On Saturday I mentioned that I had been sent some data about gender splits in anthologies. I have since been taking a close look at it and want to present some of the data. I am doing this:
- Because I think it is better to be talking about lots of data than about individual books;
- Because I’m a bit tired of being told there’s no evidence for gender bias; and
- Because I think talking about this might help UK publishers sell more books.
Before we start I’d like to get a few things very clear.
Firstly, this discussion is, and from my point of view always has been, about gender stereotyping: SF for boys; fantasy for girls (unless it involves a lot of hacking and slaying). The data we have is therefore solely for science fiction anthologies. Anyone who comes back with something like, “well you are ignoring all these paranormal romance anthologies”, or even brings up books like Dark Spires which are mixed-genre, is just trolling, nothing more.
Second, there are all sorts of possibilities for data error. What I think we have here is data on all pure-SF anthologies published in the UK and USA from 2006 to 2010 inclusive. But there may be some books missing. And I haven’t had a chance to check the numbers. And there are all sorts of potential disputes about what “science fiction” actually means. There may be some gender confusion if lesser-known writers have ambiguous names. Nationality confusion is also possible. I have caught and corrected a few such mistakes myself, but there could be more. I’d assume a healthy amount of error on these numbers.
Finally I am not publishing the raw data. There are two main reasons for this:
- I don’t want people using it as an excuse for yet more witch hunting, so no names; and
- I don’t want discussion to get bogged down in endless nit-pickery about whether a specific book is “science fiction” or not.
Having said that, if someone out there has the time and ability to check the data and gather more, I’d be delighted to hand this over.
The starting point is that we have 56 books in total, 17 of which were published in the UK and the other 39 in the USA. All of the UK books are from smaller presses, because the big, multi-national London publishers don’t do anthologies here, but a substantial proportion of the US ones are from DAW, and other New York imprints feature as well.
The most obvious breakdown is by the gender of the editor. Here are the numbers:
|Gender of Editor||% of Stories by Women|
This should perhaps not surprise us. Our basic thesis is that men are socially conditioned to prefer fiction by men, while women are more balanced in their tastes. But also women editors are more likely to have friends who are women writers, and that may play a part.
What we don’t know, of course, is how well these books sold. If there is any real justification for male-dominated books it should be that they sell better. I have no proof of that one way or another (and if someone does have data, please come forward). But at least we can see that some publishers are prepared to let women do science fiction. Ten of the books were female-edited, and a further three are by a mixed-gender team.
Now, referring back to earlier discussions, is the situation worse in the UK than in the US? Here are the numbers.
|Country of Publication||% of Stories by Women|
An important thing to note here is that only one of the UK-published books is female-edited. One is mixed; the others are all edited by men. As a result, we should expect a worse performance than the US.
So, question to UK publishers: would you be willing to publish more science fiction anthologies edited by women? Because I think that would help.
The final split that we can do is by nationality of the editor. Here “other” means either that the editor was neither British nor American, or that there was an editorial team of mixed nationality.
|Nationality of Editor||% of Stories by Women|
Oh dear. That’s starting to look like a significant difference. That’s because the figures for UK publishers were buoyed up by above average numbers from non-British and female editors, while the one British editor working for a US publisher has below average numbers.
I did promise not to focus on personalities here, but I do want to interject with one significant piece of data. Anthologies edited by Ian Whates have above average numbers for a British editor. I think that demonstrates the dangers of looking at individual books, and bears out the supportive comments made about Whates by women writers.
So, what does all this mean? Before everyone goes rushing off yelling about how British men are all disgusting, chauvinist pigs, let’s consider why the UK might have got into this situation.
Firstly, of course, the fact that all but one of the British editors are men doesn’t do the UK’s chances much good. The American numbers would not look so good if they didn’t have a lot of women involved. If more women did anthologies over here we’d probably see a significant improvement, though of course someone has to be willing to publish them.
In addition, as we’ve noted before, the big London publishers are rather reluctant to publish science fiction novels by women. Given that is the case, it may well be that the percentage of women in the UK writing science fiction is a lot lower than it is in the USA. After all, who makes a living out of short fiction?
Ah, but why don’t the UK editors get stories from foreign women, then? Therein, I think, lies the problem. One of the bits of data that we can’t capture here is whether the anthologies were created through open submission, or through invitation. You might think that an open submission anthology would have more men, as the editor would be deluged with stories from pushy males, whereas invitation allows you to pick your gender balance. But it all depends on who you know. If you don’t have a relationship with a writer, it will be harder to get a story out of them.
Some editors are prepared to go to open submission. My friend Colin Harvey is doing that for his latest project. But I suspect that many of the books we are looking at here, particularly the UK ones, are invitation only. In an interview from last year, Carmelo Rafala, an American of Sicilian extraction publishing in the UK, said:
As a small press we simply don’t have time to read through mountains of submissions or deal with someone who decides to hurl abuse at us because we just can’t understand his genius.
I feel his pain.
Now, suppose you live in the UK, where women SF novelists are few and far between. If you don’t travel abroad to conventions, if most of the writers you know are middle-aged British men, guess what the majority of contributors to your anthologies are likely to be?
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way. I know we don’t have sales figures, but given the fact that many publishers seem willing to publish anthologies with women editors, and significant numbers (sometimes more than 50%) of women contributors, it seems likely that girl cooties are not an immediate cause of financial disaster.
Furthermore, with the advent of e-books, international trade in books has become much easier. There is no reason why an independent British publisher can’t get access to the huge American market. Indeed, some of the companies involved in this study already have their paper books distributed in the USA. But if you do that with a book that looks like boys own club material then those shouty feminists across the pond are going to be on your back double quick and your prospects of big sales will be damaged.
I absolutely understand the issue with personal contacts. If you can’t afford to travel it makes things hard. But contacts can be made. I know loads of great women writers outside of the UK. So does Farah. British authors who travel a lot to the US may also be able to help. Reach out. Try to find new sources of stories.
The results may surprise you.