|Data from Wikipedia, retrieved July 7, 2012.|
You can glean what you like from that chart. Here's my (almost certainly biased) analysis:
TRENDS COME IN WAVES
Something new hits the populace. People get excited about it and create more stuff like it. Then eventually they get bored of it and the trend goes back down.
But, if enough people still haven't heard of it and a second new thing comes along within the trend, the cycle could start again. It could even get bigger as a whole new group of people get into it, and the old people go, "Wait, that's a thing again? I was into that when we called it 'steam-driven punk.'"
I think it's safe to say THE DIFFERENCE ENGINE and its precursors sparked that first little bump from '92 to '95. I don't know what triggered the spikes in 2001 and 2004 -- maybe PERDIDO STREET STATION, or maybe the manga STEAM DETECTIVES or even WILD WILD WEST (a bad movie can start a trend as much as a good one, as people think about what might have been great).
Now we're in the middle of a whole new wave, triggered by movies like STEAMBOY and THE PRESTIGE, books like AIRBORN and MORTAL ENGINES, along with everything that came before it as more and more people explore the history of steampunk. This wave is big, though I suspect it's coming to its end in the next couple of years (at least on the book side, see below).
MOVIES FOLLOW BOOKS
It was interesting to me that almost every bump in the graph started with books, then film and TV carried the cycle while books backed off the trend. This really shouldn't be a surprise, since most movies are based on books.
But it's important to remember: if you write steampunk because of SHERLOCK HOLMES or LEGEND OF KORRA (for example), you might be too late to cash in.
THIS IS HOW I THINK TRENDS HAPPEN
We see something we like and go, "Cool! I want to make something like that!" So we do, though even with self-publishing, it takes a long time to make a (good) book from scratch and get it to market. That's why bumps tend to occur a couple of years after certain inspirational works.
But here's the thing: we're not the only ones who have that idea. That's why agents get hit with waves of similar stuff: vampires, werewolves, angels, people who control the elements. They're often triggered by the earlier release of something that inspired a bunch of people.
That inspiration is a good thing, but chances are, by the time you've heard of a trend, you're already behind the curve. This is why we're told not to write to trends.
What do you do about this if we genuinely love the trend? I mean, I've loved steampunk for as long as I knew it was a thing (I think that would be Brisco County Jr. in '93). I still love it. But what if nobody else does?
I think there are two reasons this doesn't matter:
- Because eventually it will trend again. Maybe. Just hang on to the idea and try to time it later after the hype has been forgotten.
- Because if you really love whatever it is, you could be the one to trigger the next up-cycle. When someone writes something just to cash in, it shows. Steampunk for steampunk's sake is boring. But when you write something out of true passion, it can transcend the trend to become something awesome.
What do you think? Have you ever written to a trend? Are my chart-based conclusions way off?