The Diverse Editors List: a post-production essay

By Bogi Takács

Introduction

In late 2013, I assembled a list of editors in the field of English-language speculative literature who belonged to underrepresented groups—all kinds of groups: ethnic, racial, sexual and gender minorities, immigrants, people with disabilities and chronic illness, and so on. There are many such lists focusing on writers, but to my knowledge, no one had made a list of editors.

I came up with the idea in a Twitter conversation with Beth Wodzinski, who was looking for diverse editors to recommend to organizers of online roundtables. At that time, I had recently had a bad experience with the editor of a diversity-oriented venue, and I thought it would be good to promote diversity in general in the field and bring attention to people editing venues, so that the impression that there were only a handful of such people could be diminished. Diminished it indeed was—I ended up with a list of 56 people that is still growing!

This post-production essay describes what I learned in the process, and hopefully what other people can learn from it. It also includes a recent copy of the list itself.

Inclusion criteria and rationale

I was looking for editors who have had at least some editing work published or upcoming in English. I interpreted speculative fiction very broadly and also included people with editing projects that were not yet published but would be published in the near future. I set a criterion that I would only include venues which paid authors, though. I didn't set a minimum pay rate—poetry-only venues often pay only a few dollars. I also excluded ghost-editing; editors needed to be credited for their (often volunteer) work.

I opted to use self-identification, even though this way it took a lot of time to contact everyone and ask how they preferred to be listed. I wanted to avoid mislabeling people, even at the cost of time and energy expenditure, because I regularly see authors mislabeled in various diversity lists—especially mixed-race people and trans men.

I chose not to include people whose sole claim to underrepresentedness is that they are either a woman or that they are from a developed, white-majority but non-Anglophone country. This is because in my experience people from these groups are relatively privileged compared to the people I aimed to focus on, with all that this entails.

Most diversity-oriented SF lists are lists of women already—not to mention calls for publication—so this group already benefits considerably from diversity projects. (While this is the first list of editors, there have been many such lists of authors, and most editors are also authors themselves.) It is a well-known phenomenon even outside the field of SF that often "women's" initiatives themselves serve to marginalize underrepresented people: women from more disadvantaged groups (especially women of color), people of non-binary genders, trans* people. Therefore it's worth looking beyond simplistic approaches to diversity and focus on the intersections.

This does not mean that women or white non-Anglophonic Westerners as a whole are not underrepresented in SF; they are. But due to their position of relative privilege, they have more resources to command, and can at times also have less awareness of marginalizations. One of the major aims of this list is to help underrepresented writers find friendly markets, and this could be compromised by a blanket addition of relatively privileged people.

I also stated I would not include people and venues whose professional behavior I disapproved of.

Further, I made it clear that my list was not the be-all-end-all of similar lists, and made no claims of comprehensiveness.

I sent the same request form to every editor, asking for their name, the venue/s they edited, and a one-sentence description of their group memberships. I also had an open call on Twitter, which resulted in many responses. I posted the list on my website and continue to update it to this day. The version used for analysis in this essay was closed on Feb 17 2014.

I also put the data into a relational database, and set up a handful of more general variables like "Non-Western", "QUILTBAG" and "Person of color". This database is not available on the website; I used it to produce the analysis in the present essay.

Responses

Most editors responded and sent me the requested information very rapidly. Only three people asked not to be included—one felt disillusioned with current diversity initiatives, one felt too privileged for inclusion and one said they had no active projects (this despite my assurances that this was not a ground for exclusion).

It was also relatively easy to reach people, with a few notable exceptions. Speculative nonfiction editors proved to be the hardest to find and reach, so the coverage in this area is spotty at best.

Reader response was overwhelmingly positive. This was very helpful, since I also got one specific kind of response over and over from editors that proved to be very emotionally draining. I sent out queries to editors not all at the same time, because it involved a lot of searching for contact information and I was doing all this as a spare time unpaid project while traveling in an exotic foreign country—the United States! I was quite open about the process and grumped much on Twitter. Yet several respondents were offended by me not contacting them immediately when I declared I was making the list. I think I managed to settle the issue with everyone, but I can't help wondering how many other people were offended that I still don't know about!

The raw numbers

Percentages are not provided everywhere, to keep the text less cluttered. A summary table is included at the end of this essay[1].

1. Ethnicity and race

19 editors (33.9%) were non-Western, most of them (8) from the Philippines. Five more were from other Asian countries, four more from Central and South America, and two from Eastern Europe.

32 respondents (57.1%) were people of color (assuming American categorizations). Out of these people, 15 had a Western background, not including immigrants to Western countries from non-Western countries. Most of them (6) were African-American, with three Asian-Americans and three multiracial or mixed-race Americans, two Latin@ and an Arab-Canadian.

2. Underrepresented genders and sexualities

34 people (60.7%) identified as a member of at least one of the QUILTBAG groups. Regarding sexual orientation, 15 of them mentioned "queer," 12 "bisexual," 3 "gay,", 2 "asexual" and 1-1 "lesbian" and "pansexual" each. (The numbers do not add up in this category and the following one because one person could use one or more of these terms.) 14 people (25%) specified they were non-cis or non-binary gendered; there were 10 mentions of "genderqueer", 2 of "agender" or "neutrois", 2 of "genderfluid" and 1 of "trans* man" and "trans woman" each.

Out of all respondents, 24 (42.9%) referred to themselves as a "woman" or similarly feminine-gendered term (Filipina, Latina). This probably underestimates the number of women among the participants, because some cis straight women (and men!) did not specify their gender, and some people who identify as a variety of genders including "woman" only used a more general term: usually "genderqueer". To circumvent this issue, I also created a category of "underrepresented genders"—only genders, not sexual orientations. This category contained 41 people of the 56 (73.2%)!

3. Disability / chronic illness / neuroatypicality

Only three people (5.4%) mentioned disability, chronic illness or neuroatypicality, but this was probably underreported, since the call did not specifically mention these groups, and they might be less strongly associated with diversity than ethnicity, race, gender and sexuality. One of the three respondents even asked if it was relevant to specify being neuroatypical.

4. Intersections

13 people (23.2%) were both QUILTBAG and either people of color or non-Western; out of them, four belonged to all three groups (QUILTBAG non-Western people of color). Two people were neither in the QUILTBAG nor the PoC group—both white people with a non-Western background.

Five editors were both QUILTBAG and non-Western (out of 19 non-Westerners total). We cannot compare the number of QUILTBAG people in Western and non-Western groups directly, because in the case of many white Westerners, QUILTBAG membership was the ground of inclusion in the list, while non-Westerners qualified by being non-Western.

Out of the 32 people of color, 21 were also underrepresented along the gender axis. Among the 19 non-Westerners, again a majority, 11 were likewise underrepresented with respect to gender.

5. Types of venues

42 people (75%) specified they edited primarily short fiction, 4 people (7.1%) long fiction, 9 people (16.1%) poetry, and 1 person (1.8%) speculative nonfiction.

Brief analyses

Sadly we don't have a baseline of editors not underrepresented at all; this is a major limitation for analysis, but it was not a focus or goal of the project to list all editors of speculative work [2]. To see who gets attention in SF, one can examine the list of Hugo-nominated editors as a tangential comparison. The only person who appears in both the Hugo lists and the list in this article is Liz Gorinsky, long-form editor at Tor Books.

The following analyses are very tentative and not described in detail here to keep the essay as readable to a general audience as possible; they might be the focus of further work.

I tried to add a very rough estimate of how many axes of oppression / underrepresentedness each person fell under, and also pay rates of the venue edited divided into token / semi-pro / pro; this latter as a very rough estimate of the venue's prestigiousness. (Do note that editors can be unpaid even at professional venues.) There was a slight negative Spearman correlation between the number of axes and the payrate, but it didn't reach the threshold of significance. Therefore we cannot claim a relationship between being more multiply marginalized and editing less prestigious venues based on this data.

Using Fisher's exact test on 2x3 tables, there was no significant relationship between pay rates of the venue edited and whether an editor belonged to an underrepresented gender or was a person of color. There was, however, a significant positive relationship between pay rates and whether a person belonged to a QUILTBAG group (p = 0.03). However, we can't just say that QUILTBAG people seem to edit at more prestigious venues than non-QUILTBAG underrepresented people, because the effect vanished when corrected for multiple comparisons using the Bonferroni method.

There was, however, a significant negative relationship between payrates and being non-Western—non-Western people were significantly less likely to edit at higher-paying venues (p < 0.001). This relationship held up even after a Bonferroni correction. The effect is quite striking even on visual observation:

Discussion

The list is already serving as a useful resource and pointing people toward venues, so its mission has been accomplished. We can also learn much from the data. I'll only describe what seem to me a few of the important points.

In online conversations—usually of an adversarial tone—people sometimes postulate the mythical marginalized person who belongs to all minorities at once. As the numbers show, there are people involved in SF as editors who are non-Western QUILTBAG people of color and also women and/or trans* people at the same time. No one should treat the center of intersections as nonexistent; it would be extremely disrespectful even if there were no actual such people, but since they exist, it holds true all the more so.

Moreover, multiple marginalizations are very common. Only nine respondents of the 56 total (16.1%) were underrepresented along a single axis.

There seem to be roughly the same amount of QUILTBAG people among underrepresented editors than people of color. As we don't know the number of non-underrepresented editors, we can't make a comparison exactly how underrepresented these groups are in SF editing, relative to their general population percentages. Since there are probably more people of color than QUILTBAG people in the relevant comparison population, people of color are likely to be more underrepresented among editors than QUILTBAG people, but this is just an educated guess.

The SF scene is relatively open to expressions of non-binary and/or non-cis genders; this is also demonstrated by the fact that 14 respondents, a full one fourth of the underrepresented editors listed, were people who belonged to these groups. But how far we still need to go is demonstrated, for example, by the hostility shown toward Alex Dally MacFarlane's Post-Binary Gender in SF series on Tor.com [3].

Out of the major axes of oppression, the largest influence seems to be being non-Western; this is probably due to the fact that a majority of non-Westerners edit SF in their native countries, which pay lower rates to writers than Western venues. This holds true both for English-language editing work (the focus of this essay) and editing in other languages.

Most respondents edit predominantly short-form fiction (as defined by the SFWA), with nine people editing poetry and only four respondents editing long-form. While we do not have editors' income data, and such numbers cannot be inferred from venues' pay rates to writers, this still strongly hints at the following relationship: the better-paid an editing job, the more difficult it becomes to find diversity of any kind. Short-form fiction and especially poetry venues often have volunteer editors doing the work in their spare time, while people editing novels usually do this as a full-time paid job. Along these lines, I also attempted to find literary agents who belonged to underrepresented groups as defined above, and couldn't find any who were buying rights in English in Western countries.

This has serious consequences when it comes to writers selling their long-form work. Editors and agents who are themselves underrepresented are much less likely to be found in established institutional structures. Thus the situation arises that short-form fiction and poetry have editors from a diverse range of backgrounds, but the very same writers published in magazines with no difficulty often struggle to find novel deals even with small and/or niche publishers. In the meanwhile, white American authors (both cis men and women) with equal or lesser credentials get offers from agents often without even going through the querying process. I have no numerical data on this, and I personally don't write long-form, but I see this issue very acutely in my social circles. One specific difficulty relates to narrative structures. Non-Western narrative structures in novels, even if traditional, are often discouraged by agents and editors who themselves belong to the majority in practically all respects.

An endnote and call to action

While it seems that the most pressing need is for publishers and literary agencies to hire more diverse people full time, most of us do not run a major traditional publishing company. How can we increase diversity?

The people on the list are more than happy to receive publicity. One can link to the projects they edited, discuss them, review them. The original context of the list was to find editors to invite to roundtables and similar online conversations—this also holds. Submissions calls to these editors' venues can also be reposted, and writers encouraged to submit material. This takes very little effort and can have considerable impact.

Many diverse people are ignored by cons sending out panel invitations; editors included. While many people on the list are not American, the majority of them are, and might be happy to participate in panels at cons.

Last but not least, let's not forget about money! Especially when it comes to smaller and/or poetry venues, the editor is also often the publisher. Most of these places offer a subscription plan, accept donations, run fundraisers or patronage campaigns. Readers interested in supporting diversity can vote with their wallets.

The list

As noted above, this is a copy of the list as it stood on Feb 17 2014. The most recent version of the list can be found on my website.

Fiction, short form (predominantly)—41 people

Fiction, long form (predominantly)—4 people

Nonfiction (SF-related)—1 person

Poetry—9 people

Acknowledgements

Thank you to Alex Dally MacFarlane for helpful comments on the draft, to Rose Lemberg for the ample encouragement and to Niall Harrison for the great editing suggestions and the extra table! Also thank you to everyone who referred editors to me—you are too numerous to list.

Endnotes

  1. Table 2. Summary of demographics of survey respondents.

    [return]
  2. The SF Encyclopedia attempts to list all editors, but their list is currently quite far from being comprehensive. It also includes non-English-language work and deceased authors, which this present list does not. Further, the SF Encyclopedia doesn't seem to distinguish clearly between editing SF and writing SF: for example, it includes Mihály Babits, an early 20th-century Hungarian author of literary fiction who wrote some SF and edited at multiple literary and journalistic venues, but to my knowledge never edited SF per se. [return]
  3. The linked introduction itself garnered over 150 comments and necessitated heavy moderator intervention. [return]

Bogi Takács is a Hungarian Jewish author, a psycholinguist and a popular–science journalist. E writes both speculative fiction and poetry, and eir works have been published in a variety of venues like Strange Horizons, Apex, Stone Telling and GigaNotoSaurus, among others.

Comments

Raising my hand tentatively--I'm the longtime co-editor, now publisher, of The New York Review of Science Fiction. I've been in a committed, uncloseted poly threesome for 25+ years. I don't see anyone else here listed purely for being poly, so I might not make the cut.

Raising my hand tentatively--I'm the longtime co-editor, now publisher, of The New York Review of Science Fiction. I've been in a committed, uncloseted poly threesome for 25+ years. I don't see anyone else here listed purely for being poly, so I might not make the cut.

Ack, my comment seems to have disappeared! Eerie. Anyway, Bogi, I just wanted to say thank you for assembling this list, and thank you for drawing attention in your discussion to the very real "center of intersections" that gets treated all-too-often as a mythical place.

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