Sexism in SF publishing

It’s there, it’s just not in the direction you think it is. The former senior editor at Tor UK broke down their genre submissions by author sex in 2013:

I’m just one of a fair few female editors in this particular area. My colleagues (and competitors) are a set of brilliant, intelligent and hard-working women, who have loved genre since they were kids, have fought their way through the ranks, have extensive lists, love their jobs and don’t compromise on the quality of fiction they publish. To name but a few there’s Bella Pagan who works with me at Tor UK, Gillian Redfearn at Gollancz, Anne Clarke at Orbit, Jo Fletcher at Jo Fletcher Books, Jane Johnson and Emma Coode at Voyager, Cath Trechman at Titan and Anne Perry over at Hodder.

That means that every genre publisher in the UK has female commissioning editors and 90% of the genre imprints here are actually run by women. So you can imagine there’s a slight sense of frustration each time I see yet another article claiming that UK publishers are biased towards male writers. And I do wonder if those writing the pieces are aware who is actually commissioning these authors?

The sad fact is, we can’t publish what we’re not submitted. Tor UK has an open submission policy – as a matter of curiosity we went through it recently to see what the ratio of male to female writers was and what areas they were writing in. The percentages supplied are from the five hundred submissions that we’ve been submitted since the end of January. It makes for some interesting reading. The facts are, out of 503 submissions – only 32% have been from female writers.

Tor submissions inbox
Historical/epic/high-fantasy: F 33%, M 67%
Urban fantasy/paranormal romance: F 57%, M 43%

Horror: F 17%, M 83%

Science-fiction: F 22%, M 78%
Young Adult: F 68%, M 32%
Total: F 32%, M 68%
You can see that when it comes to science fiction only 22% of the submissions we received were from female writers. That’s a relatively small number when you look at how many women are writing in the other areas, especially YA. I’ve often wondered if there are fewer women writing in areas such as science fiction because they have turned their attentions to other sub-genres but even still, the number of men submitting to us in total  outweighs the women by more than 2:1.

Now what happens when you compare these percentages to how many new authors we take on in a year? Tor UK is still quite a compact list – we normally only take on three or four debut authors each year, if that. Of the four authors Bella and I have taken on this year – two of them are women.

In other words, in a field that is 90 percent run by women, two female editors accepted 26.4 percent less male submissions than would have been dictated by statistical neutrality. If there is sexism in SF publishing, there is a clear anti-male bias.

Now, given the very small size of the sample set – they accepted four out of 503 submissions – that’s not really a fair characterization. But then, when do feminists ever trouble themselves about such things when the shoe is on the other foot?

And the sex imbalance at the gatekeeping editorial positions does tend to explain why Pink SF has become so dominant in recent years. Does that mean we should whine about how unfair it is and lobby Congress and Parliament to regulate the sexual distribution in SF editorial positions?

That’s one way to do it. The other way, of course, is to simply set up a new shop that caters to the Campbellian Blue SF and Inklingesque True Myth Fantasy they have consciously rejected and eat their lunch.