Diesel vs. Steampunk: Publishing Ethics

When it comes to ethics, the RedneckGranola is driven by a prime directive -- "stick it to the man." Basically, greed and injustice demand civil disobedience. Thus sneaking food into a movie theater that charges two dollars for popcorn is unethical, while a theater that charges six dollars demands that I sneak in food to support the cause of the globally popcorn-oppressed. Simple. (a 200% markup is business, a 1000% markup is oppression).


But when it comes to the self-publishing ethics and marketing ethics of my upcoming novel, where do I draw the line? It has been said that "a duck is a duck is a duck." But one could also respond, "duck, duck, goose," so you can see my problem. (Truly mine is a dizzying intellect.) When writing a dieselpunk, weird Western, pulp adventure story there are two main options available for its marketing:


1.) Codify it as I did above, as specifically and accurately as possible.


2.) Fudge on the label by comparing it to something people have actually heard of (in this case, steampunk. Well, more people have heard of steampunk than dieselpunk).


So when it comes to self-publishing how can one adhere to the prime directive and "stick it to the man?" I've decided that the answer has to start by not sticking it to the people. Right? Empowering the people is by nature sticking it to the man. Ah, but what if the people are ignorant chattel playing into the hands of the man? Here is where it gets interesting.


The masses want steampunk. The publishing machine feeds them steampunk. The masses want more steampunk. The industry (teetering on the cusp of ruin despite its 1000% markup) grows desperate for more steampunk. Here steamy-steamy-McSteam, but there simply isn't enough. Solution. Redefine the genre. Broaden the boundaries. I mean, really. Who decides these things anyway? A bunch of aether inspired artists munching on Cheetos and drinking wine straight from the box?


After all, why couldn't a book about transgendered Nazis gone back in time to battle zombie dinosaurs be just as steampunk as, as... thus goes the argument. Pretty soon the genre label means nothing. Readers tire of thinly veiled vampire romance novels decorated with brass goggles and dirigible-facilitated booty calls, and the entire industry moves on.


Decision: I will not yield to the temptation to call my dieselpunk weird Western by the more alluring steampunk title. Instead I will stick it to the man by offering an exciting and enjoyable read to those fans who know about and lust for true dieselpunk and weird Westerns (and to those bold enough to try something new!). I will contribute to the empowering of a truly disenfranchised sub-genre struggling for recognition!


Power to the people! And you true dieselpunk and weird Western fans (all sixteen of you), enjoy Fistful of Reefer! Find the Redneck Granola at The Green Porch. Margaritas after 2:00pm!

Views: 323

Comment by Chaz Wood on May 26, 2011 at 3:16pm

Somebody else has anxieties when it comes to promoting personal material...good to know I'm not alone. As I recently posted, my own surreal fantasy fairytale-inspired kind-of-steampunk cosmic series of books has prompted me to question how exactly I label and categorize what I do. A question I'm still nursing, but which has assumed less significance since having read your post.


However, consider a related parallel, when in the 1970s, anarchy broke out in the UK due to the explosion of a new type of simple rock music, punk rock - played with great energy but lacking polish. Its success was due to the public's boredom with long-haired metal bands who played 5-minute guitar solos. Punk was all about taking music away from the Man and giving it back to the people. You no longer had to have a degree in music theory to be in a band, you could be in a band if you knew which side of a guitar you put the strings on. You could be a singer even if you couldn't sing, and had a Cockney or Scouse or Dunfermline accent. The kids bought it, parents and the authorities loathed it. It seemed like the end of the world was nigh. All those upcoming long-haired metal bands who played 5-minute guitar solos couldn't get record deals because the Man who ran the record labels wanted short-haired gangs who played 2-minute songs.


2 years later, and the kids had grown up a bit. The Man realised that punk had been an exploding star, that was now turning into a black hole. The kids were becoming more sophisticated again, and suddenly the backlash began - so the Man began signing up all those long-haired metal bands who played 5-minute guitar solos, and the new wave of British heavy metal became the new big bright thing, quickly followed by the New Romantic movement which was the exact antithesis of the snarling gutter-level anarchy from 2-3 years previously.


My point? No matter how cool or cutting-edge, how hip or alternative, how exciting or radical or scary a movement or a genre may be, when the Man finally gets hold of it, it becomes safe, boring and predictable - so much so that pretty soon, neutral observers may wonder what was so exciting about it in the first place. How many punk rock bands today scare people? Are banned from national radio? Provoke questions in Parliament, public demonstrations, picket lines outside music venues, or provoke members of the public to armed assault on musicians in the street?


When punk began, it was just punk. Punk was punk was punk. It was an attitude, a look, a feeling, as much as a style of music. You lived punk, you didn't just play it. When the genre label was applied by The Man to what HE perceived to be punk, the focus shifted.

The Man wants to own genre labels so he can exploit them, suck them in, milk them, and spit them out when the next exciting underground thing comes along that he can slap a genre label upon.

We, the people, may choose to play his game, or not. We, the people, who create the works, may call ourselves punks or steampunks or liquid-petroleum-gaspunks, or not, as the case may be. We may ask ourselves why we apply these labels to ourselves, whom we hope to attract by doing so, or indeed, who we may repel. As creators, we seek to belong to a movement, to a club, a gang, an exclusive group of some sort, so we feel less marginalised and more worthy. We seek to raise awareness of ourselves and works among others of similar taste and persuasion, to present ourselves to a pre-defined audience that actually understands what the hell we're talking about.

As it sits, you choose not to play the game, and much power be to you, sir. You strike on ahead by defining your work as it is, not as you think the mass public or the Man thinks it ought to be. Nine people in the world may think that 'dieselpunk and weird Western' is the most amazing thing ever, but if they in turn tell nine people, and so on, pretty soon you've kicked a snowball down the side of Everest. Then, the whole thing comes down to how far you're willing to sell out...but that's another forum post altogether.  d:-|


Comment by David Mark Brown on May 26, 2011 at 3:29pm
Thanks for the comment, Chaz. Yeah, in today's connected digital world I think it is easier to simply write what you write and then find the niche audience that likes it. Now I can find facebook groups that like weird westerns and use hashtags on Twitter to find dieselpunk fans, etc. I'm finally writing what I love. Hopefully I find some readers!
Comment by Chaz Wood on May 27, 2011 at 9:18am

Well, writing what I write is what I've been doing for 20 years - it's only in the past 5 or 6 that I even thought about getting commercial. Not by 'selling out' and conforming to current trends. Then, it's just a case of finding the audience, and of course the whole argument that you originally posted - 'How do I actually pitch this to the right people?'


By the way, if you're into blogging generally, my site is always welcoming to guest posters on any aspect of writing, creating, self-publishing, SP or similar related topics. If there's a webpage or site you'd like to plug, I'm happy to swap links/banners.

Comment by Peter Francis on May 27, 2011 at 9:21am

I'm 100% with you here David. It's no fun to be constrained by rules of "textbook" steampunk. Why try to write something in a world that someone else has created. Leave Verne and HG Wells where they are and take inspiration from their endeavour to give people something new. If you write a paranormal romance then you're in the shadow of twilight and your work will simply be an also-ran in this little bubble we're being forced to live through at the moment. The same goes for Steampunk, why mimic a sci-fi author who's been dead over 100 years...I look at steampunk as a world that uses steam over electric power and that's it, not a specific time or anything like that.

Write what you want. Natch you have to make concessions to give the people what they want, but I think people get more excited by something they haven't seen before than another fella in a top-hat and morning coat buzzing around Laaaaaandan in an airship...yawn! Last time I checked there's no Steampunk section in Barnes and Noble, it all fits into fantasy/sci-fi which is essentially what you write so you don't need to worry about it not having a place on a shelf. If enough guys are into what you do then the labels and tags will take care of themselves. Philip Reeve is regarded as one of the best "steampunk" writer around, but when he wrote his first book he didn't even know what it was, he was just writing what he wanted...Now Peter Jackson is supposedly making his books into movies!

Comment by Chaz Wood on May 27, 2011 at 11:17am

@Peter - if someone as big as Peter Jackson is truly going to be filming the works of Reeve, then it sounds to me, at any rate, that the Steampunk genre may be heading for the big explosion, followed by the inevitable crash, as suggested by my punk->metal/new romantic music comparison above. Once something reaches saturation point in the public consciousness then it tends to implode, and the public begin looking for its antithesis, or at least the next big new thing. So choosing to write something that is a bit off-the-wall at the present time is probably no bad thing, and could even be an investment for the future. As I see it, the problem lies in the fact that trends get boring pretty quickly, and that can lead to good, solid works of art and fiction being unfairly written off as "just another example of...[insert flavour of the week]".


I didn't know about the Jackson thing until now. But if true, it makes me a lot happier about writing something that isn't easily quantifiable, and crosses multiple categories.


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