So You Want to Write Steampunk

Liesel Schwarz, Karl Burnett, John Naylor, Andrea Burnett
9Worlds GeekFestThis is a live blogging of the session.

John Naylor (Major Tinker), Karl Burnett (Arthur Foote III), and Liesel Schwarz (under her own name) have written books.

Karl Burnett
comic poetry—niche genre
short story published

Liesel Schwarz
3rd novel in trilogy, Del Ray, Random House
“mainstream published genre author”
working on PhD in creative writing

John Naylor, television historian (academic work, paleoarchaeology)
steampunk: editor of Steampunk Gazette, pub. 2 years ago, working on next
published in UK and US, about to be published in Spain and South America
“the gringo who sounds like a toff”

steampunk is not just nonfiction or novel or poetry.

9Worlds 2014 Burnetts-6243Wrote before steampunk?
yes, academic writing, but not creative, never finished htose
change into more relaxed format

first short story was teenage angst
before internet and hopefully suitably buried
wrote urban fantasy, historical novel
writing a historical novel, not steampunk

wrote really bad poetry
started numerous creative works, but never finished them

hints for developing ideas, putting the sotry down?

everything around you
sounds, colors, things that happen to you, whatever experiences
spills into your head and creative cauldron in your brain, messy soup
two of these will hit together and spark and you have to grab those out

steampunk_archive_icon_by_yereverluvinuncleber-d5jsav0do you plan your ideas in full?

I do write a rough outline.
large chunks where I put in “stuff happens” or “insert explosions here”

difficulty with non-fiction section is that it is fashionable
People think so I’ll take something else and put a cog on it and it will sell and lots of people rebadging their work as steampunk…
It’s trying to keep the purity of the idea and the steampunk lifestyle.

fiction, with these characters, just put them in and it happens
for poetry—pick topic, write jokes, translate into rhyme, “Is this smutty enough? Is there enough innuendo?

why self-publish?
I was published once in a book I didn’t have to pay for. It does count.
The reason I chose to self-publish is because niche. Most people who purchase have seen my performances. Very much performance based. Only a few hundred people. No point in taking it to a large publisher as they would have laughed at me and thrown me out.
For me it has worked quite well. I have not lost money. Hurray!
Currently working on a novel…

ipad steampunk case 3a ShDwhy is there a stigma to self-publishing?
Known as vanity publishing.
A lot of vanity publishing was pretty dreadful, so it’s difficult for quality work to surface.
The situation has changed an awful lot over the last 5 years.
Large publishers are struggling with profits.
I’m going to go to self-publishing on my novels.
My audience is global.
Major authors are leaving publishers and self-publishing.

perception changing as we speak
traditional/legacy pub machine is slow and taking a long time to change
went to seminar where Society of Authors talked and did research—85% of self-published authors are happy they self-published, 66% have degrees
Very good self-published books. Tremendous amount of work. Professionally editing needed. (Physically impossible to edit.) Decent time and money on proper cover design. HUGE amount of work beforehand. Do your homework and make it the best you can.
publishing industry is aware of self-publishing being good now
They now use the ebooks as slush piles.
The Girl Who Came Home Titanic centennial, sold 100,000+ copies and picked up by major publisher and now a NYT best seller

move in self-publishing to be more professional
editors will do the editing for royalties
Look for professionals all the way down the way.

out of the audience:
Rachel Aaron did a blog post on the cost of self-publishing versus regular pub
This Blog is a Ploy at

steampunk_word_processor_icon_microsoft_word_typewriter by_yereverluvinuncleberPublishers: What steps you go through?
looking around at steampunk written for women
traditionally steampunk has been a blokey kind of genre
until recently very male-oriented and dominated
not a lot to read, so I started writing
Busy working on my MA at the same time. Novel was my thesis. Had workshopping.
It is hot. Had a lot of editorial interest while I was writing it.
Got picked up by an agent didn’t understand steampunk. We parted ways. Victorian take to your bed kind of days.
Through the Romantic Novelist Association, met Carol Blake agent asked if other agent would read steampunk? Agent said yes.
Sent MSWord doc out. Agent said enjoying book a week later. He was following me on twitter. Dialed down tweets about cats. Another week agent asked to meet her in the club. Asked her if she wanted to be represented. 14 February. “happy agent-versary”
Manuscript had been polished, so he sent it out to market. All these editors were following me on twitter as well.
Ready to go to auction. Random House offered pre-emptive deal: US, UK, and Germany. Spend a lot of time and effort on cover and marketing.

How do you get from story to editor interested? Initial stage.
Do your homework.
Is it steampunk romance? Is it more literary? What is your beast? Recognize genre.
Do your homework. If you want to go through an agent, fine. Read their submission guidelines. Follow those.
Read publisher’s submission guidelines. Follow those.
Published authors are the persistent ones. “Too stupid to be scared.”

guidelines often seem arbitrary and weird
Publishers and agents work to deadlines. Do your homework.
Be aware of the whole publishing scene.
Talk to every publisher you have the opportunity to meet. Don’t be intrusive.

Teach a masterclass on sff.
“how to write sff” published by The Guardian
bring agents in to the masterclass
Says she gets 3,500 submissions a year.
But agents work for existing clients. So read their submissions on holiday, on traveling, in the bath, own spare time is what they spend to read submissions.
They will be reading it in their over time. Those guidelines are VERY important.

Steampunkers-2276How do you deal with constructive criticism? When you are asked for changes you don’t like?

take it in stride
main job, weeks planning, hours frantically re-doing what asked to do at end

ignore it
Any guidance anyone can give you is good.

What if person just has different idea for the work? writing style issues?
Andrea Burnett
when I was being published, we could have the discussion with editor and I won.

matter of professionalism
cannot be too precious about your work
Who is it coming from?
take it as it comes

at Teslacon, with wife costume designer, one of the couples said, “You do those British accents so well?”
Steampunk in America has lots of faux British.

They’ve stolen my idea. Someone beats you to it. How do you let it go?
That hurts. Written a couple of screen plays and shows, including for BBC One, and we weren’t credited for those.

Does it make you guarded about who you speak to?

DSC_4615 - Version 2What about you’ve started, worked on, not actually your ideas, but very similar?
wrote 40,000 words and put it aside for a bit, a TV shows that came out that was exactly like it—worked out at the same time
short story, remember

in screenplays fiercely competitive
but in novels and the written word, the writer’s voice is so individual
Same story in our voice is going to be a completely different story.
You have to finish your work.
Some silly manga thing has nicked my hashtag. Need it back.

Genre of steampunk. Anything that is too cliché?
if you bring a fresh take, you can make something used a lot work well

I’m a rubbish poet, takes a lot of skill
adding your own angle and creativity

Nobody says you can do high fantasy, but leave out all the swords.
Same plot lines overused.
7 or 8… Depending on count.

People take a tee shirt, add a cog, say, “There, now it’s steampunk.”
Don’t do that.
make it intrinsically part of your story…
one of the few genres out there that is self-aware. You can have an arch villain with a moustache going “ha, ha, ha.”

9Worlds 2014 steampunk short skirt-6233Naylor
British steampunk…
South American steampunk is also laugh at yourself.
Some Americans get it and some don’t.
Dutch and Belgians it’s new, and serious.

Dutch and Belgian taking their steampunk post-apocalyptic.

fashions, dated already
Japan was the last major country to get on steampunk. But it was a tangent. Only the last 2 years has had steampunk.

Elaborate on future plans.
some more chapbooks
e-pub route
Write some more short stories about Arthur and Tillie.
Also working on novel about Reverend Jericho, adventuring missionary who has lost his faith. Tried his persona, but didn’t like it. King Solomon’s mine-esque.

3rd book out in US in October
stand alone historical write now
Been a bit of a slog.
Books 4 and 5 will be after that.

Steampunk Handbook, end of 2015
Steampunk Gazette out around same time
working on screenplay on War of Worlds true to H. G. Wells—We do have an Oscar Winning actor who is British on board.

Anything you can’t leave out?

aether stuff, clockwork
Bottom line says steampunk is what steampunk says it is.

DSC_4871Recommendations to see how done well?
The Difference Engine, lots of folks say important, I’m not as big a fan. Too cyberpunk. Amazing ideas. Not quite there. Very clever.
The Cryptimicron

Alchemy of Stone
Liz Jensen My Dirty Little Book of Stone and Time
The Wind-up Girl
Anything by China Nieville.
Gail Carriger The Parasol Protectorate is really funny.
Morgensten’s The Night Circus, is it circus punk? But good.

It is what you as a reader enjoy.
politics—someone else

Toby Frost’s books are crazy and weird. Totally out there. Wonderful.
Blokey stuff—Johnson Green Pax Britannica series.
Bryan Talbott’s zopomorphic stuff with Granville

bones of steampunk, mining the marrow
read source works: Jules Verne, H Writer Haggert, HG Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs,
look at Victorian steampunk writers

Publishing v. self-publishing. What about screenplays?
Screenplays rise and fall on treatments: 4 pages
1- good images
2- very brief outline
3- production issues
4- meaty about it
Supply both hard and electronic copies.

Images in the post taken by Dr. Davis or created by yereverluvinuncleber from Deviant Art.

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