The PC Challenges of Being an Editor

Maurice Broaddus is the author of the novel series, The Knights of Breton Court (Angry Robot).  His dark fiction has been published in numerous magazines, anthologies, and web sites, most recently including Dark Dreams II & III, Apex Magazine, Black Static, and Weird Tales Magazine.  He is the co-editor of the Dark Faith anthology (Apex Books).   Read his blog where he often opines on issues of race, religion, writing, and pop culture and learn more about him at www.MauriceBroaddus.com.

Not too long ago, Jeff interviewed me about the anthology I helped put together, Dark Faith (Apex Books is currently having a 40% off sale on all versions of it).  Now I’ve seen controversy after Fail Storm about essentially white/male-washed table of contents for various anthologies, even long before I sat down to begin putting together this anthology.  Luckily, I rarely have to wait too long for someone to give me an excuse to write about the topic.

Not too long ago there was a bit of a dust up regarding the anti-racist, anti-fascist anthology Never Again, put together by a couple of U.K. editors.  [Technically, I do have dual citizenship (which only is a problem come World Cup time when England plays the U.S.).  And “editor” is one of the hats I wear (along with “writer” and “person of color”), so let’s see what kind of trouble I can get into.]  As with most internet dustups, I simply made some popcorn, watch the ever-so-polite drama unfold and then went about my business.  However, in discussing why there were no people of color, one of the editors made this remark:   “Would you have preferred us to target and include writers on the basis of their skin colour, not their writing?”

As editors, we don’t have the luxury of hiding behind this as a defense, because this is a straw one at best (and no amount of “my best friend is black” style waving is going to save you).  Not to mention that this is a fairly ignorant, or at least ill constructed, “defense” because it’s not like these two possibilities are mutually exclusive.

For the record, the final “stats” of Dark Faith TOC:, for those playing along at home, was 5 poems and 26 stories by 17 men and 14 women, at least four people of color involved (I say “at least” because I can only tell so much from people’s Facebook pictures plus there are the additional stories in the chapbook associated with the anthology, Dark Faith:  Last Rites).

At no point did I worry about any sort of “PC testing” of my table of contents (will I have enough POC?  Will there be any women?).  That’s a ridiculous way to go about putting together an anthology.  The other reason it was a non-worry?  It’s not that difficult to produce a table of contents that has diversity.  Now I’m not even talking about forcing the issue of diversity in a TOC.   I’m saying that these days you have to almost go out of your way to produce an anthology without diversity.  Three simple steps:

-open submission period.  For about five months we had an open submission period.  We put the word out widely that we were looking for stories regarding a particular theme.  And that was just putting the word out in the places we know genre writers tend to frequent (my blog, Ralan’s, Duotrope, a few message boards).  If we wanted to actually be more intentional, we could have gone to specific boards which cater to writers of color.

-my “rolodex”.  Don’t get me wrong, I have a pretty color-filled rolodex to begin with, since as you know, all the black kids sit together in the cafeteria.  That being said, that’s an important fact:  my rolodex naturally has POC in it.  Authors I like to read, people I’ve met, people I want to work with.  If your rolodex lacks diversity, it may be time to color up your world.

-look.  Without submissions, without my own personal contacts, I am still aware that there are plenty of authors out there.  Authors I’d love to see stories from, whom I’ve read, whom I’d like to work with, who I’m simply aware of if only by reputation.  If I still was at my wit’s end, I could simply ask folks who know the players in the field better than I.

Now, I’m perfectly aware of the fact that no matter what you do, someone will find fault, real or imagined with the final product.  My simple take away point is this:  if you’re going to have an anti-racist anthology or do any sort of compendium on the history of a genre, you may want to mix in a person of color (especially for the former, if only to have the actual perspective of someone who has experienced it).

Putting together Dark Faith was fraught with its own concerns:  do we represent all faiths?  Are we respectful to all perspectives?  Are we being sacrilegious?  Are we treading TOO lightly? And I’m positive we’ve left plenty on the table for folks to criticize.  As an editor you can’t worry about that and yet you HAVE to worry about that.  You do your best and let the final product stand on its own merits.  But you at least have to try to make a good faith effort.

Comments

  1. says

    Avoiding criticism should not be a major driving force behind your anthology editing. Nor should adhering to standards of “political correctness.” Any anthology that is even halfway interesting or good someone will find fault with.

    Your own internal aesthetics should guide you to seek a diversity of voices, different perspectives, and social justice.

  2. Ennis Drake says

    “At no point did I worry about any sort of “PC testing” of my table of contents (will I have enough POC? Will there be any women?). That’s a ridiculous way to go about putting together an anthology. The other reason it was a non-worry? It’s not that difficult to produce a table of contents that has diversity. Now I’m not even talking about forcing the issue of diversity in a TOC. I’m saying that these days you have to almost go out of your way to produce an anthology without diversity.”

    This is, hands down (and two thumbs up), the most reasonable/logical/20-20 fucking attitude about the issue of race/gender/nationality as it relates to TOC’s I’ve yet to see. Thank you Maurice Broaddus.

  3. says

    Amen to that, Maurice.

    I had similar (yet somewhat slightly different) concerns about SHINE. And indeed I left plenty on the table for people to criticise…;-).

    But someone’s gotta try.

    Also: fully agree with an open submission period and outlook. Admittedly, I need to work on my “rolodex” more, and I try. Having said that, I think SHINE has quite a bit of diversity (and indeed I did get very diverse submissions), even if I ultimately wished for more (don’t we all).

    Here’s to seeing a sequel of Dark Faith (and the Apex Book of World SF, which might be closer than many think…;-).

  4. jeff vandermeer says

    I have been advocating for more anthos having open reading periods–i.e. more equal access–for years for this very reason and also because you cannot grow as an editor if you don’t open yourself up to new writers, or established writers outside of your rolodex. I think it’s essential for the health of the field in a lot of different ways–including, too, getting diversity of *ideas* about stories can be. Sometimes Ann and I can’t have an open reading period, but you can still solicit widely. Our new Lambshead antho will include Helen Oyemi, Tad Williams, China Mieville, Reza Negarestani, Naomi Novik, and Minister Faust, just to give a few examples. These writers have in common a drive for excellence and fit well with what we’re trying to accomplish. (We will also have a unique way for writers not invited to contribute–more on that soon.)

  5. jeff vandermeer says

    Another way to limit yourself as an editor is to only be thinking in terms of genre writers when a good amount of amazing fantasy in particular gets published outside of the genre publications, anthos, culture, and targeted SF/F imprints.

  6. jeff vandermeer says

    Katheryn: Just curious–when did you last edit a non-year’s best antho? And have you ever used an open reading period other than soliciting recs for year’s best anthos?

  7. says

    I think the only entity in SF that really tries to eliminate bias in an open selection process is the Writers of the Future contest, in which as I recall, the manuscripts are evaluated by the judges with author’s names masked. I’m, not sure what the age and gender breakdowns are for that series, but I haven’t particularly noticed it being especially ethnically or culturally diverse.

    The usual use of an open reading period is to be open to newer writers from whom an editor would not otherwise solicit a story and who would not hear about an anthology in the usual course of events. It is a much better tool for finding “new” writers than for eliminating other kinds of bias. If I were running a monthly fiction magazine or a literary agency, I would absolutely have open submission. A commercially published anthology is a different thing.

    When you do an anthology for a commercial publisher, one of the major obligations to the publisher (often spelled out in the contract) is to deliver “cover names” — usually established novelists with commercial reputations that will help sell the book. Stories by people who fit that criteria need to take up at least a third to half the book or maybe more, and “cover names” don’t come into your book via open submission. If you haven’t already accomplished some kind of diversity without open submission, you have only a relatively small portion of the book in which to accomplish it. If your biases are such that your cover names are all American white males with midwestern accents and science degrees, open submission won’t fix this in the rest of your table of contents. A blind or “open” selection process would only give the editor a false confidence in the aesthetic validity of such biases.

    Reading widely in the field and in related endeavors (and taking notes) is a much better tool for inclusiveness. (This is partly Broaddus’s point about his “rolodex.)

    Regarding Jeff’s point about thinking more broadly than genre writers, in general that is a useful tool, but its usefulness depends on what your project is. It works better for fantasy than SF, and a whole lot better for horror than either SF and fantasy. But again if the editor isn’t seeing the diversity within the SF/F field, looking outside the genre probably won’t fix these biases.

  8. says

    Answering your last question, when doing original anthologies, my procedure is to be prepared solicit about twice as many writers as I expect to publish and to accept submissions from both those I solicit and people who hear about it from those I solicit or from me at conventions. A well-meaning writer once published my solicitation in a widely circulated market report, which increased the number of submissions by a lot, but did not result in any actually good and usable submissions.

    When I do original anthologies, I have a very targeted aesthetic project, and this is not a good fit for people looking through market reports for places to shop their stories. My general position is that when I read slush, I get paid by the hour for it. (NYRSF has open submissions, but that is not fiction, so I don’t think that’s really comparable.)

    If I was doing something on the Orbit model, I probably would go to open submissions, but would not expect to get more than a couple of stories that I would consider using out of that, because a story not written to specific specs would have been shopped though all the major markets before, hypothetically, it got around to me. The way around that is to pay the highest rates and say so loudly, which is to say throw money at the problem. But publishers are not really interested in subsidizing anthologist’s slush reading. Rather, they will pay anthologists the big bucks for reliably signing up best-selling writers.

    What I have seen done is anthologists using “open submission” as a tool for advance promotion of their book while it is in process. I think that is disingenuous and would not do it myself. But it is a way to make an “open submission” process pay for itself.

  9. says

    A further thought about genre: Some subgenres are deeply entangled in gender and/or ethnicity. Hard SF is very white and male, and demanding that “hard sf attitude” of a story in hard sf pretty much assures that it will have been written by a man. And the relationship between genre fantasy and magic realism, controversial twenty years ago, is very much entangled in cultural questions. An anthologist should sometimes be willing to to rewrite genre boundaries.

  10. Alice Trivet says

    “If your biases are such that your cover names are all American white males with midwestern accents and science degrees, open submission won’t fix this in the rest of your table of contents”//”Hard SF is very white and male, and demanding that “hard sf attitude” of a story in hard sf pretty much assures that it will have been written by a man.”

    I disagree slightly. I think the “almost go out of your way to produce an anthology without diversity” applies here, too. There are enough people writing SF (hard or otherwise) that a wide call — through open submissions or an extensive network as Jeff and Maurice suggest — should bring in diversity *and* excellent fiction.

    Now, I’m not a writer or an editor. I don’t have to wade through mounds of gooey slush. (Oh I can imagine the pain and I’d want to be paid by the hour too.) But I am a reader who loves short fiction, generally prefers “newer” voices, and happens to be a non-American female scientist. I’ll cheer any effort to bring me collections of awesome short fiction by many awesome, diverse people. (Jeff, the new Lambshead antho: what is it, where is it, when can I get it?)

    Anyway, a general wish to the anthology makers of the world: have some of the big cover names, by all means, but unless you’re editing “Boobieships & Titrockets” (see: http://bit.ly/9bsRA0 ) I don’t see any sane reason an anthology TOC should be bland in this age of the internet.

  11. says

    My comments about hard sf are in relation to the experience editing The Ascent of Wonder and The Hard SF Renaissance. Others can draw their own conclusions about the extent to which we managed diversity within the framework of the subgenre in question.

  12. Robert Laughlin says

    Would it be too radical of me to suggest that an editor might simply publish the stories he or she thinks best, regardless of who or what is responsible for authoring them?

  13. The Reader says

    I’m all for diversity as long as it is secondary to excellent stories. Which raises a statistical point rarely explicitly covered in the (many) posts I’ve read on this topic. And because I’m a white male, many people automatically assume I’m being a sexist/racist Cro-magnon (though in good faith I believe not) when I ask:

    -What do the SF readership demographics look like?
    -What do the SF (aspiring) authorship demographics look like?
    -Do these correlate?

    And, should correlation (to any external demographic) even be the goal? While there is some inherent value in diversity, what are the boundaries? At times, it seems like editors (and even more often, their critics) are tallying up their TOCs against an unspoken quantitative template, the very unspokenness of which cries out (to me, at least) for scrutiny.

    Gender seems to be the hottest flashpoint recently. And as Kathryn not-too-controversially mentions, some corners of SF in particular are overwhelmingly male. So when I see general SF anthologies touting their “high” percentages of female authors I wonder about those demographic correlations. My best guess is that more manuscripts, industry-wide, are submitted by women than men. But I’m curious if that holds true in SF and–here’s the important part–if that authorship breakdown is relatively representative of the readership, and what the readership will vote for with their dollars.

    The various PC furors over TOCs seem always inward-facing. It’s pretty clear by now what SF editors and their industry critics think on the topic. But I’m always left wondering (and wonder why others apparently *aren’t* wondering): What do the readers want? (“Your own internal aesthetics should guide you to seek a diversity of voices, different perspectives, and social justice.” Really? Is social justice what genre fiction is–or ‘should be’–about? Is that what Romance readers want? Is that what Mystery readers want? Is that what SF readers want? Perhaps so, but the case doesn’t seem to have been made, yet.)

    I’ll go out on a limb here and get particular. I am male. I read a lot of SF. There are several female authors that I like, but they represent probably no more than 20% of my “top-shelf” writers (i.e., authors I will consistently pay to read). So when editorial talk of gender “diversity” trends toward 50/50, what that means to me personally is that I’m likely to enjoy the output less than back in the bad old days of male dominance. From the publisher’s point of view, they don’t care about me personally, as long as losing me as a reader is offset by gaining at least one new reader. But are they? I have no idea. Do you? (The question of *why* I seem to prefer male authors is an interesting, but tangential issue here, since it’s not for lack of exposure.) There seems to be a presumption that increased authorial diversity will translate directly into increased sales, but is there evidence for that belief, or is it seasoned too heavily with social utopianism?

    I realize I’m the nobody in this room, but welcome any input by those with anecdotal, or prefereably numeric, evidence. I’m not arguing against diversity (though I do argue against PC; they’re not the same thing). I’m just really interested in seeing the diversity argument expanded to include the reader, instead of always just the writer.

  14. Maurice Broaddus says

    here’s the great irony: the last time i was involved in a toc imbroglio, it was over being a part of an all black anthology. it was the dark dreams (a horror) anthology series. it was accused of “reverse racism” and “affirmative action stories” because no white writers were included. then again, the whole point of the exercise was to exclusively go after a black audience, and thus grow horror’s potential readership.

    conventional wisdom, especially among the horror small press, was the the horror readers were mostly white males. considering how well the dark dreams series sold (and seemed to be virtually ignored in the small press circles), i’d probably argue towards there being an underserved potential market to be reached by all genres.

  15. says

    I think this question comes down to the relationship between aesthetic goals and political goals. If the result of the editor’s aesthetic choices do not meet the editor’s political goals, should the editor modify his or her aesthetics? The answer is, I think, sometimes. And if the political choices an editor makes do not satisfy his or her aesthetic goals, should those political choices be modified? I think the answer is yes.

    Some editors claim to have no agenda and to just be trying to do the best book they can. I don’t think you should do an anthology in mind unless you have in mind to accomplish something specific, so I don’t do books without some kind of agenda in mind.

    That being said, the editor must also meet the publisher’s need to have a book that will successfully make its way through the distribution system and satisfy the readers’ desire to be surprised and delighted. Except in instances of books targeting a demographic, such as Maurice’s, targeting diverse demographics among writers will not have much impact on sales one way of another.

    Regarding Robert Laughlin question about why don’t editor just publish the “best” stories, what is “best” is a complicated thing. I’ve been doing two series with “Best” in the title for a decade. I could, of course, publish only those stories that appeal most to me personally and speak to my own quirks and obsessions. But these books are not just for me, they are for you. And so we editors second-guess what you are going to like and feel happy and satisfied with. And there’s not just one of you. There are a broad range of readers with differing tastes and interests. The issue of diversity interacts with what is best in several ways: a diverse group of writers produce (usually) a more diverse set of voices. There is also the possibility of editing to differing demographics, but I think that is not something easily done in a single book.

  16. says

    “Some editors claim to have no agenda and to just be trying to do the best book they can. I don’t think you should do an anthology in mind unless you have in mind to accomplish something specific, so I don’t do books without some kind of agenda in mind.” should read “Some editors claim to have no agenda and to just be trying to do the best book they can. I don’t think you should do an anthology unless you have in mind to accomplish something specific, so I don’t do books without some kind of agenda in mind.”

  17. says

    In theory, the only fail-safe method is to choose stories anonymously and then publish them anonymously – as I did – at times – partially and wholly – during the ten years of Nemonymous.

    But theory doesn’t always work in practice. :)

    df lewis (des)

  18. jeff vandermeer says

    All very interesting, Kathryn. Now, perhaps, you can hold back a little and allow some room for others to comment. Thanks!

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  1. […] This thread has turned out to be a sort of diary on my thoughts as they develop on what has turned out to be the thorny topic of this anthology. (My eventual real-time review of it will take place on another thread). I have deliberately here not mentioned the title of the anthology or any ‘names’ connected with it. If anyone finds this thread (possibly unlikely) and chooses to add a comment here (which is a public comment place without membership), please ensure that you, too, do not name the anthology here etc. so that future readers of the book will not link here on any searches they may make. Any comments that name names will be deleted. 6. Weirdmonger left… Sunday, 25 July 2010 8:37 pm :: http://www.jeffvandermeer.com/2010/07/23 […]