The 2014 SF Count

By Niall Harrison

Introduction

Welcome to the fifth year of Strange Horizons' "SF count" of representation in reviewing. The goal of the count is straightforward: for the last calendar year, for a range of SF review venues, to calculate the gender and race balance of books reviewed and of reviewers. The aim is to draw attention to imbalances in literary coverage.

As the title indicates, the immediate inspiration for this series is "The Count" by VIDA, which started in 2010. Within SF, antecedents include the Broad Universe reviewing statistics calculated for 2000 and 2007, the Lady Business counts of coverage on SF blogs for 2011, 2012, and 2013 and, further back, Joanna Russ' counts as reported in How to Suppress Women's Writing (1983).

This article presents the results of the SF count for 2014. Previous counts are available for 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010.

Methodology

We surveyed reviews in 16 speculative magazines and journals published in the US and the UK: Analog, Asimov's, The Cascadia Subduction Zone, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Foundation, Interzone, io9, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Locus, The New York Review of Science Fiction, Romantic Times, Science Fiction Studies, SFX, Strange Horizons, Tor.com, and Vector. Two venues counted last year were not included. The SF Site was not counted this year due a reduced and erratic publication schedule, and we did not obtain access to Extrapolation in time for publication; we hope to fill this gap in next year's count. We welcome recommendations for additional venues to be covered in future counts, particularly for any Anglophone venues based in non US/UK countries.

For the reviews count, we tallied the number of reviews of prose books (novels, short stories, and related non-fiction) in each venue in 2014, by author or editor gender and race. For books with co-authors or co-editors, the attribution was fractioned as appropriate. we did not track coverage in non-review formats (e.g. essays, interviews).

A number of limitations should be taken into account when interpreting these data. For gender the limitations include limited accounting for pseudonyms and, more generally, a reliance on public presentation of gender. This year's count divides individuals into "men" or "women and non-binary". We were aware of two individuals who publicly/professionally ID as of non-binary gender and did not wish to misrepresent them; however, reliable information about gender identity for the vast majority of people counted is not accessible through our methodology, so providing a separate category would be misleading. It is still possible that some individuals have been misrepresented, for which we apologies. This is a compromise solution to be revisited in future counts; we welcome feedback.

For race, our categories were "white" and "person of color." These are crude, and such a binary division is arguably only valid here (as opposed to more specific categorisation) because the total number of POC is so low. Since race is difficult to determine reliably using only names and Google, it is possible that some authors, editors, or reviewers have been incorrectly allocated, for which we also apologise. We nevertheless believe that the count is worth publishing because the number of incorrect allocations is likely to be small compared to the overall number of individuals counted.

In addition to the reviews and reviewer counts, we conducted a count of Locus "books received" columns for April, July, and October 2014. This count has further limitations, discussed in a separate section below, but remains the best proxy we are aware of for the number of SF books actually published, and provides at least one form of context for the results in the main counts.

In all charts, women and non-binary people are in blue and men are in red; white people are in green, and people of color are in purple.

Baselines

Figures 1 to 4 show the author gender and race breakdown of 811 books received by Locus in April, July, and October 2014. The breakdowns for each month were broadly similar, so it is assumed that these three months are representative of the year as a whole.

However, as noted above, these data have their own limitations. They are not a perfect sample of the SF field as a whole or the pool of books from which reviews editors select. First, the Locus listings include reprints, paperback editions, and late-seen books in addition to new first edition 2013 books. Second, UK and US editions are counted separately, and a specific book may therefore be double-counted. Third, Locus does not see all English-language SF books that are published; in particular, mainstream-published SF books, or English-language SF from outside the US and UK, may not be included in this dataset.

Some of the publications we have included in the main count are US- or UK-specific in their coverage; others cover books published in both countries. We have therefore provided country gender breakdowns as well as the overall count. Of note, this year's proportion of books by women/non-binary individuals is the lowest recorded in the SF Count to date, both overall (39.9%) and in the US (42.0%) and UK (31.3%).

The overall count for gender includes 811 books, of which 466 were counted as by men, 319 as by women, 1 as by a non-binary individual, 17 were attributed to mixed-gender partnerships, and 8 could not be attributed.

The US count for gender includes 616 books, of which 332 were counted as by men, 258 as by women, 1 by a non-binary individual, 17 were attributed to mixed-gender partnerships, and 8 could not be attributed.

The UK count for gender includes 195 books, of which 134 were counted as by men and 61 as by women.

The overall count for race includes 811 books, of which 36 were counted as by people of color, 766 were counted as by white people, and 9 could not be assigned. Of the books by people of color, 7 were recorded from UK data and 29 from US data, representing 3.6% and 4.7% of all books, respectively. Unlike in the case of gender, since racial demographics vary from country to country and over time, and since the pool of books published within a country draws on authors of many nationalities, it is unclear what the baseline "should" be; however, it should certainly be higher than this.

The 2014 SF Count

Table 1 lists the total number of reviews and total number of reviewers for each venue. In all, 1540 reviews were included in the count. The venue publishing the most reviews was Locus (296 reviews); the venue publishing the fewest was The Los Angeles Review of Books (17 reviews).

Table 1. Total number of reviews and reviewers for each venue, 2014.

Venue Reviews in 2014 Reviewers in 2014
Analog 58 1
Asimov's 47 3
The Cascadia Subduction Zone (CSZ) 22 18
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (F&SF) 59 5
Foundation 29 19
Interzone 79 21
io9 74 12
The Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB) 17 14
Locus 296 11
The New York Review of Science Fiction (NYRSF) 45 23
Romantic Times 127 21
Science Fiction Studies 43 36
SFX 199 30
Strange Horizons 115 46
Tor.com 271 33
Vector 59 25

Figures 5 and 6 show the coverage of books by gender, and the proportion of reviews counted as written by women or non-binary people, respectively.

Figures 7 and 8 show the coverage of books by race, and the proportion of reviews counted as written by people of color, respectively.

Notes on this year's counts:

  • Foundation, Interzone, SFX and Vector are venues focusing primarily on books published in the UK. Analog, Asimov's, The Cascadia Subduction Zone, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, io9 and Romantic Times focus primarily on books published in the US.
  • Asimov's and Analogy have all-male reviewing staffs they also have the smallest reviewing staffs of any of the venues surveyed, with one and three regular reviewers respectively.
  • Asimov's, Analog, Interzone, Locus, NYRSF, Romantic Times, and SFX had, by our count, all-white reviewing staffs.
  • The venues with the largest reviewing staffs were Strange Horizons (46), Science Fiction Studies (36), and Tor.com (33).
  • For race, unlike in the case of gender, percentage coverage of books authored or edited by people of color is slightly higher than the estimated baseline in 11 out of 16 venues counted; bearing in mind the caveats about this baseline in the methodology section above, it is likely that both baseline and coverage "should" be higher than their current values.
  • The Cascadia Subduction Zone is a semiprozine with a specific mission statement: "to treat work by women as vital and central rather than marginal."
  • As usual, the topline Locus figures obscure a disparity within the magazine. Carolyn Cushman's column typically lincudes 8-10 short (single paragraph) reviews per issue, 77.8% of which in 2014 were of books by women or non-binary people. Other columnists typically tackle 3-5 books at greater length (3+ paragraphs); in 2014, 29.0% of these reviews were of books by women or non-binary people.

Changes over time

The overall percentage of reviews of books by women and non-binary people was up slightly from 2013, from 32.8% to 35.9%, equalling the high point of coverage recorded in 2012. Sharp declines at some venues (Vector dropped from 35.7% to 17.0%, NYRSF from 27.9% to 17.8% and CSZ from 82.1% to 74.2%) were compensated for by increases elsewhere (Interzone up from 22.2% to 29.8%, SFS up from 25.3% to 36.1%) and by an increase in the total number of reviews published in some venues with good overall balance (271 reviews counted at Tor.com, up from 232). The overall percentage of reviews of books by people of color was down slightly, from 6.4% to 5.4%.

The average proportion of women reviewers at a venue was up for the third year, to 36.1%. Compared to previous years, in this year's count more venues had reviewing staffs that included at least 50% women or non-binary people (6 of 16 venues, previous highest 3 of 18 venues last year). In addition fewer venues had reviewing staffs that included less than 25% women or non-binary people (5 of 16, compared to 8 of 18 last year). The venues with the most reviewers of color were CSZ (38.9%), Foundation (26.3%), and Strange Horizons (21.7%). However, 7 of 16 venues counted still had no reviewers of color, the same as in 2013.

For venues that have been included since the start of the SF Count, figures 9 and 10 show changes in reviews coverage and reviewer gender over the last 5 years. Overall coverage has improved slightly in this subset (from 27.0 to 29.3%), but few clear trends are evident for individual venues.

Summary

As in previous years, in the majority of the SF review venues surveyed, review coverage disproportionately focused on men and books by white writers. A majority of reviews were written by men in two-thirds of venues, and by white people in all venues. Analysis of 2010-2014 gender data shows that despite year-to-year variation within individual venues, there is no evidence for an overall increase in coverage of books authored or edited by women. However, there is some evidence for a small increase in the proportion of reviews written by women.

Acknowledgments

Thanks to Regina Small for providing Romantic Times reviews data.


Niall Harrison is Editor-in-Chief of Strange Horizons.

Comments

What's up with the US-UK discrepancy?

Assuming you mean the baseline numbers for gender, it's a consistent difference that's been there in every year of the Count, which suggests that it's pointing towards historical and cultural differences between the US and UK markets. I don't have a good or complete explanation for why the difference exists, but I can make a couple of related points.

For one thing, lots of books and writers that get published in the US don't get UK editions. I believe I'm right in saying that this year sees the first UK editions of any of Elizabeth Bear's novels, for instance. (You'd expect a certain degree of books not translating between markets, and to an extent it does go both ways, but the US market is a lot bigger and major US male writers seem to have mostly found deals over here.)

For another thing, UK genre imprints have done a poor job of publishing and promoting women writers in general, British or otherwise, over the last decade in particular; and changing editorial direction at an imprint seems to be like steering a tanker ship. It's very noticeable that the newer imprints of the last few years, particularly Hodderscape and Del Rey UK, are doing a much better job of publishing women than, say, Gollancz or Tor UK. A few years ago, for example, Gollancz ran a "future classics" promotion, with shiny new editions of significant novels by authors from their list that they wanted to promote: eight books, all by (white) men. And bookshops take their lead from that: Juliet McKenna has done a lot of work looking at the gender breakdown of promotions in our major chain store, Waterstones, and the results are not good.

Out of curiosity, how does it match up against the stats for books published? If its entirely representative of the proportions in the available books, then the problem (in the coverage, at least) is earlier in the process, not with the reviewers choices, surely?

Rob: Figs 1 to 4 are the best proxy for "books published" we have -- Locus receives and records the vast majority of SF and related titles published each year. On that basis, a venue covering both the US and UK markets (as most do, to some extent) "should" hit 40% in its coverage, and you can see in Fig 5 that only three venues manage that (with another couple getting close).

I do think it is important to know what that baseline percentage is, and yes, there is an imbalance there to start with. But to an extent, for the question behind this count, the baseline is a bit of a red herring. Think about the absolute numbers, rather than percentages -- based on counting Locus data for a quarter of the year, I listed 319 books by women. So in a full year, you're looking at something like 1200 titles eligible for review.

Now, not all books are created equal, but even the pool of "major", "of interest" titles (bearing in mind that those are categories likely to come with their own gendered expectations and promotional budgets!) is very likely to include more books by women than any one venue is likely to review in total. That's less true for POC, but even there you're talking about at least ~150 books, and only three venues managed to cover more than that.

Ultimately the pool of books a venue could be reviewing is so large that there's really no excuse for the sorts of imbalances we see for most of the venues in figures 5 and 7. And of course none of this speaks at all to the equally large imbalances in figures 6 and 8.

May I make a plea to be included next year? My site, jamesdavisnicoll.com, only got fired up in late summer but despite my indolent work habits and the late start, I managed to review more books than everyone on your list except Locus, Tor and SFX. My review to reviewer ratio is twice the next reviewer and my f/m was F: 48%, M: 50%, Mu: 3% (rounding error).

Hi, James -- I'm reluctant to open up the rabbit-hole of individual, independent reviewers, to be honest. It seems to me that the coverage incentives are different, for one thing. Many of your reviews are of books that are over a decade old, which is a great and worthwhile thing, but a different thing than a magazine aspiring to provide vaguely representative coverage of the field as it happens. For another thing, starting to count individual sites becomes a little too close to assigning blame -- this is also why, even leaving aside the logistical issues, I make no effort to track reviewers between different venues -- and I'd prefer to keep the focus on the systemic issue.

(I recognise that a case could be made for excluding Analog on at least some of the same grounds. I do dither about that one, I have to say.)

Well, I am just going to sit here EATING WORMS! IN! THE! RAIN!

I wonder how well Locus tracks the smaller presses, particularly the ones that focus on ebooks.

They seem to be doing a bit better each year, but I'm sure they're not catching everything. I don't know of another source that would be more thorough, though.

Do you have the absolute numbers handy? I have a self-serving purpose.

Purely in the spirit of growthiness, I took the totals above as benchmarks to exceed. Which I believe I have now done, with one definite exception and one possible: my ratio of male to female reviewers at jamesdavisnicoll.com is 1:0 and I don't think i've done a notable job covering writers of colour. Something for next year.

Leave a Comment

The following HTML tags are allowed: <em><strong><cite><strike><b><i><a>