risk on a genre in its very early stage. I’ve been blogging about steampunk romance since 2008. At the time, I could practically count the existing steampunk romance titles on one hand. So it was exciting to see authors take a chance on it.
Despite Ms. Pape’s concerns, I’m not convinced steampunk romance has generated enough books yet to measure either success or failure. Like any genre before it, steampunk romance needs time to build. Seems to me it was only yesterday when readers—particularly romance ones—even learned what it is.
Perhaps it’s a slow-cooker genre rather than a stir-fry.
The slow-cooking aspect can be undoubtedly frustrating for some authors. It can be a challenge to decide how many steampunk romance stories one should write, especially if the short-term gains are shrouded in mystery or turn out less than expected (i.e., low sales and royalties).
Authors of digital-first steampunk romances have the freedom to explore all kinds of steampunk romance stories of all kinds of lengths. That’s pretty awesome for readers. At the same time, the books lack a distinct advantage: mainstream print distribution. Not so awesome for readers who can’t find the nigh-invisible stories because too little marketing is being done. Authors are likely left wondering at times if their efforts are worth it.
Yet genres like steampunk romance, because they are so incredibly niche, can’t carry the authors along—it needs nurturing. Sometimes the nurturing is Time itself. Other types of nurturing include word-of-mouth, grassroots campaigns organized by fans and authors, author-driven marketing, and innovative storytelling. Publishers provide distribution of one kind or another, but unless one is a brand name, mainstream print author, then the likelihood of getting a major marketing push is minimal. In the case of steampunk romance, its future is in the hands of readers and authors.
There’s also a difference between steampunk romance not being viable for an individual author vs. the genre being viable as a whole. Many authors in many genres (unfortunately) fail to gain living wages from their royalties, let alone fame and fortune. But it doesn’t always signal the end of a genre. Granted, they cycle up and down. With steampunk romance, we’re either witnessing growing pains or a down cycle.
We also must consider that an individual author’s (or group of authors’) perceived failure may in fact be one of the crucial factors in the genre’s overall development. As they say, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.
I really hope authors don’t throw in the towel just yet. (And if you have to throw in the towel, toss it to another author who’s ready to dry off! Er, I mean willing to carry the torch.) Lucky for all of us, ebooks have a much longer shelf life than print ones.
On that note, Ms. Pape’s article inspired a substantial discussion in the comment section. Numerous visitors indicated an active interest in steampunk/steampunk romance as well as ideas for attracting new readers.
Other ideas for keeping steampunk romance viable include
* branching out into non-Victorian settings, e.g. space (see also my post here at Coffee Time Romance about multicultural steampunk romance),
* self-publishing titles (especially if publishers aren’t interested in acquiring steampunk romance)
* tapping into non-romance steampunk stories for inspiration
* take more advantage of progressive steampunk romance heroines
* generate more steampunk romance anthologies
Those are all great ideas. What would you suggest to help steampunk romance grow?
About the author
Heather Massey is a lifelong fan of science fiction romance. She searches for sci-fi romance adventures aboard her blog, The Galaxy Express. She’s also an author in the subgenre. To learn more about her published work, visit heathermassey.com.