Knocking on the Door of the Boys' Club

The science fiction market is still a boys' club.  That's essentially what a male science fiction writer told his audience at a local conference earlier this year. (I paraphrase; he didn't say it exactly that way.) He was talking about short fiction in particular. Some of the participants objected, throwing out names like Elizabeth Bear and Connie Willis. My gut told me the speaker was right, though. I started out writing for mainstream / adult short fiction markets, and I attended workshops and cons in the past that were pretty much male-dominated. But it was refreshing to hear an established, male, Nebula-nominated science fiction writer (and editor) admit this. My gut also told me the opposite must be true of the young adult SF/F short fiction market. After all, the majority of young adult novelists are women. (Or at least it seems like it. Look at us: two guys and eight women.) So I decided to do a gut-check and investigate both of those assumptions a little. (Cuz you know what they say about assumptions.)

First, the adult side.  Broad Universe collected some interesting numbers in the late 90’s and early-to-mid 2000’s.  In a nutshell, women were underrepresented in all aspects of science fiction—from short fiction to novels to awards—but that representation was improving over that time.

Then, in articles for the SFWA Bulletin and later Strange Horizons, Sue U. Linville looked into the short fiction aspect a little further in 2002 and again in 2007.  She gathered submission data from the big four magazines: Asimovs, Realms of Fantasy, Analog, and Fantasy and Science Fiction. She found that, in 2001, women authors made up 19 – 33% of the short fiction submissions for these magazines. (The higher submission rate was not surprisingly for Realms of Fantasy; the lowest for Analog.) However, in the same year, women made up 38% of the SFWA membership. (This doesn't, of course, count women SF/F writers who weren't members.) After considering several possiblities, her conclusion was that women were underrepresented in the major magazines because they were NOT submitting. This could be for any number of reasons, such as a subconscious bias. (Linville found little statistical difference between whether it was a male and female editors doing the buying, btw.) She followed up the study again in 2007 and found that women were still underrepresented. And once again she concluded  that “lack of participation by women remains the clear villain.”

This was five years ago. It would be interesting to follow up to see if women are submitting more and being published more in these magazines. Or to what are now considered the major short fiction markets—such as (Unfortunately, Realms of Fantasy closed up shop late last fall.)

However, if you look at the 2011 Nebula nominations, it seems women are reasonably well represented today, at least in terms of awards:

· Novels: 4 of 6 written by women

· Novellas: 4 of 6

· Novelettes: 3 of 7

· Short Stories: 3 of 7

· Andre Norton: 7 of 8

You probably noticed this last one. Nearly 88% of the novels nominated for the Andre Norton award—which is specifically for YA science fiction—were written by women. (And, btw, Andre Norton was, you guessed it, a woman.) I don’t how many female YA science fiction novelists there are as compared to men, but about 70% of Locus Magazine’s recommended YA novels last year were written by women.

So, you'd think more women submitted YA science fiction / fantasy short stories than men do.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to compare the adult and young adult short fiction markets. The YA/MG market has only one (that I’m aware of) pro-paying, SFWA-listed magazine for teens / tweens that only publishes science fiction. Odyssey. And it’s primarily a science magazine that also publishes fiction. Cicada and Cricket will publish science fiction and fantasy, but that’s not their primary focus. These are the only SFWA-qualifying markets for young adult fiction.  (If there are other pro-paying young adult science fiction short markets, please let me know! I didn't look at anthologies because they're usually a one time deal.)

BUT, here’s the rub. The editor of Odyssey told me (in a totally unscientific, off-the-cuff e-conversation) that she gets far more short story submissions from men than women. And the anthology the magazine just put out features five men and three women. (Full disclosure: I’m one of those three.) Interestingly, though, the magazine gets more non-fiction queries from women. Go figure.

So, maybe it’s not a YA vs. adult market thing like I thought. Maybe women are not submitting as many short stories (science fiction / fantasy, at least) as men. Period.

Maybe. (I can’t really draw a conclusion because of my shoddy methodology!)

Go forth and submit those short stories anyway! (And next month I'll talk about how to do it.) If you don't even knock on the door of the boys' club, how do expect to get inside?

What do you folks think? Why do fewer women submit science fiction / fantasy short stories than men do?

1 comment:

Lissa Price said...

What an interesting topic, Angie. I could see a bunch of us talking about this late at some con over coffee.

I think now the answer is in your post. Women make up the majority of the science fiction/fantasy novels and that's happening in YA. So there isn't as much time to submit short stories. Men, for some unknown reason, make up a smaller percentage of the YA science fiction/fantasy writers. I have a good friend in my writing group, a guy, who is unpubbed but is finishing a great fantasy w/a teen boy protag. I'm sure there are more.

The question might go back to the readers. Do more men than women read the magazines you mentioned? In YA novels, publishers are quick to note that girls make up the majority of the readers.

And yet, J.K. had to use initials... go figure!