The Importance or Non-Importance of Stats

I’m all for this kind of transparency and for conscious and unconscious biases against certain categories of writers–whether it be women or whatever–not being perpetuated. The post is in response to this post, but doesn’t in any way mention some of the stats mentioned there about the percentages in prior Talebones issues.

But I also have to say that the statistics cited in Tempest’s post mean absolutely nothing without (1) knowing how many women versus men submitted to these publications and (2) what the quality of those rejected submissions was (by some objective criteria that weeds out the obviously unpublishable). The same for the Talebones stats.

If you really wanted to be attentive to detail, you’d also break down those stories as to which perpetuate gender stereotypes and cliches, and then which of those types of stories are by men or by women. (But that would be madness, because a certain level of subjectiveness enters into all of this.)

Otherwise, again, those numbers mean nothing. I know Ann, for example, who is definitely left-leaning and feminist, is publishing more stories by men than by women in Weird Tales. What exactly does this tell us? What should it tell us? Does it mean anything at all?

And: What would happen if most magazines had writers submit their stories blind through some submission form, where the editors wouldn’t know the gender of the person submitting? It’d be interesting, that’s for sure. In addition to possible changes in the gender percentages of published stories, you would MOST DEFINITELY see a rise in the rate of rejected submissions by “established” writers.

Please note that the post includes this “stabilizing” statement, although I’m not sure who the “we” is since as far as I know the person posting is not speaking in any formal sense for any particular organization or group: “(And let me point out again: we have not asked them to publish stories JUST because they were written by women, or to not publish stories JUST because they were written by men.)”

So let me include this “stabilizing” statement, purely on my own behalf: posting questions about this issue does not in any way indicate I’m unsympathetic to a level playing field or think in any way that this is not a serious issue.


19 comments on “The Importance or Non-Importance of Stats

  1. Larry says:

    One of the more prestigious Spanish-language literary awards, the Alfaguara Prize, is decided by “blind” reading. Novelists are invited to submit an unpublished novel for consideration for this $175,000 award, but nothing that identifies the work as being theirs is permitted. A panel of judges reads through the entries (usually around 500-700 books) and a winner is chosen. Out of the 12 books chosen so far, 4 of those were by female authors, including Laura Restrepo and Elena Poniatowska (both of whom are outstanding authors who in Restrepo’s case is starting to build an English-language base). Considering the well-known patriarchal leanings in Latin America over the years (much less today, but considering many of the judges are in their middle years, something still to be considered), I would have to say that’s likely a higher number than if the authors had submitted their works with their real names attached to them.

    As for Tempest’s post, yes, there are multiple ways of reading that, although I would have to ask if the growing proliferation of more “friendly” mags/e-mags might also play a role in this, not to mention the perception by many casual readers that the short fiction market is moribund now. It’ll be interesting to see what others will make of her findings.

  2. I don’t mind her pointing it out. But from a purely statistical point of view, the numbers don’t mean very much without more context.

    In fact, I’m glad she’s out there pointing this kind of thing out, to some extent, since whether or not the stats mean anything, any conscientious editor will think about this issue.

    I can only say that some subgenres are dominated by men or dominated by women right now and thus numbers will be skewed depending on your focus. Also, when we were editing Leviathan, we always got tons more submissions by men than by women. There was nothing in our guidelines indicating that we preferred fiction by men. As a male editor, I can certainly go out of my way to solicit from women, but if the mere fact I’m a male editor means I get fewer submissions from women, that’s not something I can really do anything about. Certainly with Ann as co-editor on all of our projects since last year it seems unlikely this could be a factor.



  3. Brendan says:

    Actually, I have been getting a little bored with the gender stats that seem to have become habitual in certain genre corners. There are clearly plenty of women getting published. Is the “field” even? I don’t know. But as you pointed out, to really see what’s going on, you would need to dig a lot deeper than just stories published.

    It is also just possible that maybe some editors just happen to like more fiction done by males or females, for some obscure reason that resonates within the fiction itself, just as I tend to veer towards reading European authors more than American.

  4. Crowe says:

    I guess to start with one would need to know not only the publication stats but also the submission stats. If twice as many men as women submit work in particular genres/sub-genres then it’s likely that twice as many men as women are going to get published. If equal numbers of men and women submit work but many more men are published then that will mean other factors are in play – not necessarily editorial sexism even then but perhaps not enough *good* women writers being attracted to that genre/sub-genre for whatever reasons. Maybe the same reasons that when I visit my local Forbidden Planet, I’m usually the only woman in there.

  5. Yes, I’m not saying sexism doesn’t exist in this context–I know it does, and not just in the crude Ellison-Willis Hugos way–just that from a statistical point of view there needs to be more data presented/analyzed.


  6. Kit Reed says:

    Well, this is weird, but I’ve worked with a lot of kid writers over the years and oddly, the guys are the ones willing to take narrative risks because at 19, they’re either crazier or more imaginative or just less reluctant to jump too high and maybe/probably fall on their asses. Now, I can’t extrapolate from this without being beaten over the head so I’ll just present the information and tell you to go figure.

    But this is the important question experience raises. Are we of the feminine persuasion more grounded in reality?

  7. Rob Davies says:

    I always find this line of reasoning to be highly suspect. I submit a story, it gets rejected, ergo the editor is a misogynist and people who enjoy the stories in such testosterone-laden magazines are willing servants of the patriarchy. Of course, not every reader is a writer, so some people are simply concerned about the genre gender percentages, but… Of all the things in the world to get bent about, this is it?

    I don’t have any stats, and this is pure speculation based on what I see when I go the the bookstore, but my hallucination is that more men read SF/fantasy/horror, so it seems to follow that more men would write it and submit it, leading to the disparity in a magazine. I have no idea. But the idea that an editor is willingly turning down a great story because the writer is a woman is silly.

    I could start a movement bemoaning the lack of magazine stories by people who look exactly like me and are married to my wife, but I don’t think that is a valid metric. Put another way, would someone be as upset with the gender/racial/whatever-ism make-up of a table of contents if they themselves were in said table of contents? Probably not.

  8. While I agree that these stats aren’t as powerful without knowing the gender split of the submissions, I wonder if they do become a self-fulfilling prophecy with female writers less likely to submit somewhere they feel doesn’t publish many female writers?

  9. Kelly Barnhill says:

    I think the only way to really test whether a gender-preference exists is to conduct a blind-submission test for a set period of time and see if the stats change. I’m reminded of a similar experiment conducted by several top orchestras a few years back for their audition process: they put a screen up to sheild any visual reading of the musician from coloring the auditioners experience of the music. As a result, the number of female muscians hired for these orchestras jumped by five percent. The blind audition is now standard practice.

    The point is that our experience of any piece of art is altered by limitless factors: gender, name recognition, venue, whether or not you already know the author is an asshole, and what have you. None of these have anything to do with the quality of the work, and yet our experience changes regardless. They did some study a while back to see how people reacted to a story if they thought the author was attractive or unattractive – the photographs weren’t even of the author, but readers had a more favorable reaction to the story when they thought the writer was beautiful. This, alas, is bad news for most of us.

    Either way, I think that publishing stats is helpful, as long as it’s understood in context.


  10. JeffV says:

    Kelly–Blind reading is always a great and equalizing thing. As I mentioned in my post, this would equalize things in terms of imposing further objectivity about writers generally, not just for women.


  11. Kelly Barnhill says:

    Oh, I agree. But I like the idea of a time-limited test, if for no other reason than the editors themselves can take a look at their own stats (and, again, looking at lots of factors besides gender – non-anglo names, for example) and see if any changes happen. If no, then they can relax a bit, and if yes, then perhaps it’s time for a bit of soul searching.

    When I was a classroom teacher, I had a little digital voice recorder that I set to go on and off randomly so I could listen to it later and, among other things, count out how many boys I was calling on versus girls, as well as how many white kids, black kids, Hispanic kids and Hmong kids were getting most of my attention. Little snapshots, you know? I think its a good process to embark on because it forces a person to re-think basic operating procedures in our relationships with those around us. It wasn’t always comfortable to do this, but I still think it was important.

    Sometimes it’s hard to look in the mirror – but how else will we see the gigantic booger hanging off the ends of our collective noses.


  12. Rob Davies says:

    I suppose I hadn’t considered the role an unconscious bias on the editor’s part might play. The results of a blind submission process would be interesting to see.

  13. Tempest says:

    posting questions about this issue does not in any way indicate I’m unsympathetic to a level playing field or think in any way that this is not a serious issue.

    One would hope that such statements would not be needed, but the Internets have taught me otherwise. For the record, I didn’t think you were unsympathetic even before this.

    As to my own stabilizing statement, I always feel the need to include such things because, inevitably, there will be some asshole who comes along and says, “So, you think they should publish women’s stories JUST CUZ??” which inevitably derails things uselessly. I try my best to head off the usual whining as much as I can.

    I disagree somewhat with your assertion that the stats mean nothing without knowing the submission pool. Certainly data on the slush pile would be helpful (and I believe Sue Linville has some data for some markets), but it’s not an ultimate determination of unconscious bias. Though I will agree that neither is the # of men vs. women in the finished product. Analyzing the types of stories, characters, etc., as you mentioned, would provide a more complete picture. Subjective, yes, but not completely so. If I were an academic, I would probably make a study of it and get a degree!

    But then, I don’t know if someone would have to go that far in order to get to the meat of the issue as folks interested in/upset by this issue see it (that’s the “we” in my stabilizing statement). The icky imbalance IS there, there are identifiable reasons for it, and if the editors and publishers would make steps toward addressing that, meaningful steps, then I think the numbers would take care of themselves.

    Does that make sense?

    re: blind reading. Someone brought this up in the F&SF Gordon is Sexist! thread last year and, if I remember, there was a debate about whether this would work or not. I think the Not side won, but it may be worth looking up for the pros and cons.

  14. Tris says:


    I tend to think that if one of my stories gets rejected – happens all the time – it’s because it wasn’t up to scratch/suited to that market.

    I’ve had one or two bloodied noses but that’s usually when I’m playing out of my league – a bit like getting knocked over by the big kids in the playground?

    I’ve seen the stats in various genre mags and in a way it’s depressing – I’d feel diminished if I had reason to think I’d crept in to make up the – whisper it quietly – women’s quota.

    I’m not saying it doesn’t matter – but it shouldn’t? Maybe I’m naive but I’d like to think most genre editors are beyond all that – I’ve never had reason to think my work has achieved less consideration on the basis of gender – and if I did I’d probably choose to submit elsewhere anyway…

  15. Tempest says:

    I’d feel diminished if I had reason to think I’d crept in to make up the – whisper it quietly – women’s quota.


  16. Tempest–yeah, that makes sense. At least it’s a start at cataloguing percentages and perhaps making some editors more aware of their biases. Thanks for posting.

    I actually think blind submission processes should be instituted wherever practical, recognizing that administratively it can be a pain. I know the O’Henry’s did it awhile back and it resulted in a lot more “unknown” writers making it into the anthology.

    (Congrats on being a Tiptree judge, btw.)


  17. this has been touched upon in prior comments, but not explicitly stated that I see.

    Before believing these numbers actually mean anything, I’d want to compare the numbers to a gender survey of the magazines in question.

    I’d like to believe the readership of genre mags is about 50/50, but until I have some stats, I’d hate to move forward with my assumptions.

    Part of me suspects that the percentages of male to female authors in the magazines in question might likely be pretty close to the percentages of males and females reading it.

    Alas, we’re als missing something important in our statistics. Where are the hermaphrodites and transsexuals? This is Fantasy and Science Fiction, after all, and we have some super cool alternative lifestyle livers and they deserve a spot at the gender table if we’re going to start talking about gender stats.

  18. Brendan says:

    I am actually not convinced that the numbers mean there is a bias. Because it really depends on submissions received. Without a good deal more information, a real bias cannot be pointed out in my opinion.

    Maybe men write more short fiction, and women write longer fiction? It would not be the only thing men spend less time doing.

    I actually consider “writing” to be one of the most woman-friendly “professions” there are in the “arts”.

    Just look at film for instance, and see how few (serious) female leads and female directors there are.

  19. Ann V. says:

    Just a FYI. Opened up my WT submissions email account this morning. 25 new submissions. 22 from men, 3 from women. This is the typical submissions ratio I receive for Weird Tales (this is just from overnight – I’ll get more in during the day….)

    Ann V.

Comments are closed.