In 2014, Shaun Duke and I did the initial collecting and editing for Speculative Fiction 2014, which will come out later this year. The Speculative Fiction project was launched in 2012, a brainchild of Justin Landon and Jared Shurin. On an episode of the Skiffy & Fanty podcast, Justin Landon explained the anthology:
What were people getting all worked up about in 1992? I knew that if I went online I could probably find all the best fiction that was in 1992. I could use awards lists, I could look at the Year’s Best anthologies from Gardner Dozois, and all the other people, and I could figure out what fiction was important. But I couldn’t really figure out what was important to the discussion of people like us, people who really engage in the genre.
Speculative Fiction 2012 did very well, netting itself a Hugo nomination in the Best Related Work category and a British Fantasy Award for nonfiction. In 2013, The Book Smugglers took over as the editing team, and Speculative Fiction 2013 was just as excellent as its predecessor, and led to the anthology transferring ownership in 2014 from Jurassic London to newly minted Book Smugglers Publishing. Shaun and I are the third editing team, and the project has been both fun and frustrating, but personally for me, it's been instructive in a way I never expected.
I've done a lot of things in my time as a fan. I've written fanfic, created fanart (yikes), and tried my hand at vidding (abysmal). I've made fan mixes for friends, using two tape recorders connected together, running on batteries. I've debuted lovingly inkjet-printed fanzines full of bad Sailor Moon and Mario Brothers fanfic for my friends to read before I knew fanzines were a thing. I've edited tons of fanwork: fic, art, vids, and meta, too. But I had never attempted a long-term editing project as a fan until Speculative Fiction 2014. I was interested in doing it because, although I belong to SF fandom, I also belong to fanwork fandom. I was excited about getting to select pieces by fans like me, talking about that culture alongside pieces by the fandom well-established in the anthology in previous iterations.
I'm not a trained editor in any sense of the word. I know what type of fan writing I like, what I think is interesting, and what I think is accessible. This endeavor was an adventure for me, something wildly new that I thought would be a medium amount of work but mostly a fun project. I love fan history, so the idea that I would get to help curate a collection of it seemed like a fun challenge.
And Speculative Fiction 2014 was a new, fun challenge, but it was also a revelation. I learned something firsthand that many editors in my life had been trying to tell me and others like me who were calling for more diversity of voices for years. Sometimes what gets published is published because the people writing the diverse, representative work so many of us want to read aren't always submitting, so it isn't there to choose when it comes time to select pieces.
Very quickly, my fun challenge transformed into a huge problem. In September, as I looked at the submissions as a whole, a terrible pattern emerged. The diversity among submissions was appalling. Every time we did a signal boost for the submission form, we'd get a rush of pieces, but there were serious problems. There would be four or five submissions by women, for example, but also a huge swath of submissions by white men. Racial diversity was even worse than gender. By November, I was so utterly depressed about the state of things that, instead of only submitting articles, reviews, and essays I had read, I also started submitting articles, reviews, and essays I hadn't read that were being widely reblogged, retweeted, or otherwise discussed by fandom. I wanted to have a wider range of voices to select from when I got around to reading. I submitted so many things I lost count.
The reality that was not clear to me because of my ignorance and was not really communicated to me forcefully enough when I agreed to this position is that, if you only boost the submission form and hope people submit, the people with the most confidence will submit. The people without that confidence won't even bother, or they'll try to argue themselves out of it before they take the plunge, and then you're left with the same voices: white American men. As a white American, I have plenty of thoughts, but I can find thoughts and perspectives like mine everywhere. I'm also interested in thoughts and perspectives not like mine. I'm more interested in what they have to teach about reading books, watching films, critiquing media, and experiencing fandom and popular culture.
I should have known this. I never submitted anything I wrote to the 2012 and 2013 anthology submission calls. Both years when the editors pinged me to ask permission to include my pieces, I had to go to other people and ask them, "Do you think this is good enough? Should I say yes? I'm not sure it's good enough. Are you SURE?" Then I would argue with them when they told me yes.
I know I'm not the only person to do that, if not in exactly that way, but in similar patterns. What results is a slush pile full of people who haven't been told their whole lives that their writing is lacking in some way: it's not mainstream enough, full of too many non-white characters, too many women, too many queer people, too much dialect, too much criticism, too much difference, and therefore flawed, and their experience of fandom and culture is going to go through that same lens, so is it even worth it? I'm not even operating on that many intersections as a white bisexual woman, and I still rarely put my work forward. I have trouble with self-promotion, and I'm embarrassed at myself that I went into the anthology as editor and caretaker and didn't think enough to reach out to people individually who face this problem and are familiar with the issues and say, "I have this anthology, please submit your work and work you love from writers you admire."
I had access to them, via Twitter and email. But I didn't reach out, and so, toward the end of the year, I had to work extra hard researching writers and digging back into the 500-600 blogs I had followed to find conversations happening weeks and months before. I felt too ashamed to ask anyone at that point. I was humiliated with myself that because I hadn't seen and understood the problem sooner, it would look like a sop to people who are already struggling with coverage of their work, with being second thoughts, with being included as diverse writers not because their voices are valuable, but because they're whatever particular demographic needs to be covered.
At the end of the year we had around 350 submissions, including the submissions I sent along in order to even it out so the eventual slush pile we read from would more fairly represent the fans creating work. But I know I could have done so much more to reach out beyond my personal tidepool. I would consider it a good number if the pool was full of more and different voices, and not so many white men, many of which have entire months of every post they made tossed in the pile in huge chunks.
And I can't know, truly, whether it was people rejecting themselves or people simply not knowing the anthology exists, that each year we're attempting to create a time capsule of sorts of what fandom discussed in a particular year. Probably it's a bit of both because the anthology is still so young. But I knew the anthology existed in 2012 and 2013 and still didn't think to submit my reviews or my essays for consideration, and it's sad to think I rejected myself long before the editors themselves could. The editors only considered me because someone else took the initiative to recognize the work I was doing, and there are so few situations in which that will happen elsewhere. It's sad to know this probably happened to other people, too.
Recently there's been a push, a campaign of sorts, started by Rose Lemberg, to resist self-rejection, to accept the work we're doing first and let rejection come from someone other than ourselves, because by not taking the risk we miss opportunities and chances to celebrate our writing and share it with other people. Her statements to this end really touched me because I looked at her statements and saw some of the behaviors I know I engage in with my writing, which I know are an element of the Speculative Fiction 2014 slush pile looking so homogeneous. The Speculative Fiction series does have limited space for such a massive, multi-faceted fandom community, but after being an editor for a year I really do believe that having a slush pile that has a myriad of voices is a good place to start for ensuring that the anthology doesn't become insular or a repetition of the same perspectives. I believe everyone should be proud of their writing about fandom, their reviews, their commentary, and submit it when they see calls, or even when they write it, especially marginalized writers. The anthology belongs to everyone. It's a piece of fannish history, not a piece of white American fannish history.
Representation happens on every single level: writer, editor, publisher, reviewer, reader. I've spent years talking about it in reviewing, and now I see more of the problem as an editor, as well. I'm more sympathetic to editors struggling against a cultural system that encourages the people they want to submit to be quiet and not bother submitting at all because they'll just be rejected, anyway, right? Why make the effort? Why risk just another rejection, because everyone else is better, more mainstream, more relevant, less "different"? I thought, back when critiquing reviewing stats, "How hard can it be for editors to make this happen?" I didn't understand yet that the people with the confidence are the people most likely to submit and that the people we most want to hear from don't have that confidence due to institutionalized and culturally embedded assumptions about what makes a "good" writer and what content is "salable." And these issues don't end when the project isn't about money, but instead about our fannish history. If anything, perhaps they grow worse. Because we all know what history often does to the marginalized, even when they make an effort to have a voice and be heard.
To anyone who's been an editor, professional or fan, for money or for love of fandom or both, who has worked hard to push back against these issues, who has reached for new voices, who has slogged through slush pile after slush pile with the understanding that we need new perspectives and has worked hard to make these happen, to put the stories and essays and novels in my hands: I understand now. I finally get it.
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