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Julie Crisp

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Julie Crisp

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Editorial Director Tor UK: discovered the joys of science fiction after reading Dune at ten and hasn't looked back since. Enjoys reading and publishing all styles of fantasy, horror and mind-bendingly good science fiction. Loves single malts, discussions about covers, and red pens. Is quietly determined to take over the universe one book at a time. Twitter: @julieacrisp

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10 Jul 2013

58

SEXISM IN GENRE PUBLISHING: A PUBLISHER’S PERSPECTIVE

Female - male symbolI’m rather hoping, while writing this post, that I’m not about to open a giant can of worms. The whole issue of sexism, and discrimination against women in genre is such a hot topic, and there are so many vocal contributors that it makes you rather nervous to even voice an opinion in case a lynch mob appears. BUT then I think, hell no, I do have a voice, I do have an opinion – and I should use it. So here it is.

In the last few years I have seen numerous articles deploring the lack of female SFF writers, in science fiction in particular. And usually, the blame always comes back to the publisher’s doorstep. Every time I’ve seen one of these articles I get a little hot under the collar because, guess what? I work in publishing. I work in genre. And here’s the kicker – I’m a woman. Yes, a female editor commissioning and actively looking for good genre – male AND female. 

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

Women

Men

Historical/epic/high-fantasy

33%

67%

Urban fantasy/paranormal romance

57%

43%

Horror

17%

83%

Science-fiction

22%

78%

YA

68%

32%

Other (difficult to categorise)

27%

73%

Total

32%

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.

So here’s the thing. As a female editor it would be great to support female authors and get more of them on the list. BUT they will be judged exactly the same way as every script that comes into our in-boxes. Not by gender, but how well they write, how engaging the story is, how well-rounded the characters are, how much we love it.

Bella drew this!

While I understand why people get so impassioned about wanting more female writers in genre, especially when it comes to science fiction, the picture just isn’t as clear cut as it seems. Accusing the publishers of being sexist, or lax in their attitude towards women writers is an easy out but it’s just not the case.

I read a quote recently somewhere that said: ‘Feminism isn’t about all women believing the same thing, it’s about women standing up for what they believe in and having the freedom to make their own choices.’ Well the books I choose, the authors (male and female) I work with – they’re what I believe in, they’re my choice.

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58

Comments on “SEXISM IN GENRE PUBLISHING: A PUBLISHER’S PERSPECTIVE”

  1. July 10, 2013 at 5:12 pm KJ Mulder says:

    Brilliantly said!

  2. July 10, 2013 at 5:59 pm Sean Cummings says:

    Word.

  3. July 10, 2013 at 7:24 pm Linda Poitevin says:

    From where I sit as a writer in the UF genre, the publishers aren’t the problem. Rather, the whole sexism issue appears to be part of an overall societal backlash towards women. I truly thought we’d won the equality issue years ago (I grew up during the bra-burning era) and I’m saddened at its seeming resurrection. That said, I’m also fiercely proud of all the writers (and others) — both male and female — who are adding their voices to a conversation that is long, long overdue.

  4. July 10, 2013 at 7:31 pm Jon F. Merz says:

    Great post!

  5. July 10, 2013 at 7:33 pm Brad Beaulieu says:

    Great post, Julie. Thanks for compiling the statistics and for shedding light on this from an editor’s perspective.

  6. July 10, 2013 at 7:39 pm Neal Asher says:

    Well said. I keep reading about this male bias then I look at Tor and wonder where exactly is this patriarchy in genre publishing?

  7. July 10, 2013 at 8:33 pm Ginjer Buchanan says:

    On behalf of all the US women sf/f edtors, thank you, Julie! You can’t acquire what isn’t submitted. And you can’t acquire something that isn’t good just to gender-balance a list.

  8. July 10, 2013 at 10:49 pm Jane Johnson says:

    Spot on, and thanks, Julie! I really don’t care what gender a writer is, and half the time you can’t tell anyway, given the use of pseudonyms or initials. What matters is the quality of the writing and the originality of the voice: nothing else.

  9. July 11, 2013 at 5:16 am B. Ridi says:

    Interesting article, thanks. Does not exactly jibe with everyone’s experiences, though:

    http://pattyjansen.wordpress.com/2013/05/01/there-are-girl-cooties-on-my-space-ship-on-women-writing-hard-sf/

  10. July 11, 2013 at 5:46 am Sophia McDougall says:

    Okay, I have actually woken up in the middle of the night still disturbed by this.

    That you are a woman in a given industry, even that there are a lot of women in the industry, really doesn’t have much bearing on whether the industry perpetuates sexism, which may particularly affect women working in other areas of the industry. Some of the most sexist things ever said to me in a professional context have been said by women. “When you’re asked about your influences, can you stop mentioning women writers and namedrop these men instead? I don’t care if you haven’t read them, can you name them as influences anyway?” “If there’s a woman on the cover, the book won’t sell.” “Can you turn your 50/50 male/female cast to 75% male?” “We don’t want this book, because girls don’t like books about space, and boys don’t like books about girls.” What’s between the speaker’s legs really doesn’t change the content here. And yes, many of the women saying these things were honestly trying to help me! If I mentioned sexism, they would say, in effect, that they agreed with me, but that trying to succeed in spite of sexism could only be done by stealth and by making a lot of concessions to it. It may be that they were RIGHT and that by talking about women writers and writing female characters, I’ve harmed my career. I certainly often worry that by talking about sexism, I will damage my reputation and saleability. Either way, men don’t have to worry about writing about male character or talking about male writers and that women DO have to deal with such issues regarding their own gender in the workplace is sexist — it doesn’t require a cabal of evil men deliberately stomping on our dreams for fun for it to happen.

    And those were the things that were said aloud, that someone was consciously aware of thinking. What about the assumptions and expectations that were unstated and unnoticed? What about the money, and perhaps more crucially and even harder to pin down, the *energy and attention and decisions* put into marketing and promotion? What’s happening with jacket design? It may be that at Tor this is entirely equal. But even when those things honestly entirely equal — does that result in equal outcomes when the book is published? And how do those outcomes affect contracts and advances later down the road? How do they affect women who might be interested in starting to write, or CONTINUING to write, SFF?

    Plenty of the sexism female writers experience is not unique to SFF and at least partly out of the publishers’ hands. Recently I was in a large Waterstones. One of the most prominent displays was “Staff’s favourites”, or something. It featured about thirty writers, about three of whom were female. All of those were dead. I always notice this sort of thing in bookshops because it happens all the time. Here is a table of top crime writers! (90% male) [X]‘s Pick! (All male) If you like Game of Thrones you may like these writers! (All male). Pages of all male review sections, all male award shortlists. Interviews, invitations to festivals, etc etc. And that’s at the “official” level. How many readers are there out there who consciously or unconsciously avoid female writers? I’ve seen plenty of people online who saw no problem with saying they do this. I saw a female colleague saying recently she had an acquaintance who’d told her he couldn’t read her book, because he was concentrating on catching up with female writers before 1990.

    But he had plenty of time to read new male writers.

    In short even when you give an equally talented male and female writer exactly equal shakes in-house, the female writer’s professional experience could still contain so much sexism, that her book performs significantly less well and she cannot, in the longterm, continue writing. Instead she and the women that might have followed her decide to do something more useful with her time, like banging her head against a brick wall.

    What is so hard about battling sexism in publishing is its so nebulous and fluid, you often cannot point to one deliberate, malicious decision and say “this is where it all went wrong.” This also means there is not one single decisive thing you can do to fix it. You’re right to say it’s not “clear-cut”. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, or that the problem is just that women aren’t interested. As the industry stands, women have good REASONS not to be interested! I know this is something that people at the publishing end can’t just wave a magic wand and fix. I know you can’t publish what you don’t receive. But publishers do have a part to play, and that has to include recognising the complexity and scale of what’s going on.

    On a bad day I think the whole thing is hopeless and I’d be better off trying to be a literary writer. On a worse day I think I’d give up being a writer at all if I could. On a good day, I think, all of publishing (in the sense of the entire process from contract to bookshop checkout to review column) well, the whole world! — is sexist, but maybe SFF isn’t worse, maybe it’s better, because at least it knows and cares that it has a problem and is trying to change. Even though it is sometimes painful.

    But I feel this piece will be taken as granting SFF permission to care less.

    • July 11, 2013 at 12:13 pm Julie Crisp says:

      Hi Sophia,
      I’m sorry that you were so disturbed by this – that certainly wasn’t the intention when writing it. And do I agree with many of your points. It’s a complex issue, and one I thought a long time about before contributing an opinion to.
      From my perspective, this post was never about trying to look at the deeper sociological issues or finger pointing. It was simply a call out to female writers to submit. To me, to an agent, to another publisher – as long as they get their books out there. And the point about most of the editors being women, was more about ensuring that the vast majority of potential authors (male and female) were aware there wasn’t this great patriarchal hierarchy determined to stamp out female creativity that would inhibit them from submitting in the first place. The main point was that, as editors and publishers, we don’t have any prejudice against female science fiction writers, we actively would like to take on more female science fiction authors. The stats I gave are from the Tor direct submissions but we also don’t get a huge amount of SF submissions from agents written by women, presumably for exactly the same reason – that they just aren’t seeing them come in on their direct submission pile. I’ve seen a few comments on Twitter where female authors were suggesting they’d usually submit to smaller independent houses, or rather self-publish. That was the reasoning behind the post – I want them to feel there other options should they be interested.
      Both Juliet E McKenna and Patty Jansen wrote pieces recently that I found fascinating. http://www.fantasybookcafe.com/2013/04/women-in-sff-month-juliet-e-mckenna/ and http://pattyjansen.wordpress.com/2013/05/01/there-are-girl-cooties-on-my-space-ship-on-women-writing-hard-sf/. Both brilliantly balanced and objective pieces.
      We do treat male and female authors in-house exactly the same. the same attention to detail goes into covers, marketing and PR for every author we take on. I wouldn’t be doing my job if that wasn’t the case. Readership – as you say – is something we have no control over. Again, as you say. I think that in genre, this is such a well-discussed and passionate topic, and its readers are the most diverse, experimental and well-read book buyers I’ve ever encountered, that gender isn’t a deciding factor in why they’ll pick a book up.

  11. July 11, 2013 at 6:53 am Dana says:

    Challenge accepted.

    This aspiring female fantasy writer is working as hard as she can to get her book out there, so I hope someday soon I’ll be able to balance out those numbers a bit!

    • July 11, 2013 at 10:54 am Julie Crisp says:

      Brilliant! I do hope that you’ll be submitting it to Tor UK! :-)

  12. July 11, 2013 at 7:02 am Sean the Bookonaut says:

    @ Jane

    I don’t care what gender a writer is either and I would have said that I had a pretty even spread when it came to reading (say 60 /40 in favor of male authors). Until I actually analysed what I read over a 12 month period. Turns out the ratio was more 85/15 in favour of male authors. So I now impose a loose ratio on my reading, trying to get it to parity. I review for a couple of the Big Six as well as small press so its not a stricture I would suggest for the casual reader.

    The most interesting thing for me has been the absolute absence of the suggested drop in quality. I have discovered some great reads, some great authors. Its possible that my change in reading has also broadened what I consider quality. Allowed me to develop appreciation of styles of writing I might not otherwise have, but then this surely can’t be a bad thing

  13. July 11, 2013 at 7:55 am Patty Jansen says:

    I am one of those people who wrote one of those articles, because a publisher told me *in my face* that it was problematic to be a woman and write hard SF. In. My. Face. He was less interested in anything I had to offer, because I am a woman.

    • July 11, 2013 at 10:57 am Julie Crisp says:

      Hi Patty, I read your article and really enjoyed it. Someone else sent it to me and I’ve just posted the link in the Comments section as well. And I thought it was a perfectly well-balanced argument and really well-written. I think part of it is that hard science fiction can be harder to attract a readership to. Funny how everyone wants to see the latest SF film, but few of them will actually pick up a book! No matter whether it’s a male or female writer. I’ve had amazingly talented women writers – who I genuinely loved for their writing who just didn’t sell. And I’ve had exactly the same with male writers. It’s heartbreaking as an editor to see that because you want everyone to love the book the way you do. In the last five or six years, I suspect there’s been a shift in attitude – towards genre in general. I think there are more people experimenting with it than ever before. And that’s hugely exciting. I really want female writers to feel that they have options and not be put off by approaching publishers. One opinion from one publisher does not represent the whole industry. We’re all individuals.

  14. July 11, 2013 at 8:50 am Russell B. Farr says:

    Very well said.

  15. July 11, 2013 at 10:27 am Jo Fletcher says:

    Very well said, Julie – I could not agree more!

  16. July 11, 2013 at 10:51 am Sean Wright says:

    Interesting and concerning stats

  17. July 11, 2013 at 11:11 am Joris M says:

    Interesting statistics, how do they correlate to what you publish?

    In other discussions (eg convention panels, speakers) it appears women are less likely to put themselves forward, even if they are experts. But that it helps to make them aware they are welcome, leading to more diversity and higher quality. Which is probably something to keep in mind if you are looking for the best works out there.

    • July 11, 2013 at 12:23 pm Julie Crisp says:

      Thanks for raising the issue of female representation, as I do think this is a really important point in this discussion. A big part of the reason we put the article up is to show that we do indeed welcome female writers and really want to see more of them submitting – in all genre areas. Our statistics aimed to show that we don’t receive as much in the way of submissions from female SF writers as people might think. We thought this might surprise people, and it’s one way of supplying some insight in an area where publishers have long been pointed to as gatekeepers who are preventing female voices from being heard. However, we certainly recognise that statistics are only part of the picture and you can’t fully answer why there isn’t more female SF by pointing to stats alone. After all, creativity doesn’t come in neat gender splits and (for the sake of argument) you might receive ten submissions from male SF authors which aren’t that good and two submissions from female SF authors which might be outstanding. And the next month, the situation might be reversed. Still, surely it can only help if we get more submissions from women writing SF. We do really want the best works of fiction out there as you recognise – whoever is writing these – and we certainly hope more women will be tempted to send in their scripts because of this.

  18. July 11, 2013 at 11:14 am Ian Drury says:

    Exactly: you can’t publish what you’re not sent. I have several published female SF writer clients and the idea that they faced discrimination by editorial teams is absurd.

  19. July 11, 2013 at 11:52 am Jamie-Lee Nardone says:

    Very refreshing piece.

  20. July 11, 2013 at 12:58 pm Sophia McDougall says:

    Hi Julie, thanks for responding. I do get (now) that you’re just trying to encourage more women to submit, and that couldn’t be a bad thing. If you find more female writers this way I couldn’t be more delighted. But the thing is, I still feel it’s worth pointing out that publication is not one hurdle that you jump over and everything’s fine and you’ll never face sexism again. And though a lot of the trouble arises from readers and booksellers, in my experience, the way publishers REACT to that trouble can also be problematic. As I say, even entirely well-intentioned publishers, who are not personally sexist, think your writing is great and are honestly trying to help your book do well, can still place you in difficult quandaries that male writers do not face – e.g telling you your book will sell worse if you persist in writing about so many characters of your own gender.

    If you’re trying to get *in* to publishing, being told that female editors are eager to welcome you may help. If you’re trying to *stay* there, it does feel a bit like being told that the trouble is all in your head (which was why I felt frustrated) and female writers just need to try harder. And that really isn’t the only thing that needs to happen.

  21. July 11, 2013 at 1:13 pm Sara Jayne Townsend says:

    As a woman horror writer this article is both illuminating and faintly depressing. I’ve been shouting very loudly for years about the fact that women write horror, against the overwhelmingly prevalent atttitude that we don’t. But according to your statistic above only 17% of horror writers are women. That seems such a small number. How can we change the established perceptions when there are so few of us to do so?

    • July 11, 2013 at 2:33 pm Julie Crisp says:

      Ah no, it’s only 17% of women have submitted horror through the direct submissions to us. I’m sure there are women out there writing it, but like the other areas, I’m just unsure of why they aren’t perhaps submitting it. I’m hoping there’s a big cabal of them out there who will submit at some stage. Please!! I LOVE horror and have been actively looking for it for years. We publish Adam Nevill who is just brilliant. But would also love to see more female horror coming in.

  22. July 11, 2013 at 2:04 pm Teresa Frohock says:

    This entire piece is dead on and I’m glad to see the hard numbers–the bottom line is sales, which is I what I thought all along. I think most preconceptions and/or possible sexism come at the reader level and not at the publishing house/editorial level.

    Having followed this issue for a couple of years, I’ve noticed that the gender related studies of book bloggers points out that female bloggers tend to read along a gender split while male bloggers tend to gravitate toward male authors. However, I think an important factor that is left out of all of these gender studies is the age of the people involved.

    From reading comments of various people online through Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter, I realize that young men tend to gravitate toward male authors, and as they get older, they broaden their reading experience with female authors. Women, young and old, tend to read both genders without prejudice. All this tells me is that what we’re all looking for is a good story that resonates with us.

    Oh, and for the record, my first novel was purchased by a male editor and I used no pseudonym. I have seen no evidence that there is a great publisher conspiracy keeping women authors out of sight. Editors and publishers are looking for books that sell. Period.

  23. July 11, 2013 at 3:25 pm J. Andrews says:

    Women can be sexist too. It comes from living in a sexist society.

    One question to ask is ‘What is it about my publishing company that results in fewer women submitting to us?”

    • July 11, 2013 at 4:19 pm Julie Crisp says:

      I’ve wondered if it was just us. But we’ve actively asked for female SF submissions and agents are having the same lack of submissions in this area. As are other publishers. It’s so much more complex than that. I had hoped to gain a few answers as to why women aren’t submitting. Is it that they’ve moved onto other areas of writing? Or feel that publishing is patriarchal (one of the reasons I wanted to write this post was because I wanted to make it clear how many female SFF editors there are open to SFF submissions from women)? Or do they worry about being marginalised as ‘genre’? I wish I knew. We attend conventions, and writer’s workshops, we have an open submission policy, we’ve made it clear we’re looking to acquire in this area. I was hoping that the post would encourage any women out there who didn’t feel there was somewhere to submit, would feel able to do so.

  24. July 11, 2013 at 5:11 pm Hart Johnson says:

    I DO find there to be sexism in literature, but believe it stems from reader beliefs and publisher practices are a rational manifestation of what readers will spend money for. The listings of author by genre are VERY close to the sex breakdown of READERS for those genres. I believe (not always, but mostly) that women read both male and female authors and men have a strong preference for male authors. And as a female writer, this can frustrate me, but I have to admit, even though I write mystery and suspense, (and some YA)–all with darker themes, my voice is still undeniably female. I care about relationships and highlight those. I psychoanalyze (or my characters tend to) as no normal man ever does. My books are just going to appeal more to women than men.

  25. July 11, 2013 at 7:39 pm Steve Bonsey says:

    “they will be judged exactly the same way as every script that comes into our in-boxes. Not by gender, but how well they write, how engaging the story is, how well-rounded the characters are, how much we love it.”

    I think that this is all that ANY author should expect, and all that ANY publishers should use as their criteria. Good for you – whatever reasons there may be for imbalances in M/F authors being published, you’re doing the right thing. So just ignore the brouhaha and carry on.

  26. July 11, 2013 at 8:32 pm Laurel Kriegler says:

    Perhaps the problem isn’t so much ‘now’ as ‘historical’ – that past discrimination has resulted in women not bothering to submit much now (speaking of SF in particular here). I know that this has certainly been the case for a friend of mine in the US. Some habits die hard…

    That said, it is lovely to see that you are encouraging submissions. I hope that women SF writers take you up on this!

  27. July 11, 2013 at 9:11 pm A Fox says:

    Thank you for posting this- it is interesting indeed.

    I am actually one of your stats (which is rather an odd feeling). One of the 32%. I suspect that I am in the ‘other’ category as I has assigned ‘literary fantasy’ as my genre.

    Since reading the comments here and on Twitter I’m surprised that it is almost considered a genre cop out. I love this genre. But my work, whilst certainly commercial in some aspects, has many others that veer. A couple of my chapters are prose poetry, there is an underlying focus on the themes of sexism, female empowerment and sexuality.

    To me commercial-literary is a spectrum that can be applied to genre. I did not chose that label because of my gender. Nor did my gender put me off from submitting. I have lurked here, and on Tor.com, and know that you have an ethos that is very supportive of equality. That is something that I admire.

    During my plunge into the writing world I have made a few observations (which of course will be generalised, people are wonderfully variable after all). Male writers have an innate privilege. The are raised to assert their opinions, expected to WIN, to pursue their goals, to be driven…regardless of their skill. They expect to get somewhere and so don’t really consider whether or not to start the journey, but rather focus on the cake and trophies at the end.

    Women are raised to be passive, polite, to second guess themselves. They are taught to have dreams, as if the dream is the goal itself. So many women write, but have to get over that socialisation to start submitting. Then there is the fact that being a Writer is very nearly always portrayed as a male profession. The perception that men are simply better at it. So a woman will have to work even harder to make sure her writing is as good as a man’s, let alone better, before submitting.

    Sometimes these things are stated outright, but more often than not it is an underlying attitude/perception. In an odd way I feel this point is clearly demonstrated when ever you come across a debate on writing a gender different to your own…as if men and women are completely different creatures. (Mars & Venus?).

    Then there is the fact that this particular genre is *very* noisy about issues such as sexism and racism. As with any other area of life, we have some bigots and some issues that need ironing out…which is happening with a lot of vigorous discussion, campaigns, articles ect. But perhaps, conversely, to someone looking in it may seem like the issues thrown up are made to seem prevalent, over whelming. Like the hashtag that went around promoting attacking women at conventions. Where-as SFF genre fandom has actually become a very forward thinking group who are not afraid to tackle these issues, and are not cowed by the inevitable flare ups that ensue.

    As you have demonstrated here, providing data for the debate :)

  28. July 11, 2013 at 10:28 pm Erin Lale says:

    Here are my experiences with this as an AE.

    Before I became acquisitions editor at Eternal Press and Damnation Books, I was editing and publishing the Time Yarns short story anthologies. Time Yarns isn’t a pro market, but I think my experience with it is relevant because it’s in the pays-in-copies markets that writers get their first publication credits and experience. The first two Time Yarns anthologies were mostly hard sf. When I recruited writers, I was touting these anthos as “in the tradition of hard sf by scientists” and I got no women submitting to them at all except in art, even though I went so far as to attend the Broad Universe breakfast at WorldCon Reno and beg for some submissions. Nada. Zip. I ended up sticking a story of my own in each book just so it wouldn’t be an all-male cast of authors. When I set out to do antho 3, I really wanted some female authors. I tossed out “by scientists” first, thinking that because women are not as well represented in the sciences they might not think they qualify. Still nothing. Then I tossed out “hard sf.” Still nothing. Then I thought, OK, what do I, as a woman, like? What would attract me to an obscure little pays-in-copies antho or zine? And I came up with cats. I made antho 3 a cat theme. It worked. For whatever reason, it worked, and I managed to get a lot of women writers. And a lot more reviews for antho 3 than either of the others (11 vs. 2 and 3 respectively.) Make of it what you will.

    At EP & DB, I would like to have more women authors submitting sf and especially horror, where submissions by women authors are noticeably rare even though I don’t keep statistics like this. EP also publishes romance, in which the overwhelming majority of submissions are by women authors. Male authors have even queried me asking if I’d consider a male author in the romance genre (yes.) So that’s where a lot of female authors have gone: into the romance genre.

  29. July 12, 2013 at 5:04 am Natalie L says:

    I’m not well versed in the backgrounds of SF authors, but I was wondering if part of the gap in SF specifically may come from the breakdown of gender for those going into Science itself. I know there have been a ton of studies on how much of that is sexism within the fields of Science (answer – some) and how much of that is just women not being as interest in going into Science as men (which once again would include a good dollop of societal sexism in the first place).

    If many SF authors have a background in Science, then you would see this gender gap feed through to a gender gap in authors submitting SF stories.

    As has been said several times both by yourself and in the comments, this is a very complicated issue with a lot more than one single cause.

  30. July 12, 2013 at 11:51 am Kenneth Mark Hoover says:

    I found this very interesting, thank you!

  31. July 12, 2013 at 3:12 pm John Dodds says:

    As an invitation for more women to submit, absolutely. The argument about sexism, real or implied, is gnarly, and probably there are arguments to support both sides. However, just think about it. Who are today’s most successful writers in genre? J.K. Rowling, the author of the 50 Shades of Grey books, possibly Charlaine Harris, and a host of others. Sure, there are big name guys, too, the Dan Browns, the Stephen Kings, and the like. But my impression is that the balance, at least in terms of commercial success, is fairly even. So it would be extremely stupid for any publisher to be sexist – after all, they’re in it for the money, as well as the art, of cours, regardless of whether it’s a man or a woman who produces the goods.

  32. July 12, 2013 at 5:36 pm Jana Oliver says:

    @ SOPHIA MCDOUGALL – Ironically I’ve had the opposite happen. A former (female) editor insisted that the protag of a proposed YA series had to be a girl as teen girls wouldn’t read the books if the lead was a boy.

    I think there are biases on both sides of the fence.

  33. July 12, 2013 at 7:13 pm Tamora Pierce says:

    To Ms. McDougall and those with her experience, from me, from across the Pond, in reference to:
    >> When you’re asked about your influences, can you stop mentioning women writers and namedrop these men instead? I don’t care if you haven’t read them, can you name them as influences anyway?<>” “If there’s a woman on the cover, the book won’t sell.” <>“Can you turn your 50/50 male/female cast to 75% male?”<> “We don’t want this book, because girls don’t like books about space, and boys don’t like books about girls.”<>many of the women saying these things were honestly trying to help me!<>that trying to succeed in spite of sexism could only be done by stealth and by making a lot of concessions to it.<> It may be that they were RIGHT and that by talking about women writers and writing female characters, I’ve harmed my career. I certainly often worry that by talking about sexism, I will damage my reputation and saleability.<<
    And here I talk about my own career. I have spent 30 years writing girl heroes–warriors and wizards, police, blacksmiths, and weather workers. No one was ever misled about my feminist intentions, but my girls are surrounded by boys and my books always have a heavy action component. I talk about my female and male influences and speak openly outside my books about the need for girls to have heroes (not within the books–the story matters). Boys and their fathers and their uncles read my work. No one ever suggested I turn a hero into a boy in order to publish. I did what I did, supported by my publishers, and have published steadily, helped by booksellers and librarians, as my audience grew and grew. I think you are doing the right thing, and you should tell these people that someone has to step up. If one person speaks up, then so will others. Are they going to live in purdah forever, or are they going to take a chance and remove the veil? If the story is engaging enough, boys will read. And girls need heroes, too.

    • July 15, 2013 at 11:53 am Julie Crisp says:

      Thanks for your comment. Girls do need heroes. I certainly did. I don’t come from a privileged background. I’ve had to fight every day to get to where I am. It was reading predominantly female writers from an early age: Anne McCaffrey, Anne Rice, Andre Norton, Julian May, Kathrine Kerr, Alice Walker, Maya Angelou, Zora Neale Hurston, Margaret Atwood and the like that helped me do this. And indeed, your own novels; The Song of the Lioness series is still one of my all-time favourite reads and Alanna was so hugely inspiring to me as a child that I named my daughter after her! :-) Those strong female characters, their determination to overcome the odds, to be seen as equal in the eyes of their male counterparts, to overcome discrimination of all kinds – was hugely inspiring. And it’s love of those authors and characters that led me to the job I’m doing now. So thank you!! I wrote this post, not in any way blaming women for not submitting, but just to encourage them that if they did want to – then there are people out there who want to read them. And I’m one of them.

      • July 15, 2013 at 3:22 pm Tamora Pierce says:

        And thank you for the compliment, Julie! Please tell Alanna I said hello!

  34. July 12, 2013 at 7:44 pm Rosie Oliver says:

    I’m personally delighted to see you encourage science fiction submissions from female authors, if only to encourage more very talented women to write in the genre.

    And yes I would have loved to submit my hard science fiction novel for consideration, but unusually for an engineer, I read the instructions… my novel’s only c. 90k, and short for what you’re asking for. Otherwise I would’ve given this opportunity more consideration. So you have one reason why one writer has not submitted.

    The science fiction ratio of women 22%, men 78% sounds about right to me from what I’ve seen of published science fiction short stories. I think the why is very complicated.

    What I am disappointed about is your comment about the difficulty in selling science fiction books… but not surprised. Part of the issue I have with books these days is the lack of the mind-boggling ideas that give my brain a buzz. The science is there to do this, but the science fiction of this ilk is not being written, submitted or published (not sure which).

    Good luck in your endeavours!

  35. July 12, 2013 at 10:25 pm Eric Tomlinson says:

    Whilst the numbers look intriguing and I have NO access to the statistics, I would suggest these look similar to the number of women taking engineering/ science roles (outside medicine). My IMPRESSION is wholly based on working in the IT industry and on chemical / high tech installation sites.
    If this is true, isn’t it only to be expected the numbers would be similar? Nobody can write in a genre where they don’t love the framework.
    Oddly, as a lover of steampunk/ urban fantasy, I find that my Kindle is dominated by female writers.
    Good article!

  36. July 13, 2013 at 6:03 am Patty Jansen says:

    Julie, thanks for responding and thanks for linking to my post.

    As for your statistics, this particular woman SF writer probably won’t be adding to the 22% in the slush. I’ve found that mention of the name Analog in your author bio does wonders for acceptance by readers of self-published work. I took that route after the Great Slump of the GFC and am much happier for it. I know a lot of female SF authors who have done the same.

  37. July 13, 2013 at 10:25 am L. J. Hutton says:

    I’d like to add a personal comment to that of Erin Lale’s. I write and read fantasy, not SF, because these days I find so much SF is bogged down with the ‘how things work’ ethos. The technological details. The hard nuts and bolts of things. Yet I used to devour huge quantities of the classic SF writers – Anne McCaffrey as well as Asimov to give just an example of the breadth. I wouldn’t presume to speak for other women, but what attracts me to an SF story is to find out about the characters – that they’re on a space ship/in an alternative time/ on a strange planet, is secondary to what they do there – and I find that increasingly hard to find in the SF I see being published in the last decade or so. And I suspect this answers the question of why go to see a film but not read. No film I’ve come across stops mid-story to tell you more about the setting – to give you a tour of the spaceship’s engine room, or to examine the biology of the alien in question – it’s all character/action focused!

    So as a writer (albeit as yet only self-published) I’ve steered clear of even trying to write SF, because rightly or wrongly I’ve felt I would be wasting my time. I don’t have sufficiently good a background in the sciences to even begin to be able to put in technical content, and when I see the predominance of such writing on the shelves of our local Waterstones, I’m led to believe that there’s no market for the kind of stuff I’d want to spend many hours producing. This may, of course, come back to what Sophie MacDougall has said about the biases once a book gets beyond its publisher, but it’s significant that Erin has clearly found other female writers put off by the ‘techno-geek’ requirement. So maybe if publishers want more female SF writer to submit, they need to make it clearer what they consider to fall into the SF catagory. Because my instinctive response to the idea of an anthology on a cat theme is that it falls into fantasy, not SF, and that brings us back to square one again!

    • July 15, 2013 at 3:19 pm Tamora Pierce says:

      Like many people, I was a major s.f. fan as a teenager and young adult. Then, in the 1980s or so, the growing insistence on “hard” sf and the demand for writing that followed Einstein’s dictum that travel could not exceed the speed of light pretty much killed science fiction for me. I read it for the sense of wonder in roaming space and finding new worlds and peoples, not so I could have flashbacks of maths and science classes.

      I did find an area of adult science fiction that I *did* enjoy: interestingly, it is written by women for the most part–Nancy Kress, Kathleen Goonan, Catherine Asaro, Nicola Griffith, Sarah Zettel, and Geoffrey Landis, and in short stories by Michael Burstein. I once saw a male sf writer tell Nancy Kress–to her face!–that her genetics and sociology based works weren’t “real” science. Catherine Asaro has gotten the same. Thank heavens, they keep writing. It’s people like this, the space opera folks, and the men who are loosening their hard science garters who are tempting me back to science fiction . . . a bit.

  38. July 13, 2013 at 10:19 pm Cora Foerstner says:

    First, I appreciated your article and seeing the submission stats. As a writer, it’s eye opening to see things from the other side of the desk.

    Second, the comments and discussion are excellent. The issues round this are complex, and I think many valid points have been raised.

    What comes through clearly is that there isn’t an easy answer or fix to these questions. Good job. Keep prompting the discussion.

  39. July 14, 2013 at 5:28 am M. Humphrey says:

    Great post.

    Another issue for you to consider might be your constraints on submissions. You list a word count range of 95,000 to 150,000. Just based on my own reading experience in SFF I would say that men tend to write longer novels than women. It’s possible that if you lowered your range to 85,000 or even 90,000 that you might attract a few more submissions from women. I know I’d then submit my novel.

  40. July 17, 2013 at 9:56 pm Freya Robertson says:

    Hi Julie, just wanted to say thank you for being brave enough to voice your thoughts at a time when women are shouting about sexism all over the net. As a woman writer of epic fantasy, I’ve kept quiet as I don’t want to bring down a ton of criticism on myself, so it’s nice to see my views echoed in your article. I have to say that the main sexism I have come across is from women (“Epic fantasy? Why are you writing books for guys?” As if that is sexist in itself). The majority of men who I tell I write fantasy and am a gamer are delighted and happy to spend hours talking about the topic without patronising me. That’s not to say sexism doesn’t exist or the experiences of other authors are not valid, but I haven’t personally come across such problems. I have my first epic fantasy coming out with Angry Robot Books, and they clearly have no problem with the gender of their writers and publish many women authors. I didn’t even think about my gender when I submitted, and I suspect neither did they. As you say, I think the statistics are skewed because less women submit F/SF/Horror than other genres, not because publishers are choosing male authors. Just like there are less male authors in romance. I love SF but have to admit to being put off writing it because I don’t want the slew of comments about FTL travel being impossible and how what I’ve written couldn’t possibly occur in real science. It’s Science FICTION, people. But I’m happy to dip into Science Fantasy, if that’s what everyone would rather it be called. Anyway, just wanted to say well done – it was a refreshing insight into publishing of these genres. Gender, race and sexuality should all be irrelevant when writing and publishing. What’s important is: it is a good story?

  41. July 20, 2013 at 10:10 am Linda Hutton says:

    I agree with M. Humphrey that word count constraints damage submissions, but would like to see the upper end moved too. I’m a female writer of fantasy whose books come in around the 250K limit. I’ve asked my readers if they think there’s anywhere I could cut more words, or if there’s a way to spit the four books up into smaller units, and they are telling me no, that the books work best as they are. I don’t believe for one moment that I’m alone in having this problem!

    I’ve written before about this in writing magazines that quality speaks whatever the length. If you’d applied such constraints in the past, not only would fantasy writers such as J. R. R. Tolkien, Robert Jordan and George R. R. Maritn not have been published; many of the classic SF writers’ works would have disappeared – such as Asimov, Silverberg and Heinlein to name but three! [Please note I have deliberately used male writers as my examples, for whom it would have been presumably easier to get a foot in the door then just as now.] If Tor and other publishers want well written books in the SF/Fantasy genre, they have to appreciate that sometimes it takes more words to fully realise that world for the readers. Also, what happened to the novella? Surely that’s an 80K book? And there were plenty of classics of that sort in the past, so why not now?

    Perhaps female writers are more experimental with their writing, and find it harder to shoehorn their writing into such tight boxes? I wouldn’t presume to know the answer to that, but if publishers want BETTER submissions, rather than just submissions which fit into a specific and very narrow band, maybe they should think about adjusting that word count!

    • July 22, 2013 at 11:34 am Julie Crisp says:

      Hi Linda, the word count is an issue we’re looking it. It was purely put in place because there are only three of us and we’ve had over 500 submissions which conform to the specific guidelines since the end of January. That’s just direct submissions. We’re also still getting three to four submissions a week from agents. It’s a problem. Most publishing companies used to have a full-time reader for direct submissions, but it’s now down to the editors to do this. Which is why there are so few publishers who actually open their doors for this direct route. As the three of us are all working full-time on existing authors and getting them published and out there, all the reading is done in our spare time. We have no lives! :-) If we open up the word count at both ends, we know we’ll get more submissions, and we know some of them will possibly be great. But the problem would be finding the time to read the increased input without jeopardizing the day job or giving up on sleep completely. Anyone worked out to clone editors yet?!

  42. July 20, 2013 at 3:38 pm Jonathan Laden says:

    I don’t pretend to have answers for what is a fairly complex problem (as commenters have described in detail).

    I did want to mention that your 70/30 gender split among submitters pretty closely mirrors what we see at Daily Science Fiction. So, from flash fiction to novels, our genre may have 2 male submitters for every female.

    As a parent, I suspect that our upcoming generation of readers is/will be less gender-biased than previous ones. They do all grow up reading J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins, watching Korra and Kitara, etc.

  43. July 22, 2013 at 7:11 pm Atsiko Ureni says:

    Tamora– I am a a guy, and I read many, many of your books when I was younger, with both male and female MCs.

    But every other single person I know who read them was a girl. Every single one.

    I think something that’s important to keep in mind when we have this discussion is that so many people are looking at the issue anecdotaly. They see that the story someone is telling doesn’t match up with theirs, and they dismiss it. It has happened right in these comments.

    Even when we have hard statistics like Julie has given in this article, that doesn’t mean the data supports a statistically significant conclusion.

    I think it’s important for everyone discussing this issue to remember that a single blog post simply lacks the scope to address this issue at a level where we can come to concrete conclusions on the level of sexism in the industry.

    That’s not to say anyone should stop writing them, because any bit of data or story from someone in the industry is valuable information which we can use to reach a solid conclusion, but a single blog post in and of itself does not represent one of those solid conclusions.

    Julie, the issues with the discussion of sexism aside, these statistics are really interesting, and I’m glad that people in the industry are putting out the call for more books in any genre written by female authors. As one of the people in the younger generation, I do agree that in many ways, sexism is waning, at least among the readership, and honestly I don’t have any bias towards books by female authors or with female MCs, but I know people who do and I always try to pay attention to the gender of authors and characters, not to avoid certain groups, but to be aware of my own reading habits and those of the people around me. I think that sort of awareness is a between step towards eliminating sexism, and it has definitely helped me broaden my horizons in terms of what I read and how I respond to sexism I encounter. (And I still encounter a great deal.)

  44. July 22, 2013 at 7:35 pm Rosie Oliver says:

    Just an update on Freya’ Robertson’s post – they now think FTL (Faster Than Light) travel could be possible with Alcubierre’s Drive. There is still a lot of work to be done on the development side, but the principles have been established.
    One of the issues with science and science fiction is that science keeps on developing, so the genre will always have something fresh to add to it. That’s the plus side. The minus side is of course it’s harder to write a novel because of all the extra background research and work that has to go into it. This is one reason why science fiction novels tend on the whole to be shorter than fantasy.
    Another reason, to reinforce Linda Hutton’s contribution, is that ladies tend to edit more than men before submitting, which means they get rid of the unnecessary bits that makes their novels shorter.
    Hope these comments help.

  45. August 9, 2013 at 2:13 am Emma Osborne says:

    I’m a female spec writer who often writes sci-fi (as well as fantasy, political sci-fi and horror) and I would definitely look at Tor when I have something good enough to send them. I know that Tor is a really tough market, so the reason I haven’t submitted anything is because I don’t know if I’m good enough yet.

    (I’ve just had my first pro piece come out and am waiting on a whole bunch of submissions – I have collected a lot of rejections, also!)

    Having said that, I will work hard and keep writing and hope I feel confident enough to submit in the future!

  46. October 24, 2013 at 8:40 am Wendy Mrtcalfe says:

    Julie, I’ve just read your blog post on encouraging female authors to submit to Tor UK. I’m massively excited by this. I’ve been a science fiction writer for a long time, but for the last decade have more or less given up submitting my work to SF publishers. Like a lot of other people who’ve commented on your post, I’ve had the feeling that SF didn’t welcome a woman writer writing about the universe from a female perspective.

    Every time I go to my local bookshop and scan the SF shelves I see only male authors writing what I call ‘pure’ SF. Most of the women, including the fabulous authors I grew up loving their SF work, are now writing fantasy. So the perception I’ve had over the last decade is that women writing SF, as opposed to fantasy, have no chance of getting that work published.

    I’m heartened by your comments, and when I’ve given my novel Eyemind another thorough edit I shall be submitting it to you.

  47. January 11, 2014 at 10:00 pm Gloria says:

    It’s an interesting chicken-and-egg problem. In my experience there are plenty of female science-fiction authors, but they are getting published in the Romance genre rather than under Science-fiction. My guess is that Romance is perceived as more female-friendly, so that’s where the new authors are going. I’m not sure how to fix this, other than perhaps providing incentives for some of those authors to make the switch.

    One thing that might help is lowering the word limit to 80 or 85K as previously mentioned, especially if you’re trying to attract some of those authors I’ve just mentioned. A lot of them seem to be writing for the ebook market as well, which means they’re usually writing shorter works.

  48. January 15, 2014 at 9:52 am Sean says:

    Wow, this is a breath of fresh air. For a minute there I was beginning to despair. Great piece, a calm clear look at the actual numbers behind the hysteria.

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