The 2012 SF Count

By Niall Harrison

Introduction

VIDA started it. In 2010, they published the first iteration of "The Count", a straightforward analysis of how literary coverage is affected by gender. For a range of notable publications, VIDA calculated the proportion of books reviewed that were by women, and the proportion of reviewers that were women, and published pie charts illustrating their findings. They published similar analyses for 2011 and, most recently, for 2012. Each year, a consistent imbalance has been observed: more books by men are reviewed, and more book reviewers are men.

Following VIDA's lead, for the past two years Strange Horizons has published "SF counts", looking at the same parameters as VIDA for speculative fiction review venues. The SF count for 2010 is here, and for 2011 is here. In addition, the writers at Ladybusiness have carried out related counts for coverage in SF blogs in 2011 and 2012.

This article presents the results of the SF count for 2012.

Methodology

We surveyed reviews coverage in 14 speculative fiction magazines and journals published in the US and the UK: Analog; Asimov's; Cascadia Subduction Zone; F&SF; Foundation; Interzone; Locus; The New York Review of Science Fiction; The SF Site; Science Fiction Studies; SFX; Strange Horizons; Tor.com; and Vector.

For the reviews count, we tallied the number of reviews of prose books (novels, short stories, and related non-fiction) authored or edited by women and by men published in each venue in 2012. For books with co-authors, the gender attribution was fractioned as appropriate. We did not track coverage in non-review formats (e.g. essays, interviews).

For the reviewers' count, we tallied the number of individuals who published at least one review in each venue in 2012. We did not track numbers for individual reviewers across different venues.

Both of these counts have obvious limitations. In particular, they take no account of pseudonyms, and reduce a spectrum of gender identities to 'women' or 'men'.

In addition, we conducted a count of Locus 'books received' columns for January, April, July and October 2012. This count has a number of additional limitations, discussed below, but provides one form of context for the results of the main count.

In all charts, women are in blue and men are in red.

Baselines

Figures 1 to 3 show the author gender breakdown of 1326 books received by Locus in January, April, July and October 2012. The gender breakdowns for each month were broadly similar, so it is assumed that these four months are representative of the year as a whole.

However, these data have some limitations as a proxy for the gender balance of the SF field as a whole or the pool of books from which reviews editors select. First, the Locus listings include reprints and paperback editions of earlier novels, in addition to new (2012 books). Second, Locus does not see all SF books that are published; in particular, mainstream-published SF books may not be included in this dataset.

Some of the publications we have included in the main count are US- or UK-specific; others cover books published in both countries. We have therefore provided country gender breakdowns as well as the overall count.

The overall count includes 1326 books, of which 694 were by men, 605 were by women, 15 were attributed to mixed-gender partnerships, and 12 could not be attributed.

The US count includes 963 books, of which 489 were by men, 455 were by women, 12 were attributed to mixed-gender partnerships, and 7 could not be attributed.

The UK count includes 363 books, of which 205 were by men, 150 were by women, 3 were attributed to mixed-gender partnerships and 5 could not be attributed.

The 2012 SF Count

Table 1 lists the total number of reviews and total number of reviewers for each venue. Overall, 1250 reviews were included in the count. The venue publishing the most reviews was Locus (318 reviews); the venue publishing the fewest reviews was Foundation (17 reviews).

Figures 4 and 5 show the coverage of books by women, and the proportion of reviews written by women, respectively.

Table 1. Total number of reviews and reviewers for each venue, 2012.

VenueReviews in 2012Reviewers in 2012
Analog 48 1
Asimov's 54 3
Cascadia Subduction Zone 26 22
F&SF 69 5
Foundation 17 16
Interzone 66 20
Locus 318 15
New York Review of Science Fiction 27 19
The SF Site 52 16
Science Fiction Studies 55 44
SFX 217 28
Strange Horizons 137 50
Tor.com 123 23
Vector 41 34

Notes on the venues:

  • Foundation, Interzone, SFX and Vector are venues focusing primarily on books published in the UK; Analog, Asimov's, Cascadia Subduction Zone, F&SF, and Science Fiction Studies focus primarily on books published in the US.
  • Analog and Asimov's have all-male reviewing staffs; they also have the smallest reviewing staffs of any of the venues surveyed, with one and three regular reviewers, respectively. The venues with the largest reviewing staffs were Strange Horizons (50 reviewers), Science Fiction Studies (44 reviewers) and Vector (34 reviewers).
  • Cascadia Subduction Zone is a semiprozine with a specific mission statement: "to treat work by women as vital and central rather than marginal."
  • The topline Locus figure obscures a disparity within the magazine. Carolyn Cushman's column typically includes 8-10 short (single paragraph) reviews per issue, 88% of which are of books by women. Other columnists typically tackle 3-5 books at greater length (3+ paragraphs); 35.8% of these longer reviews are of books by women.

Gender and genre

This year, in addition to the overall gender count of Locus books received, we attempted to count genre as well. Table 2 lists the overall number of SF, fantasy, mixed-genre and unknown-genre books in the US, UK, and combined totals. Figures 6 and 7 show the gender proportions of each category.

In addition to the general limitations of the Locus data, a further health warning must be imposed here. Coding of genre is highly subjective at the best of times; coding of genre on the basis of short blurbs, as has been done here, must be regarded as tentative.

It has become a commonplace to observe that the UK market is not friendly to science fiction written by women: see, for instance, much of the reaction to the all-male shortlist for this year's Arthur C. Clarke Award, for the best science fiction novel published in the UK. This count supports this contention: fewer than 1 in 3 of the UK science fiction novels received by Locus was by a woman. However, the count indicates a similar gender disparity in the US. What is different are the absolute numbers. In the four months counted, Locus recorded 30 science fiction novels published by a woman in the UK, compared to 69 in the US.

Table 2. Locus books received (January, April, July and October 2012) by genre for the US, UK, and combined data.

GenreUSUKOverall
Overall 963 363 1326
Science fiction 283 98 381
Fantasy 597 256 853
Mixed 74 8 82
Unknown 9 1 10

Summary

As in previous years, in the majority of the SF review venues surveyed, disproportionately few books by women were reviewed, and disproportionately few reviews by women were published.

Acknowledgments

Thanks to Liz Batty and Martin Lewis for assistance with this year's count.


Niall Harrison is Editor-in-Chief of Strange Horizons.

Comments

Given how often people claim that fantasy is "dominated" by women writers, it's interesting to see that female domination appears to consist of being about 55% of what's published.

Specifically -- in this year's count, 58.3% in the US, 40.7% in the UK, 54.7% overall. And this includes paranormal romance/urban fantasy and YA fantasy.

I'm idly wondering how YA falls out, both speculative YA and YA as a whole.

In contrast, for the last couple of years I've been writing for Macmillan's "Heroes and Heartbreakers" blog, which focuses on Romance (including Paranormals, but also including Urban Fantasy and some Speculative Fiction if it includes romance or romantic elements). So far as I know, only one of the reviewers is male, though he's only recently begun to read any romance, and it's a big deal when he posts about it. It's a different world entirely. I'm wondering if anyone ever compiled any statistics of this kind on Romance, or if no-one bothered because it's so obviously female-dominated. Must go look!

I think the link for the 2010 SF Count's broken - it goes to the Vida Count, not the SH one.

Mad props to you and Martin Lewis and Liz Batty for doing the running on this again.

Hi,

Looking at Table 1 and Figures 4 and 5 I have a couple of questions. For Figure 5 which shows the percentage of reviewers by gender categorized by publication, would it be possible to present the number of reviewers by gender also by publication as a Table to supplement the data shown?

Do certain authors of reviews submit more reviews that are published than others? I would think this is likely.

Where I'm going with this is that if an author of reviews, who submits more and is published more, has a bias (likely unintentionally) they would tend to skew the data towards their bias.

795 (64%) reviews of the 1250 reviews were published in Locus, SFX, Strange Horizons and Tor by 116 reviewers but the publication that has the most reviews has a surprising low number of reviewers (which speaks well to their reviewer's output perhaps?).

So a bias for a specific gender by a single reviewer (which skews the data) would be more obvious in the Locus, SFX, Strange Horizons and Tor subset.

What I'd look for is a reviewer with a relatively large number of reviews (compared to an average) which would mostly be reviews of books authored by men. You could then get a grip on whether this skewed the data and by how much. The purpose wouldn't be to target that author but to merely say that averages are not at parity because of the output of a few reviewers. Or not, which means it's more general problem that reviews are geared towards men and more effort could be made to review the works of women.

Kudos on the hard work!

Victoria: So far as the Locus stats go, I didn't track YA-ness, primarily because it's adding another category orthogonal to male/female and sf/fantasy, rather than adding an option within those categories; so I didn't have long enough this time around. I might try to at some point in the future. (Or I might ask Locus, since they probably have most of this stuff already coded in a database, he said optimistically.)

Liz: Whoops, thanks for the catch -- I'll get that corrected.

Jason: The trouble with tracking reviewer output is that lots of reviewers write for more than one of these venue, and in a number of cases on their own blogs as well; so we'd have to construct a database of all the reviews published, rather than a count per venue. No doubt reviewer-skew and venue-skew are related and potentially reinforcing; if somewhere habitually assigns me books by women, I might be more likely to send my spec submission of a review of a book by a man elsewhere.But ultimately reviews editors and publications are responsible for the balance of reviews they publish.

For what it's worth, my subjective impression is that there were very few reviewers who skewed heavily female -- Carolyn Cushman in Locus being the notable one. Given the overall results, that suggests that most of the rest skewed male to a greater or lesser extent.

Finally, bonus stats! Two venues I forgot to include in the original count (and will include next year) were io9 and The Los Angeles Review of Books sf department.

io9 published 76 book reviews in 2012, of which 23.5 (30.9%) were of books by women. They had 13 regular reviewers, of whom 3 (23.1%) were women and a further 3 were of unknown gender.

LARB published 49 sf book reviews in 2012, of which 12 (24.5%) were of books by women. They had 38 reviewers, of whom 11 (29.0%) were women.

Jason: Just to follow up Niall's response to you on tracking individual reviewers - I'd be curious about that, but I'm not sure how illuminating it would be. For example, last year I reviewed for four of the venues examined here (SH, SFX, CSZ and Vector), and in all cases except one the books I reviewed were not on-spec submissions of things I'd chosen, but titles assigned to me by the review editor. (In the case of the one exception, I discussed the book with the editor - had they already assigned it, would they be interested in a review of it from me, etc - before I wrote the review.)

I presume there are reviewers in this pool for whom this isn't the case, and would be curious to know how their stats compare to the whole (and also if a tendency to assigned-reviews vs spec-reviews is gendered). Although this would require running an annual survey of all the field's reviewers...

Is there a breakdown of reviews by genre?

I'm wondering what the proportion of SF to Fantasy reviews is. If the reviewers are biased towards SF, then that would skew the Male:Female figures too.

Nic:

Your experience is the same for me. Most of the books I review for places covered in this survey (and I've written for three this year: Tor.com, SH, Vector) are assigned by the editor. I've on-spec'd a few, but mostly only having checked with the editor first (with the exception of a handful for Tor.com early this year when I knew the editor was busier than usual and I wanted to write about the books anyway).

I'm pretty sure my personal reading/short-personal-blog-responses skews about equal, but I haven't tracked my ratio of M:F:Unknown/Genderfluid in reviews. I know the *material* I cover for Tor.com skews female, because of the Sleeps With Monsters column, but I'm not sure how non-column reviews break down.

Perhaps we could talk some sociologists into doing a longitudinal survey. I hear the USA has a lot of unis...

Adrian: No, I didn't track that this year, that would be an interesting secondary analysis. Although per Nic and Liz's comments, I suspect any bias would be more about the institutions than the reviewers.

Liz, Nic: Interesting information, thank you.

Tor.com is an awkward beast for the purposes of this count, which I should have noted in the main article. I limited my count strictly to posts tagged with 'reviews', which actually eliminates most or all of the columns -- which is mostly fine, because they tend to talk about older books, but I'm sure some new stuff got overlooked. (And it completely excludes the re-reads.)

This bit is a pure shill, but if you appreciate what the Locus staff does in making this kind of data analysis possible, please consider subscribing to the magazine. It's the only way that they'll be able to keep doing what they do. They've got a few flavors of eBook subscriptions available now as well.

Niall, thanks for adding the bit about LARB, I was particularly curious about them since the TOC of their sf-oriented essay collection came out. It's a bit hard to square "LARB published 49 sf book reviews in 2012, of which 12 (24.5%) were of books by women. They had 38 reviewers, of whom 11 (29.0%) were women." with the TOC which has only 1 woman-authored entry out of 10 essays total.

Nic: Thanks. It is clear to me that I don't understand the workflow arrangement so you are correct that the suggestion wouldn't provide greater illumination to the where the bias is unless we know more about whether the editor or the author chose the review. Therefore we'd need more data. :)

Niall: Thank you very much for the information. I really do appreciate how much effort goes into picking out data from real world situations and then analyzing it.

How To Suppress Women's Writing: erase even SF great Joanna Russ's own How To Suppress Women's Writing from discussions of suppression of women's writing in SF.

Niall:

I think the columns on Tor.com and the re-reads are more like features in a magazine, personally, but it does make it something of an odd bird.

Niall,

if you're going to/wanted to include Los Angeles Review of Books sf department, I assume because it's an important source for sf reviews, shouldn't you also include the Romantic Times sf department, which has also been a major source of sf reviews? If not, why not?

Jason: No problem, happy to answer other methodological queries if anything's not clear.

Ide Cyan: Well, Russ' book is primarily about mechanisms and strategies; the data I've collected here don't provide much insight into which mechanisms or strategies might be operating, so I deliberately limited the scope of my interpretation.

That said, it has also been pointed out that my introduction elides some previous work in this area, such as the Broad Universe statistics for Locus for 2000 and 2007. In fact if anyone knows of other similar counts done earlier (online or offline), let me know; it would be good to have as complete a historical picture as possible.

Martin: Yes, as discussed on Twitter earlier, RT will be included in future counts. For the last few years, they've posted their own data here.

To expand on Niall's point, I think that the points raised in How to Suppress Women's Writing are for the most part orthogonal to the discussion raised by counts such as this one. HtSWW is about the ways in which individual work by women is dismissed once it's actually gotten to the stage of being discussed. What counts like this one highlight is the relatively lower likelihood that women writers as a group will actually get to the discussion stage.

Or, to put it another way, it would be entirely possible (albeit perhaps unlikely) for a review venue to achieve gender parity, or even female dominance, and still engage in all the tactics Russ described.

To expand on Niall's point, I think that the points raised in How to Suppress Women's Writing are for the most part orthogonal to the discussion raised by counts such as this one.

Quite, because what good would it do to acknowledge that Joanna Russ first counted reviews and worked out percentages alloted to women in How To Suppress Women's Writing in 1983? That would merely acknowledge the contribution made by a woman writer who may have been forgotten, so what's the use of remembering her?

Dale Spender, in Women of Ideas: And What Men Have Done to Them noted in 1991 that she stopped collecting examples of women being erased from history when she ran out of space: not when she ran of out examples.

Niall, thanks so much for listening to my concerns and responding in such a positive way. It really means a lot to me. Thank you.

I'll just note that the data I used for my post and that I've made available is my personal data and doesn't represent anything official from RT. As I mentioned, I do data stuff at my day job so it was natural that I'd keep data on this--I actually kept more data than this, but this is the only data that's relevant to this particular inquiry. I also tracked publisher, pages, price, ISBN, whether or not it was part of a series, and what the eventual rating was.

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