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Introduction

Welcome to the sixth Strange Horizons "SF count" of representation in SF reviewing. The goal of the count is straightforward: for the last calendar year, for a range of SF review venues, to calculate the gender and race balance of books reviewed, and of reviewers.

As the title indicates, the immediate inspiration for this series is "The Count" by VIDA, which started in 2010. Within SF, antecedents include the Broad Universe reviewing statistics calculated for 2000 and 2007, the Lady Business counts of coverage on SF blogs for 2011, 2012, and 2013 and, further back, Joanna Russ' counts as reported in How to Suppress Women's Writing (1983).

This article presents the results of the SF count for 2015 and combined results for 2010 to 2015 (where possible), thanks to data visualisations by E. G. Cosh. From previous years, individual reports are available for 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010.

Methodology

We surveyed reviews in 18 speculative magazines and journals published in the US and the UK. For the reviews count, we tallied the number of reviews of prose books (novels, short stories, and related non-fiction) in each venue in 2015, by author or editor gender and race. For books with co-authors or co-editors, the attribution was fractioned as appropriate. We did not track coverage in non-review formats (e.g. essays, interviews). In addition to the reviews and reviewer counts, we conducted a count of Locus "books received" columns for April, July, and October 2015. A visual summary of our methodology is shown below.

Animated Description of Analysis Methodology

A number of limitations should be taken into account when interpreting these data. For gender, the limitations include limited accounting for pseudonyms and, more generally, a reliance on public presentation of gender. The count divides individuals into "men" or "women and non-binary." However, reliable information about gender identity for the vast majority of people counted is not accessible through our methodology, which means it is probable that some individuals have been misrepresented. We will continue to review our methodology each year, and welcome suggestions. (For instance, we are considering changing our terminology to "women and genderqueer," based on feedback from genderqueer individuals and the inclusion of that term in the Merriam-Webster dictionary this year.)

For race, our categories were "white" and "person of color." These are crude, and such a binary division is arguably only valid here (as opposed to more specific categorisation) because the total number of POC is so low. Since race is difficult to determine reliably using only names and Google, it is probable that here, too, some authors, editors, or reviewers have been incorrectly allocated. We nevertheless believe that the count is worth publishing because the number of incorrect allocations is likely to be small compared to the overall number of individuals counted.

The Locus count is not a perfect reflection of the SF field as a whole or the pool of books from which reviews editors select. First, the Locus listings include reprints, paperback editions, and late-seen books in addition to new first edition 2015 books. Second, UK and US editions are counted separately, and a specific book may therefore be double-counted. Third, Locus does not see all English-language SF books that are published; in particular, mainstream-published SF books, or English-language SF from outside the US and UK, may not be included in this dataset.

The 2015 SF Count

This year's count finds that things are improving in some venues, but, like the future, it's not evenly distributed yet, and it's coming oh so slowly. Review coverage is still disproportionately of and by white men. A visual summary of our findings is shown below.

Animated View of Analysis Results

We are this year providing the full data from the count in an interactive format. You can explore the data for yourself below. Some of the tabs have drop down menus so you can change what data selection you're looking at.

There are five tabs:

  • Tab one presents the data for 2015 as a tree map.
  • Tab two compares 2015 to 2014.
  • Tab three looks at changes in the representation of women and non-binary authors and reviewers over time.
  • Tab four looks at changes in the representation of authors and reviewers of colour over time.
  • Tab five is a table of all of the data, including baseline values from the Locus books received count.

Within tabs one to four, you can choose whether to view percentages or absolute values, and choose whether to view data for reviews or reviewers. Additional information can be accessed by hovering over datapoints or over the "more information" circles.

Notes on the 2015 count

  • Foundation, Interzone, SFX, and Vector are venues focusing primarily on books published in the UK. Analog, Asimov's, The Cascadia Subduction Zone, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, io9, and Romantic Times focus primarily on books published in the US.
  • The most active venues in the field are Locus (324 reviews), SFX (165 reviews), and Romantic Times (141 reviews); the least active are The Los Angeles Review of Books (35 reviews), Lightspeed (28 reviews), and The Cascadia Subduction Zone (23 reviews).
  • The venues with the largest reviewing staffs were Strange Horizons (80 reviewers), Science Fiction Studies (38 reviewers), and SFX (30 reviewers); at the other end of the scale, Asimov's and Lightspeed have 3 reviewers each, Risingshadow.net has 2, and Analog has 1.
  • As usual, the topline Locus figures obscure a disparity within the magazine. Carolyn Cushman's column typically lincudes 8-10 short (single paragraph) reviews per issue, 85.2% of which in 2015 were of books by women or non-binary people. Other columnists typically tackle 3-5 books at greater length (3+ paragraphs); in 2015, 40.8% of these reviews were of books by women or non-binary people.

Context and conclusions

The publishing industry is at the very earliest stages of the self-examination needed to move the needle on inclusivity. Surveys such as this analysis published earlier this year by Lee & Low set a baseline for diversity in US publishing staff. Ideally, we would like to see publishing houses and imprints putting out something similar that shares information on the slate of books they publish.

In this year's SF count, there was evidence of improvement in the coverage of both women/non-binary writers and of books by people of colour. However, particularly in the case of the latter, the improvement was from a low baseline. As in previous years, in 2015, in the majority of the SF review venues surveyed, review coverage disproportionately focused on men and books by white writers.

Acknowledgments

Thanks to Regina Small for providing Romantic Times reviews data, and to Aishwarya Subramanian for assistance with counting.




E.G. Cosh is a writer, data designer, and illustrator living in London. She is working on her first novel, a deep space adventure story about a girl from an intergalactic arms dealing family, who runs away to join a corporate sponsored peace cult. She lives elsewhere on the internet as @egcosh and also as co-host of the short story discussion podcast Storyological.
Niall Harrison is a reader and fan.
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