The SF Count

Posted by Niall Harrison

Introduction

Earlier this year, VIDA published an analysis of the gender balance at book review venues. They presented pie charts summarising the 2010 gender breakdown of book reviewers, books reviewed, and writers published at literary publications, including The New York Review of Books, The London Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, and many more, and highlighted a stark imbalance. Only in Poetry were there more works by women reviewed than men; at no periodical surveyed were there more women reviewing than men. As you'll be able to see from the list of trackbacks at the bottom of the VIDA post, the discussion of their findings has been extensive; some notable responses include posts by Ruth Franklin and Laura Miller, a dialogue between Jessa Crispin and Michael Schaub at Bookslut (one, two, three, four, five), an interview with Jennifer Szalai, reviews editor at Harper's between 2003 and 2010, at The Second Pass, and most recently an article by The Independent's literary editor Katy Guest, which includes some more data on UK papers.

Over the past couple of weeks, with some assistance from friends, I've been carrying out the count for sf venues. The good news is that we're not more imbalanced than the mainstream venues; that bad news is that we're not really any less imbalanced, either. Certainly these figures are another reason to welcome the launch of The Cascadia Subduction Zone.

Baseline demographics

To start with, though, we need a baseline. What is the gender balance of what gets published? Broad Universe have published some statistics. In 2007, 57.5% of US books received by Locus between July and October were by men; 41.7% were by women; and 0.8% were by anonymous authors, or by authors of unknown gender. For this survey, I counted US books received by Locus in January 2010 and September 2010, and UK books received in July 2010 and August 2010.

US Books Published (Locus Books Received)

UK Books Published (Locus Books Received)

In the US, then, there appears to be a slight move towards parity; in the UK, there is a more dramatic imbalance. This is not unexpected. I didn't cross-reference by genre in either the UK or the US. However, for the UK, an analysis of the books submitted for the Arthur C Clarke Award (which is for a science fiction novel published in the UK) by Martin Lewis reported that only 17% of submitted books were by women, suggesting that science fiction tends male compared to the overall figure, and fantasy tends female. In the US, I don't know of any cross-referenced analysis.

Things to bear in mind about these data: they're not a breakdown of new books published, since the Locus listings include all books received (so there's an edition of Dracula counted in the US stats); they're not a breakdown of number of authors, because multiple books by the same author are counted separately; gender assignment is based on assumptions mostly, and Google in ambiguous cases, and may not be accurate, in particular if there are many pseudonyms in use.

I also combined the US and UK data to get an overall baseline:

US+UK Books Published (Locus Books Received)

In addition to the previous caveats, in this case some books may have been double-counted, if they had both US and UK editions in the time-frame.

The SF Count 2010

On to the individual venues, in alphabetical order.

Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine

Asimov's: Books Reviewed

Asimov's: Reviewers

Asimov's has the distinction of being the only venue with an entirely male reviewing staff. However, they only have three reviewers (far fewer than some of the venues surveyed). They are Norman Spinrad, Paul di Filippo, and Peter Heck.

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

F&SF: Books Reviewed

F&SF: Reviewers

In contrast to Asimov's, F&SF has the highest proportion of female reviewers of any publication surveyed; in fact, it is the only venue surveyed to have more female reviewers than male. Of five reviewers, three -- Elizabeth Hand, Michelle West, and Chris Moriarty -- are women, and two -- Charles de Lint and James Sallis -- are men.

Foundation

Foundation: Books Reviewed

Foundation: Reviewers

The only academic journal covered in this survey. Note that this analysis applies only to book reviews and reviewers; it does not include essays, which make up the bulk of the journal.

Interzone

Interzone: Books Reviewed

Interzone: Reviewers

The proportion of reviews of books by women is lower at Interzone than any other publication surveyed.

Locus

Locus: Books Reviewed

Locus: Reviewers

The most comprehensive of the publications surveyed, and on the face of it one of the ones whose output comes closest to matching the input. However, when Broad Universe did their analysis of Locus reviews, they separated reviews into long (more than two paragraphs) and short. To a first approximation, most short reviews in Locus are written by Carolyn Cushman, who covers 8-10 books per issue with a paragraph on each. In 2010, 85.2% of the books Cushman reviewed were by women (perhaps partly explained by the fact that she tends to cover a lot of YA and paranormal romance). Excluding Cushman -- that is, focusing on the long reviews -- the Locus breakdown looks like this:

Locus: Books Reviewed (excl. Cushman)

The New York Review of Science Fiction

NYRSF: Books Reviewed

NYRSF: Reviewers

The pool of reviewers used by NYRSF is more male than that of any other journal surveyed.

The SF Site

SF Site: Books Reviewed

SF Site: Reviewers

SFX

SFX: Books Reviewed

SFX: Reviewers

SFX only covers books that have been published in the UK. All other venues surveyed included reviews of books from both the UK and the US (and occasionally further afield).

Strange Horizons

Strange Horizons: Books Reviewed

Strange Horizons: Reviewers

The proportion of reviews of books that are of books by women is higher at Strange Horizons than at any other venue, but still fails to match the raw publication numbers.

Vector

Vector: Books Reviewed

Vector: Reviewers

Other numbers

The venues that published the most reviews of books in 2010 were Locus (400), SF Site (242), and SFX (203). The venues that had the most reviewers were Strange Horizons (52), Vector (47), and SF Site (51). At the other end of the scale, the venues that published the fewest book reviews were Foundation (35), Asimov's (41), and NYRSF (51), while those with the fewest reviewers were Asimov's (3), F&SF (5), and Interzone (22).

Across all venues, 29.6% of books reviewed were by women, compared to 70.4% by men; and 27.6% of reviewers were women, compared to 72.4% men.


           

Comments (26)


I'd love to see how Tor.com compared on this. I did my own stats for books by men and women a while ago -- as of January 2010 I'd done 120 posts on books by men and 95 on books by women. But very few of those were reviews of new books.


Good point. I started this before the redesign, at which point I couldn't work out how to get a nicely organised list of reviews of books, but it would be worth looking into.


Could you post spreadsheets with the data behind these counts?


Very interesting, and sadly not all that surprising. I've never done a gender count of what I review, most of which is assigned by various editors. I think it's pretty evenly balanced; if anything maybe more books by women. But I could be totally wrong.

Thanks for putting that info out there, along with the links.


I had an exchange recently with a regular contributor to Strange Horizons who was convinced it had gender parity, if not female dominance. I countered that it was actually the usual one-third (which seems to register as "female excess").

So here we are, with the official numbers.


I guess the real question is: Do you plan to do anything about it?


It'd be interesting to see the first graph broken out into age ranges (<40, 41-50, 50-60, 61-70, 75+, maybe? Happy to do the work if you'll point me to the source data) to see where the demographics are trending over the long term. Also interesting would be the small-press vs. large-press breakout. Even more interesting would be to cross reference in the six-month sales figures, but I don't think my bookscan connection is patient enough with me to do that and that'd only cover the US, I have no idea what the corresponding service in the UK is.


Fascinating. Thanks for crunching the numbers.


Philip: Conveniently, I did this in Google docs; the spreadsheet is here.

Liz: Yeah, I didn't do a per-reviewer analysis, except for Carolyn Cushman as noted. It would be interesting to see.

Athena: I assume you mean a reviews contributor? I feel obliged to note that in other departments Strange Horizons has a different balance -- 61% of last year's stories were by women, and of 6 columnists (including the one starting next Monday), 4 are women. I don't have numbers for poetry and articles to hand, but I hope it's clear that Strange Horizons is a venue that welcomes both fiction and non-fiction writing by women, and writing about work by women. With regards to the reviews department specifically, I know the gender balance is something Abigail was planning to keep an eye on even before I put together these stats.

Evan: you mean age ranges for writers, or for reviewers? Either way I'm not sure how much of that information is publicly available. I did my demographics count from issues of last year's Locus, which doesn't record that, so you'd need to try to google it for individual writers, and my guess is it would be hard to obtain a complete record. Small-press vs large-press would be more feasible, and is something I might bear in mind if and when I repeat this exercise.


Athena: As Niall implies, this is my issue to confront rather than his now. The short answer is to try to maintain the numbers the department achieved in Niall's time and then try to do better. In the mid-range, I plan to keep closer track of the books I assign for review. In the long range, I'd like to recruit more female reviewers, though this is the toughest challenge.

I should also say, however, that one of the decisions I made when I took over as reviews editor in November was to spend my first six months on the job acclimating myself and familiarizing myself with it, and only then think of how I can change the department. At the top of my list of questions to ask when those six months are up - and this was true before the issue of women writing or reviewing SF became a hot topic of discussion - was the gender breakdown of authors and reviewers.


It was indeed a reviews contributor. The SH gender ratios seem to reflect the gender of the previous editor in charge of that particular department. An interesting correlation.


Also a false one. The senior fiction editor was and remains Jed Hartman.


You know the internal power dynamics of SH best. However, to the outside world SH took pains to say that the trio of its fiction editors (two of whom were/are women) decided as a group by consensus.


Apologies, I misunderstood your previous comment. You're right, the three fiction editors work very closely together; but you referred to "the previous editor in charge", and there has been no change in the lineup, or in how the editors are listed on the masthead.


Thanks for these terrific stats. Data like this, depicted in an accessible way, is really important.


Yeah, it's be a bit of a slog per research, but with most authors it's relatively easy to find out when they were born (and I did mean authors, I suspect that the reviewer sample size is just to small to be anything but noise.

Getting good data on the entire corpus of books that comes out has been something of a back-burner project of mine for some time. I suspect that good sources exist, but the automatic stuff is hard to scrape and/or limited in its scope.


That looks like about what I expected.

In addition to Tor.com, I'd be interested to see how Realms of Fantasy breaks out, too.


Athena: "I had an exchange recently with a regular contributor to Strange Horizons who was convinced it had gender parity, if not female dominance. I countered that it was actually the usual one-third (which seems to register as "female excess")."

Was this exchange with me? We did correspond on this matter, although I never claimed SH 'had gender parity if not female dominance.' But perhaps your exchange was with another regular contributor to Strange Horizons.


Thank you for taking the time to do this and breaking it out in a comprehensible manner. I should run the stats on what I personally have reviewed. It seems about even but, as we all know, perception is not reality.


Realms of Fantasy is a good suggestion; I'll bear that in mind if and when I repeat the exercise. In a similar vein, Weird Tales and Analog? I don't read either, so I don't know how extensive their review coverage is, but as far as focusing on different slices of the field goes, they'd be good datapoints to have.


This is a little tricky for PW because I draw from the same pool of reviewers for romance and for SF/F, but let me tease out some numbers from my Spreadsheet of Doom.

Reviewers who are interested in reviewing any kind of SF: 15 men, 21 women

Reviewers who are interested in reviewing any kind of fantasy: 15 men, 24 women

Reviewers who are interested in reviewing paranormal romance: 5 men, 18 women

Reviewers who are interested in reviewing horror: 10 men, 11 women

I don't have time at the moment to go through the list of SF/F books reviewed in 2010 and divvy it up by author gender, I'm afraid.


Thank you for crunching these numbers - very interesting.

My collection Diana Comet and Other Improbable Stories is a Booklist 2010 Editor's Choice, an American Library Association "Over the Rainbow" book, and a finalist for the 2010 Lambda Literary Awards. It was on the Locus Recommended Reading List and contains a story that was just on the Tiptree Award 2010 Honor List.

It was reviewed by Strange Horizons and Locus, but no other genre magazines.


Thanks for taking the time to put these numbers together. This is something that really concerns me as a reviewer, and I know I'm not alone. I would be curious as to how the publication numbers break down by subgenre as well. (Not that I'm asking you to do that, God forbid!) I review mostly hard sf, and I would be really surprised if there's a 50/50 male/female split in that genre. My gut sense is that it's more like 80/20. Which is a whole other problem, of course. Also the UK numbers are interesting. I've long felt that the SF I see coming out of the UK seems disproportionately male, and it looks like this data backs that up.


Rose -- thanks for that, interesting breakdown. If any of them would enjoy writing at greater length, feel free to point them in this direction. [g]

Sandra, Chris -- thanks for dropping by. I'm not sure how to go about getting more accurate data by genre/subgenre. I could try to categorise next time I'm counting through an issue of Locus, but (a) that would involve a lot of looking up synopses, and (b) categorising books sight unseen is a bit iffy anyway. Ideally I guess we'd need to persuade Locus to track this information as they go... or perhaps persuade judges of other awards (e.g. WFA) to produce the kind of stats Martin did.


I review mostly hard sf, and I would be really surprised if there's a 50/50 male/female split in that genre.

I strongly suspect an obviously female name on the spine of a book reduces somewhat the odds of it being perceived as hard SF.

I guess one test for that is to present to a variety of reviewers the same potentially hard SF work in one of three variations re: author credit (female, male and androgynous) to see if it does make a difference.


Fascinating. I remember growing up thinking that Andre Norton was a man. It was a gender neutral name of course, and in those days, well, we assumed that only 'Men' wrote Science Fiction, and only 'Men' read it.

So no, I'm not at all surprised.

Rob Sutherland mentioned this on Web Lit Canada (a site that I run) and was wondering if the rise of Blogger and Word Press and the ability to self publish directly through IBook, Amazon, and Kobo, is going to change this. Considering the number of aspiring woman writers that I talk to on Twitter I think that it is. The new system allows women to bypass the 'Gatekeepers' at the traditional publishing houses and is going to produce an incredible flowering of woman's published writing in all genres.

Wayne


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