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Scifi / Fantasy News > Do You Want the Good News, Bad News or Horrible News First?

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message 1: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Strange Horizon's just released their demographic study of SF publishing in 2013.

The good news is, the gender breakdown in the US is pretty much at parity -- 49.1% of books published are by men, compared to 47.1% for women -- but unfortunately the British barbarians are dragging us down, with male authors outnumbering women by 2:1 in the UK.

However, the really bad news is on race. Almost 96% of books published last year were by white people. What's causing this imbalance isn't clear. Certainly no one thinks the major publishers are actively racist, but unless one supposes that people of color don't write as well as white people, there is clearly something keeping other races from getting published. It could be they write books with minority characters and publishers don't think those would interest SF fans, or fans of color feel unwelcome at conventions and so don't have a chance to network with publishers. Or maybe they look at the endless stream of fantasy novels about white chicks killing vampires, or medieval Europeans killing orcs and figure the genre's not for them.


message 2: by Rick (new)

Rick | 2782 comments Interesting article. There are so many caveats around their data, though, that I don't think we can take figures as more than indicative. The race one bothers me since even if it's a bit off, it's still indicative of a serious lack of diversity.


Ruth (tilltab) Ashworth | 1861 comments It's interesting, and you cant help wondering at the reasons. I'm studying English Literature and Creative Writing at the moment, and I've noticed that whilst there are a good number of Muslim's in the literature classes, the creative writing classes are almost exclusively white. I think there is an imbalance in general, not just in sci-fi. I get the feeling the reasons are more subtle, relating to things such as cultural expectations.


message 4: by Dustin (last edited Apr 30, 2014 05:03PM) (new)

Dustin (tillos) | 365 comments You know who's really a minority. Jib the Goblin.

Goblin Quest (Jig the Goblin, #1) by Jim C. Hines

Is it possible that since the nerdy crowd is composed mostly of white males, that most of the fantasy writing is produced by a similar demographic? That minorities are not being pruned by publishers, but that there simply aren't that many to begin with.

And if the data fairly expresses the interest from minorities in fantasy writing, why, by all that is holy, would they produce something that isn't going to sell that well.

I am not saying that white readers wouldn't be interested in fantasy written by minorities. I simply stating that demographics of the data says that white male writers sell better. Publishing is a business. If minorities were producing and selling work in equal or greater quantities as white males, they would be following the money.

Are they suggesting with this data that publishers should prune white writers instead, even at the cost of sales and the quality of writing. That of course does not suggest white men are better writers than blacks or Latinos or women. What I mean is, should a book, that in one case, is written better and is more marketable, be turned away, purely in the interest of your gender or race? Isn't displaying this data promoting the prejudice against white male authors in fiction.

What I want is data based on self published works, because I think you'd find a similar trend when no one is acting as gatekeeper. More minorities, but far more white male writers that aren't being published.

And to bring my rant full circle, I return to Jib. If you're a minority author who fears being rejected in the publishing world because you can't or don't want to write a white male hero. Remember this, you're writing fantasy or science fiction. You can make your hero an alien or a dragon and write them however you like and no one will be the wiser.


message 5: by Rick (last edited May 01, 2014 08:29AM) (new)

Rick | 2782 comments "I am not saying that white readers wouldn't be interested in fantasy written by minorities. I simply stating that demographics of the data says that white male writers sell better"

Pick one. Those contradict one another... the second sentence implies that white readers wouldn't be interested in fiction written by non-whites. As for what has historically sold better, it's irrelevant data if all you publish are white authors. You can't make claims about how fiction by non-white authors would sell because you have no data on it.

"And to bring my rant full circle, I return to Jib. If you're a minority author who fears being rejected in the publishing world because you can't or don't want to write a white male hero. Remember this, you're writing fantasy or science fiction. You can make your hero an alien or a dragon and write them however you like and no one will be the wiser. "

Also why should a person of color HAVE to hide the race of their characters? That's the same BS, enabling reasoning that makes it an advantage for women to go by initials because "no one will be the wiser."


message 6: by AndrewP (new)

AndrewP (andrewca) | 2471 comments I think Sean partially answered her own question regarding the ratio in the UK. When I was last there I noticed that book stores have a small YA/Paranormal Romance section compared to say, a US Barnes and Noble.
I suspect that the "endless stream of fantasy novels about white chicks killing vampires", written mostly by women, are more or less categorised at the same level as Harlequin romance novels. So publications are are not going to review them.
I would like to see the raw data with the titles of the reviewed books. That might be more informative.


message 7: by Michele (new)

Michele | 1154 comments I would be interested in knowing what the percentage of submissions is by race.

Are there less PoC writers submitting stories? I mean if a major publisher receives 10,000 manuscripts, how many of those are by PoC, women, LGBT? If only 500 are from PoC then 5% of the actual published works makes sense. If 5000 were by PoC then that's a serious problem.

And is it the authors or their main characters/subject matter that is being judged? I'm assuming not all minorities write stories that have minority characters/subject matter that is obvious to agents, editors, and such.

It seems to imply that whoever reads the submissions is looking at an author's name, assuming it's a minority writer, and throwing it in the "reject" basket. And then, if the name wasn't obvious, when reading they discover an obvious minority main character - "reject" also.

I have no idea, but that scenario is both ridiculous and frightening.


message 8: by Rick (last edited May 01, 2014 09:12AM) (new)

Rick | 2782 comments No, it doesn't imply any such thing. ALL that post notes is that he overwhelming majority of published works seem to be from white authors. Any reason why is something you and others are projecting. Try not to conflate your assumptions with what the post actually says as that's not fair to the post's author.

You may well be right that non-white authors don't submit SFF... but then, why not? I've seen posts here and there that imply agents and publishers shy away from such works (esp works that are about 'minority' experiences) with the fear that they won't sell but I can't lay my hands on links. The submission issue is, though, crucial I'd agree.


message 9: by Alexander (new)

Alexander (technogoth) | 171 comments These stats don't surprise me. The publishing industry is dominated by existing writers. In fact an article I recently read notes that 10% of authors make up over 50% of sales.

Then consider that only a tiny percentage of aspiring writers get a book contract and on average a new author only sells 1000 copies of their book its probably safe to assume these publications only review successful authors.

The data would be more meaningful if it was divided between existing authors and new authors.


message 10: by Scott (new)

Scott | 11 comments Whatever else can be said, the data's disturbing, as the OP wrote. Over the past decade or so I've become more aware of how few minority authors there are working in genre fiction in general, and admit I can only think of a few immediately, like Octavia Butler and Saladin Ahmed.


message 11: by Trike (new)

Trike | 8304 comments Michele wrote: "I would be interested in knowing what the percentage of submissions is by race.

Are there less PoC writers submitting stories? I mean if a major publisher receives 10,000 manuscripts, how many of those are by PoC, women, LGBT? If only 500 are from PoC then 5% of the actual published works makes sense. If 5000 were by PoC then that's a serious problem."


That's a good point. Are we seeing publishing reflecting submissions or actual racism?

We have ample proof that racism exists, even if it's not overt or intentional (see Dustin's post #4 for an example of someone with a bias that he's literally not aware of), but that might not be what's going on here. Without better data, we can't know for certain.

That said, race is still a factor.

There have been studies done where manuscripts and screenplays have been rejected precisely because of the name on them; the exact same manuscript with a different name attached gets treated differently. Test your own internal bias by imagining how likely you would be to pick up a book written by Michael Armstrong or Lupita Ngorono or Asif Ali-Muhammed Hussein.

I like to think I'm above such things, but if I'm going to be perfectly honest with myself, I'm really not. I already have preconceptions going into a book with those names on them.

Sean wrote: "Certainly no one thinks the major publishers are actively racist, but unless one supposes that people of color don't write as well as white people, there is clearly something keeping other races from getting published. It could be they write books with minority characters and publishers don't think those would interest SF fans, or fans of color feel unwelcome at conventions and so don't have a chance to network with publishers. Or maybe they look at the endless stream of fantasy novels about white chicks killing vampires, or medieval Europeans killing orcs and figure the genre's not for them."

It took me years to pick up Octavia Butler's work, precisely because I thought it wouldn't be relevant to my interests. This despite the fact that as a white guy I had a black girlfriend and had no trouble at all reading Alex Haley's books. But for some reason "female + black" fell beyond my area of interest. We all have biases, great and small, and they play a part. It must be a thousand times harder for non-whites to be interested in characters that don't represent them at all, and to have entire books filled with such things which don't seem to speak to me.

But I still want to see more data on authors and submissions, just for a more complete picture.


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