Difficulty of Diversity: Race

15 Nov

Today’s post is brought to you by repeated guest, Editor Ed, who has worked as a small press publisher, editor, and author for many years.

When I set out to organize my first anthology, I was aware that genre fiction has been criticized for decades for being dominated by straight white male authors.  Wanting to be a Good Guy™ and help remedy that pattern of poor representation, I added to my submission guidelines “We’re particularly interested in submissions from writers traditionally underrepresented in sci-fi, fantasy, and horror fiction, including racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, women, LGBT+ individuals, and people living with disabilities.”  In my mind I was saying, “Behold, ye underrepresented huddled masses!  I, your straight white male savior, have thrown open the gates of my anthology!  Give me your fiction, your stories, your rejected manuscripts yearning to see publication, the hidden treasures of your overflowing hard drive!”  And then I sat back and waited for the flood of submissions from women and minorities.

In retrospect, I was unbelievably naive.

After submissions closed and the demographics of the submitting authors were analyzed, these were the disheartening statistics: Only around 20% of all submission came from women, and less than 5% were from racial/religious minorities.  I didn’t receive a single submission from African-Americans.  And LGBT+?  I have no idea (more about that later).  In the end, my first anthology included stories from one woman, two racial and one religious minority (all men)… and 23 white men (no idea if they were straight).  I’d published exactly the kind of anthology I’d set out NOT to publish.

What happened?

Conventional wisdom has a ready answer to that question: editors and publishers are racist sexist homophobic bigots who discriminate against women and minorities.  Before I did my own anthology, I believed that simplistic explanation—I had to reason not to.  Now, I’m not so sure… at the very least, the situation is a clearly a lot more complicated than I thought.

I’ve been pondering this question for years, and I have a few guess as to why submissions were so low from these author groups.  Just to make things even more complicated, I suspect there might be different explanations depending on if we’re discussing authors of color, female authors, or LGBT+ authors.  In follow-up posts, I’ll share these theories with you, and invite you to share any theories of your own.

For now, what is clear is that simply saying “I welcome submission from women/minorities/LGBT+” is obviously not enough for an editor to assemble an anthology with a diverse selection of authors.  As far as I can tell, indie editors need to actually go out and find women and minorities, and actively encourage them to submit stories to the editor’s anthology.

But how, exactly, does one do that?  Good question.  I’m still trying to figure that one out.  If you have any suggestions, leave them in the comments.  If you have any other theories as to why submissions from racial/ethnic/religious minorities are so puzzlingly low (or how to fix it), leave those in the comments too, I’d love to hear them.

And the next time you notice an anthology is full of white male authors, please don’t automatically assume the editor is a racist sexist homophobic bigot.  It could simply be that they didn’t have a very diverse pool of story submissions to draw from!

4 Responses to “Difficulty of Diversity: Race”

  1. spwilcen November 15, 2020 at 10:25 am #

    Please pass this along – “Thank you, Ed. That is somewhat a revelation. I do have an opinion a little at odds with some of your conclusion. It’s a poor analogy, but it’s the best I can do in the press of time: while you worry so over holding the door open for a left-handed bi woman from Vamgrazia, you do not see the purple agnostic with a severely deformed ear lobe, or the virgin eigthy-year old retired Muslim quail farmer. You become more focused on the box the cereal came in than what’s inside. Opinion, as I said, offered respectfully.”

    • Editor Ed November 16, 2020 at 8:30 am #

      I’m, uh… afraid I don’t quite understand your analogy. I *think* you’re saying I should focus less on the identity politics of the authors, and more on the quality of the stories? Yes?

      • spwilcen November 16, 2020 at 9:26 am #

        Yes and no. Talent overlooked certainly, but when you focus on one minority or several, you overlook others, which in itself is the discrimination you try to avoid or remedy.

  2. joanne the geek November 16, 2020 at 5:25 am #

    Maybe find some writers you like from these communities and ask them for some material? They may even help you find other writers or get other writers to send work. Some are quite well connected. I’m a LGBT writer, but I never seem to notice requests for submissions. If someone asked me to submit work or told me about it I probably would.

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