SF and Fantasy in the New Millennium: An Update

By Susan U. Linville

"Echo"

When my original article was published in the Winter 2002 issue of the SFWA Bulletin, it garnered some attention online and was the topic of discussion at a Worldcon panel. It concluded that low publication rates were primarily the consequence of low submissions, but I did not have many actual submission numbers to work with, only estimates from most editors. As it has been five years since I collected data for the original article, I decided to reexamine the topic of women publishing short fiction by obtaining actual submission data. The editors were more than cooperative in providing actual submission counts, despite the demands of their constant workloads. In addition, I wanted to see if the attention raised by the article had done anything to change the proportion of women being published in the Big Four magazines (Analog, Asimov's, F&SF, and Realms of Fantasy).

In the 2007 data, submissions by women varied greatly between magazines. Analog had the lowest submission rate, 18% of 239 submissions by women (men 72%, unknown 10%). F&SF, with 25% of 381 submissions by women (men 70%, unknown 5%), and Asimov's, with 27% of 200 submission by women (men 66%, unknown 7%), showed intermediate submission rates. Realms of Fantasy had the highest rate with 40% of 262 submissions from women (men 53%, unknown 7%).

Using these figures, I compared submission rates to publication rates for women from 2002-2006 (see Table 1). Without getting into the technical aspects of statistical analyses, these figures form a nice correlation, with submission rates being highly predictive of publication rates. This reinforces the original conclusion that submissions are the primary driving force behind lower publication rates for women in short fiction.

Table 1: Submission rates (2007 sample) versus publication rates (2002-2006) by women

Submissions (%)Publications (%)
Analog1814
Asimov's2725
F&SF2520
Realms4048

To determine if the previous article and discussion that followed had an impact on women publishing short fiction, I compared publication rates for the 1990s, 2000-2001 (just before the article was published), and 2002-2006 (after the article was published). Except for Realms of Fantasy, publication rates for women have actually declined a bit in the last five years, although these are probably not significant declines (see Table 2). Unfortunately, it appears that discussion of the topic has not affected women's publication in the Big Four magazines.

Table 2: A comparison of publication rates for women over time.

1990s (%)2000-2001 (%)2002-2006 (%)
Analog121514
Asimov's282725
F&SF332420
Realms514148

It seems clear that overt editorial bias is not to blame for women's low representation in short fiction. Instead, lack of participation by women remains the clear villain. This could be a result of a perceived bias, added household demands, a tendency to write at novel length, or any number of other subtle factors (see original article), but the fact remains that, except for Realms of Fantasy, women are not being published in representative proportions in the major SF magazines. Are there ways to change this? I know some groups of women have tried bombarding magazines with submissions for short periods of time, but a flood of submissions over a week or month will not help submission rates the rest of the year. Publications like Strange Horizons have published a greater proportion of women's stories than they received (2006: 33% submissions and 67% of publications by women). This type of encouragement from editors and writer's workshops may help, but in the end, it is the women themselves who must take the initiative. A story that remains within the safe confines of a computer hard drive will never be published.


Thanks to John Joseph Adams, Douglas Cohen, Stanley Schmidt, and Sheila Williams for taking the time out of their busy schedules to do submission counts. Thanks to Jed Hartman for his support.

"Echo" is Elizabeth Hand's Nebula winning story.


Susan Linville

Susan Linville has published over a dozen short stories in publications such as On Spec, Northwest Passages, Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword & Sorceress Anthologies, Writers of the Future, and Triangulation. She works at the Center for the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior at Indiana University. Her current research subjects include lions, tigers, leopards, and cougars. Oh my!