Let’s break down the stories in my 49 ranked magazines by the author’s gender.
|Gender||Avg Stars (5 max)||# of stories||Avg Wordcount|
“Unknown” means that the author used initials so I couldn’t guess at their gender, and I also wasn’t able to locate a bio or webpage for them. “Indeterminate” means that the author deliberately took steps to obscure their gender.
In my round 1 dataset, I’ve given female authors an average rating 11.8% lower than that of male authors. I’ve brainstormed some ideas to explain this which I’ll list below. I think I hit on something interesting with #6, so you can skip down if you’re the type of person who wants just the meat of your hamburger.
#1) Is this 11.8% difference statistically significant? If you haven’t worked with statistics before, I’m basically asking whether the two categories truly have different averages, or whether the difference is random because of a small sample size and/or high variability in the data. I’m not breaking out my stats software just yet, but I may do so once I’ve loaded more data into my database from additional reading projects.
#2) Is an 11.8% difference meaningful? This is different from statistically significant. You might do a study which finds a statistically-significant quarter-inch height increase in children who eat Wheaties for breakfast versus those who don’t, but is a quarter inch meaningful?
#3) Am I a card-carrying member of The Patriarchy, out to oppress women? No, but perhaps they’ll mail me a card after reading this article. Somehow, though, I feel that giving women 12% lower scores, without identifying them by name, would be a terribly ineffective method of oppressing them.
#4) Has the push by editors to include more female authors allowed substandard stories to slip into the magazines? “But PDC, less than 40% of those stories are by women. Wouldn’t that number need to be over 50% for a quality slippage?” If men and women submitted equally, then yes. However, I’ve seen anecdotal accounts of male authors contributing 75% to 85% of SFF submissions.
If this is still true, then about half of the woman-authored stories made it into the magazines on their merit, and about half in the name of diversity. If women have picked up the pace on submitting in recent years, then this reasoning is incorrect. Unfortunately, this topic is now considered politically-sensitive, so I don’t believe we’ll see an accurate reporting of submissions by gender in the near future. Therefore, I don’t believe the impact of diversity drives can be understood.
#5) I didn’t record the author’s name in my database, which I now consider an oversight. Several female authors whose writing I didn’t care for were exceptionally prolific and/or editor favorites, appearing in multiple magazines. If I were to do my analysis by author rather than by story, some or all of this 11.8% difference would disappear.
#6) Do women write about touchy-feely subjects, the kind of stuff I don’t care to read about? I didn’t have time to develop a touchy-feely index and then apply it to all 365 stories. Instead, I selected random samples of male-authored and female-authored stories with low-star ratings, and wrote short phrases explaining why I thought the stories were garbage. I randomly chose four stories rated 1 star, four rated 1.5 stars, and four rated 2 stars from the pool of male-authored stories. I did the same for female-authored stories.
Several writing flaws were represented equally in the male and female sample groups, such as having no plot or being generally pointless, so I’ll ignore them. Other flaws occurred only in male-authored stories: fancy-pants writing (3), political soapboxing (2), slow pacing (1), and plot holes (1). Female authors had their own set of nearly-exclusive flaws: drama masquerading as SFF (3), romance masquerading as SFF (2), and bizarre/gibberish (2). There was one male author in the sample who shared one of these flaws, with a gay romance masquerading as SFF.
The above analysis was illuminating for me. Although the table seems to show that I prefer the SFF of male authors, it’s entirely possible I prefer the SFF of female authors, when they actually write SFF.
Based on my discoveries here, I’ve come up with some advice for male and female authors.
Find a friend who was not an English major. Print out a copy of your story, sit face-to-face with your friend, and read your story out loud. Every time your friend hears something like “the sunlight shattered against his teeth”, he slaps you in the face, hard. After you get up off the floor (this editing technique works best if your friend is much larger than you), cross out the line you just read, and continue reading.
If you’re writing romances or family dramas, inserting the words “robot butler”, and getting paid eight cents per word … well … just keep on doing that, as long as it’s worth the time you’re putting into it. You don’t need my advice. I think publishers and editors do need my advice about managing consumer expectations, but I’ll save that for a later post.