Gender Breakdown

man woman

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 2.88 4 3,982
Male 2.79 217 4,342
Female 2.46 138 4,406
Indeterminate 2.42 6 3,667

“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.

Men:

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.

Women:

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.

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25 comments

  1. A brave post. Very interesting, but brave none the less. If anyone actually reads to understand the points are great. If they’re just knee jerk reaction types they’ll miss all that.

    1. I don’t think many of those types follow my blog.

  2. Interesting findings. It’s making me wonder if my stories are masquerading as something else.

    1. For SFF, it’s pretty easy to tell. Take out the sci-fi or fantasy element, and see what it does to the story. With a true SFF story, it won’t make much sense any more.

      If you have a story about two people in a space shuttle talking about their relationship, then you can easily replace space shuttle with minivan, and you didn’t have a sci-fi story to begin with.

  3. Interesting. I see that “unknown” ranks highest of all.

    1. Yes, but with only 4 stories, I won’t draw any conclusions. If they had been a larger group, I might have thought about people doing no self-promotion getting the highest scores!

      It’s possible they are experienced writers in other genres, who just decided to write some SFF under a pen name.

      1. Or it may be that authors who do little or no self-promotion focus more on the work itself, taking the position that making the work as strong as possible is preferable to spending time selling themselves as authors.

  4. Speaking purely from my own experience, we get a lot more submissions from men than women, but we don’t maintain a quota of women per issue (as becomes all-too-readily-apparent). Part of the problem as a publisher then- do you look exclusionary for not publishing more identifiable-as-female writers when the reality is you don’t have enough of a pool to draw from?

    1. Maybe a blind story-review process would be the best. But, I think some other magazines might be accepting substandard stories from authors who have fanbases, hoping to sell more copies, so they can’t do a blind process.

      1. Sure, but for small press sites, they don’t always have the money to have that kind of process. And the margins on magazines are tight, so moving a few more copies because someone has an established fan base can help keep the lights on.

    2. I have also noticed that a lot of aspiring novelists discount short fiction as being at best a way of practicing the craft to get get good enough to write novels. I wonder if women in general are less willing to spend time on something they don’t see as being helpful to a long term career?

      Historically, while I can think of a great many women SFF writers that I would consider grandmasters (Ursula K Le Guin, Tanith Lee, Jo Clayton, Kate Wilhelm, just off the top of my head) all of the masters of SF/F short fiction that come to mind are male (Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Frederick Brown, Robert Scheckly, Clive Barker, William Gibson…)

      1. Le Guin also writes short fic (and won a Nebula for one). See also C.J. Cherryh, Lynn Abbey, Leigh Brackett, C.L. Moore, Octavia Butler, Kameron Hurley, and so on and so forth. Tanith Lee won a World Fantasy Award for a short as well.

  5. (Female comment lol!) I wonder if more men read sci-fi than women? That may affect stats too. Strange creature that I am, I write fantasy but read historical novels. To my mind, I think guys tend to be better writers (can’t stand slush!) but I get bored and put the book down if there isn’t at least some pause from the action for a little romance or characterization. My point? I think our tastes are rather different, which would affect things a lot stat wise.

    1. My guess is that if you remove sci-fi romance, you’d probably find a male-heavy readership, but with SF romance included, maybe not.

      I think most good action stories have breaks in the action for other things. You’re right, I have no tolerance for romance in my SF — it bores me. I like stories with interesting characters, but the character development has to be subtle: interactions with the people around them, not pages of flashbacks to their childhood and their college love interests.

      1. Pages of flashbacks do not equal character development; they (usually) equal bad writing.

      2. It’s an interesting subject. I never noticed the differences till I started hunting for new authors and diversified. I’m too picky – got to be well written and researched, inspiring (rather than depressing) and something I can’t predict the next ten chapters lol!

        1. With all those criteria, it seems you’re looking at a small pool of books! In a couple of weeks, I’ll be reviewing a fantasy book that I enjoyed, which would hit many of your points. I’d say the overall ending was predictable, but there were a number of unpredictable turns along the way.

          1. Yes, you are right, very small unfortuately lol! I’ll try to look out for your book review.

  6. Honestly, I think it’s fine if there’s a trend towards different things- I haven’t analysed my reading habits like this, but I’m pretty sure it’d lean in the opposite direction to yours. Isn’t there evidence that women have more of an interest in people and men have more interest in things? (been a few studies that suggest as much anyway). It would make sense if there are different trends in taste. And if men dominate one market, women certainly dominate others. So do you 😉 (although it would be nice if publishers were always clear on their marketing)

    1. Human psychology isn’t one of my fields, but what you’re saying seems like it could be true to me.

      What I see in many of these short stories, though, isn’t just a slight leaning towards drama versus a focus on technology. I see stories where you really have to pay close attention to spot any sci-fi element. It seems apparent to me that the stories were written as drama vignettes, and then had something science-sounding tucked into them just to get the sale to a sci-fi magazine.

      I’m planning another post about this issue with the genre, but I have a few reviews I want to get out first, since I want to do one for classic sci-fi month, and then a couple for my planetary awards nominations.

      1. Fair enough, I’ve only studied a little, so I’m no expert, but there’s a study on it by Lippa called “Gender Differences in Personality and Interests” if you’re interested (and a number of others- that’s just one I have bookmarked 😉 ) It’s not deterministic of course, just observation.

        Ah yes, I can guess why that might be an issue in short stories. It’ll be interesting to read your posts 🙂

  7. I read what I enjoy. Which is NOT romance and drama and relationships being the heart of the story. That is completely peripheral.

    Unless it is a Classic, in which case it has earned my respect. And reading time.

    But writers like Lindsay Buroker make me want to commit ritualized seppuku, with a spoon…

    1. Seppuku with a spoon takes far too long. I recommend a spork.

  8. […] that in my hurry to look at the stories in my 49 ranked magazines broken down by genre, by nation, by gender, and by pay, I didn’t present the entire dataset.  So, here it […]

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