Sexism in SFF Publishing Survey Results

Here are some of the results from our survey. Names and email addresses have been removed

Q1 Much has been made recently of the perceived lack of diversity in SF and Fantasy publishing, specifically the lack of published works by female authors and the dearth of reviews and/or coverage of women-authored works. What’s your assessment of the state of gender equality in genre (SF and fantasy) publishing currently? 
*It’s not something that concerns me in my own sphere of influence or experience. We’re an all-women editorial team, working with a diverse group of authors. We publish many women writers, and recent debuts include Francesca Haig, Tahir Sabaa, Emmi Itaranta. 
*Women are making inroads, but the genres are still largely male-dominated. And most “best of the genre” lists are overwhelmingly male. 
*That it’s nonsense. I believe women now outnumber men in SFWA membership which means we are getting published. Most NY editors are women, and with blogs, etc. the power of old style review sites is significantly reduced. 
*It’s paradoxical. Some of the best and most popular, critically acclaimed books are being written by women, but we still really have to advocate for ourselves when it comes to promotion. It’s also a problem of historical blindness: nine times out of ten, if someone releases a list of the best SFF novels of whatever period, there’ll be something like six men on it for every woman, assuming women even rate a mention. There’s an idea that we’re newcomers to the genre that’s utterly false, and when we make an effort to carve out our own visibility and promote each other, we’re accused both of coopting the genre away from its roots and of nepotism at the expense of quality. There’s an ongoing backlash against the fact that this conversation exists at all: you get people who think that because it’s been going on for a while, the problem must necessarily have been solved already, such that we’re all just shouting for undeserved attention, instead of – as is actually the case – continually having to throw ourselves at each new wall of bigotry, whether racial or gendered or whatever else, that’s erected against change. 
*It’s improving overall but a long way to go 
*There do *seem* to be fewer women than men being published as SFF by mainstream publishers; however, fewer submissions are coming in from women than from men, agented and unagented. Julie Crisp wrote an interesting article about the issue a couple of years ago: It’s also worth keeping in mind that, occasionally, people aren’t including subgenres like paranormal romance or steampunk and especially YA in the mix when they talk about the problems with representation in SFF – only traditional genres (e.g. epic fantasy and hard SF, though those are only examples) seem to be worth considering ‘SFF’. So there’s a larger issue at work, here – the representation of female authors is part of an overall set of assumptions about what constitutes ‘SFF’. 
*It’s historically been quite make dominated, and that is changing – but change is slow 
*From my experience as a SFF author who’s been to several events, the genre is extremely misogynistic as a whole. In fact, I left the genre last year due to my repeated treatment within. 
*trans-misogyny is evidence 
*There is still, unfortunately, a rather large gender inequality in SF and Fantasy Publishing. As a reader-there seems to be more female writers in Fantasy then in Hard Sci Fi. I would like to see that change.
Q2 Assuming you agree with the perception that women are often overlooked within the industry, what would you consider to be the source of the problem, in a general sense? 
*I don’t agree, actually. Most of UK publishing is run by women below the CEO level, and our last CEO was a woman. 
*I think there’s definitely a generational divide, where older men in positions of editorial power don’t take women writers as seriously. But I also think there is a social issue, at least in the West, where many people believe that women are not suited for technical and scientific thought — whether due to lack of interest or lack of capability. 
*Firstly, a reflexive conflation of “what the genre has always been to me” with “what the genre is and can be”. People are so used to seeing stories about straight white men in faux medieval Europes that they mistake correlation for causation. They assume these narratives *define* the genre instead of merely contributing to it, such that when you get a story about (for instance) a queer woman of colour in a non-Western setting, they ignore the fact that both are heroic journeys involving magic and monsters and culture, or try to declare it niche. And secondly, it’s a false belief in the existence of an artistic meritocracy, unimpacted by wider cultural biases. Benjamin Law had a great line about this with regards to women’s writing in Australia: “If you take Brookner’s insistence that a meritocracy exists, what are you supposed to make of the raw figures? Books written by women are reviewed less. Women win fewer literary prizes. If that is a meritocracy, then you have to buy into the argument that books by women must be inherently inferior. I can’t accept that. The danger in relying on a meritocracy is assuming one actually exists”. It’s the same in SFF: when people are trying to advocate for women writers, writers of colour, queer writers and the like, it’s not because we think they deserve promotion regardless of quality, but because they’re grossly underpresented *despite* their quality – and if you believe that all groups are equally capable of producing great works, but that capability consistently isn’t reflected in what gets praised and promoted the most, then the only real explanation is bias, whether subconscious or otherwise. 
*Female authors are often less well promoted esp as women, many use initials instead of full names to be seen as more marketable. I think much of the issue sits in older views of marketing rather than current feeling among writing. 
*There’s so much to consider here: Confirmation bias: female authors may think their submissions will be ignored because they’re women, so they don’t submit their work. Problems of definition: what IS sff? Do traditionally women-author-dominated subgenres count? YA? Steampunk? Paranormal romance? If so, why aren’t they being considered? Is the snobbery of the genre elite to blame? problems with marketing and packaging: are we letting our own subconscious biases affect how we market and package books by women? Are we giving books by women more ‘feminine’ covers to attract a ‘female’ readership? Women will read books with ‘masculine’ covers; men are less likely to ever pick up a book with a ‘feminine’ cover. Are we in the publishing industry limiting ourselves and our market without even meaning to? 
*Readers within he genre do seem to be biased against female authors – but female authors do often seem to focus on the ‘softer’ side of the genre, which I suspect is a cultural issue 
*The continued romantication of domestic and sexual abuse coupled with the idea that women are trophies. Women are seen as either fuckable or not fuckable, very few are seen beyond that, especially in this genre. 
*a fixation on cis gender women over other groups of marginalized people
*Part of the problem is there are still a lot of out of date stereotypes floating around. “Women don’t read Sci Fi.” Not true. “Women don’t seek out Sci Fi books.” Also not true. I am female and I love Sci Fi. I would like to see more female characters as well as authors represented within the genre. I think part of the problem is that the Sci Fi publishing industry is a “boys club”. Specifically a “white, old man, boys club”. Take a chance on something new. Let’s get some new lady authors out there too. Another part of the problem might be that not that many female authors choose to write Sci Fi. Why-you ask? Because they don’t think that they have a very high chance of getting published.
Q3 How has the proposed “glass ceiling” in genre publishing affected you personally, if at all? 
*Not at all. I’ve worked in the field for 31 years and have never been overlooked for promotion. I’ve gone as high in editorial as it’s possible to go without losing touch with what matters (the books and authors): I could have moved higher in the organisation if I’d wished but I preferred not to. 
*I am certain that it has prevented me from getting story assignments that are as high profile as those that men get. It has also meant that I have to work harder than a man would to be taken seriously as somebody with technical and scientific knowledge. 
*Personally, to my knowledge, it hasn’t. But I do know female authors who’ve been asked to write using initials rather than their full names to disguise their gender and thereby improve sales, or who’ve demonstrably seen less support and promotion from their publishers than male authors who bring in less money than them. 
*As a small indie press it hasn’t affected me directly 
*To be honest – as a professional editor – I’m not sure I’ve had any real experience with a glass ceiling in genre publishing; in the UK, at least, big five genre publishing is totally dominated by female publishers at all levels. 
*I’m not sure it has 
*My first book was considered by Penguin, among others, but they weren’t willing to take a chance on an unconventional romance novel, even though they said they loved the voice and the writing was good. They wanted me to rewrite it, ironically, because it was from a male 1st person POV. 
*it affects everyone 
*Well…There aren’t that many books by female authors in Sci Fi that are published, so therefore-there aren’t that many available for me to read. That upsets me. Kameron Hurley’s work is awesome. i would consider her stuff to be Sci Fi/Fantasy. I would like to see more work out there that pushes the boundaries and stereotypes of what Sci Fi is. There shouldn’t be a glass ceiling or any ceiling for that matter on the definition of Sci Fi. Sci Fi is only limited by one’s imagination. (And the nerdy technicalities of, “actually, that’s speculative fiction because of x, y, z…)
Q4 How (if you feel you’ve been impacted) have your changed YOUR behavior or process/output because of it? 
*When I started in publishing it was almost entirely a male domain: I worked extremely hard to do the job well, and I never encountered obstruction or misogyny towards me from within the organisation. As a writer, however – of historical fiction – it’s a different case. No matter how gritty my subject, publishers are either reluctant to take on a serious war novel by a woman, or want to focus on the romance in the book, and package with a female-friendly cover. If xxxxxxx had been written by a man I firmly believe it would have been received very differently. 
*I’ve chosen to work at publications where women are in positions of power, and where I won’t be sold short. Often this has meant sacrificing a certain degree of mainstream marketability. 
*I am pleased to say as a small press run by a woman we have no problem attracting female writers and have rough parity of gender split. 
*I specifically seek out books by women and work very, very hard to maintain a basic gender balance on my list. It’s incredibly difficult as I get so many more submissions in from men. I actively pursue female authors and encourage them to submit to me, agented or otherwise. And yet I still have more men on my list than women. 
*Again, I’m not sure it has 
*After being sexually assaulted by a steampunk colleague & subsequently dismissed by the larger community (while he continues to rise in popularity), I left the genre and even writing fiction. 
*it has not 
*To be honest, I haven’t really. We are doing this show? I guess, what I would like to do, is more actively seek out female Sci Fi authors and not only read their work, but buy it. Show the publishers with my money that female Sci Fi authors are wanted, that there is an audience.
Q5 What, in your opinion, needs to happen immediately before the industry can change? 
*Maybe things are different in the US. I don’t see the problem in the UK. I run a 4-person sff team, the most successful in the UK, possibly the world, and we’re all women from diverse backgrounds. 
*It’s quite simple. Hire more women as editors. Publish more women as writers. Target more books at women. 
*People need to accept that there actually, really is a problem; that we’re not just making it up for laughs. So long as critics can produce endless Best Of lists that barely have a female author or a person of colour between them despite the presence of myriad such writers throughout the genre’s history and still say, with a straight face, that it’s just the result of meritocracy and unbiased personal preference, then there’s going to be a problem. 
*Panel parity is good progress but women sometimes need more encouragement to come forward as we are socialised to not be pushy. Book shops etc need to consider their stock and highlight female authors 
*There are huge social issues underlying the problems in SFF, making women less likely to submit and less likely to resubmit if, for example, I respond saying that I like something but it needs work. We need to seriously consider the underlying issues at work here and figure out how best to address them. Relatedly, I run several mentoring schemes for young women in publishing and young women who are aspiring writers and lack of confidence is one of the major problems I run into again and again. We need to address how we teach young women how to be aggressive and proactive in achieving their goals, in publishing and elsewhere in their professional lives. It’s not the overall solution, but more professional women need to take more time to help out more aspiring young women. 
*I think it is changing, and maintaining a high awareness of the issue helps 
*There needs to be safe spaces for all at conventions and the voices of those speaking out about their experiences must be heard and respected. 
*The industry needs to broaden its’s opinion/definition on what is Sci Fi and what makes it appealing to readers. They need to be open about making that definition broader. After all, Sci Fi is all about dreaming of the future and imagining how things could be.
Q6 What can readers do personally if they want to try and affect a perceived imbalance in diversity in genre publishing? 
*Buy books by women writers. 
*Read more books by women. Review more books by women. Make “best of” lists that are gender balanced. Don’t make bullshit excuses. Just do it. 
*Challenge yourself to read more widely. Try new authors. Just because you don’t like to think an author’s gender or race or sexuality should factor into whether or not you read their work doesn’t mean you’ve never subconsciously *excluded* an author on those grounds, either, or – more commonly – that the excluding is being done for you by publishers, reviewers and booksellers who give those books less attention, and therefore keep them off your radar, leaving you feeling as though you’ve made a more informed, varied choice than you actually have. Be awake to different perspectives. Read. 
*But some of the many superb titles by women. 
*There’s a lot of snobbery in SFF (as in literature as a whole), and readers need to reflect on their own definitions of what SFF is. Readers can be proactive in their choices of what to buy and read, and try to balance their reading lists so that men and women are more equally represented. There are readers of SFF who will casually say they’d never read a fantasy of science fiction novel by a woman, though – what the hell can we do about that? 
*Read more work by diverse authors! 
*Read books by women & trans authors. Don’t read crap that is romanticized abuse like 50 Shades, etc. Stop sexual harassment & assault at our conventions, participate in the discussion around consent at all levels and in bystander response training. 
*progressive stack spending 
*Vote with your money! (See number 4). Also-tell your friends. If you read a good book and you feel like others should know about it–write a post and put it out on Social Media. Tag specific friends that you think will enjoy the book.

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