The Submissions Men Don't See

Lots of screaming in the SF/F genre lately about "data" suggesting far more women are being published in genre magazines than men. The problem with that analysis, though, was it only looked at a small group of magazines. Add in all the other professional SF magazines out there and the numbers change, making the controversy choke on a big mouthful of nothing pie.

Don't believe me? Check out this excellent examination of gender submission and publication statistics in the SF/F short fiction field, which Susan E. Connolly published in Clarkesworld in 2014. Her examination spanned multiple articles and is incredibly detailed with a strong data set. Her conclusion? "Authors who are women are less well represented in terms of submissions and publications than authors who are men." 

However, there was an interesting item to come out of the recent controversy. In an interview with Neil Clarke about Clarkesworld's submissions, Jon Del Arroz quoted the editor as saying "men were also slightly more likely to submit multiple stories per month." After talking with Neil about the magazine's overall submission and publication track record, Jon added:

"What I take from this, despite his not analyzing the breakdown of why stories fail through submissions by gender, is that men are more prone to submit stories which don’t fit with Clarkesworld’s style of science fiction, and submit them anyway just hoping they make it in a crap shoot."

There's truth for the SF/F genre: Men are indeed much more likely to take a "crap shoot" attitude toward submissions than women, with male writers being far much more likely than women to not read submission guidelines and to submit inappropriate stories which don't fit what a magazine publishes.

One reason I reacted so strongly to Jon's words is they match what I saw when I edited storySouth. Men would spray submissions at my magazine as if marking their territory, assuming their brilliance would overcome not reading our magazine or following our guidelines. Yes, a few female authors also did this, but the numbers were really skewed toward men.

While I haven't edited storySouth in many years, it appears this trend is still going strong. For example, a professional genre magazine whose editor I know revealed their September submission stats for this essay. The stats provided didn't include author names or any submission information aside from demographics and if the editor felt the submission was appropriate/inappropriate for their magazine and/or didn't follow guidelines.

So far this month this magazine has received 182 submissions, with 54 of them being by female authors (matching the analysis linked above which said far more men submit genre stories than women). Of these 182 submissions, the editor felt that 11 were totally inappropriate. Of those 11 submissions, ten came from men and only one from a woman.

By inappropriate submissions, the editor is very specific and means a story which by no stretch of the imagination would fit with what they publish, meaning the author didn't read their magazine or their guidelines. Some of these submissions also didn't follow standard manuscript format, although the editor said their magazine is generous on SMF and they only get irritated when authors deviate massively from it.

This editor also added that those 182 submission included five male authors who submitted a total of 11 stories. Only one woman submitted more than a single submission in the same time frame.

Again, this matches what I saw years ago with storySouth. And while stats about this are difficult to find, editors I've spoken to over the years have told me a similar pattern exists in many publications, even outside the SF/F genre.

When I consider why this happens, I keep coming back to the famous story "The Women Men Don't See" by James Tiptree, Jr., where the male narrator can't see women as real people and so misses the truth of what's going on around him. As Triptree said of her story, its message is the "total misunderstanding of women's motivations by narrator, who relates everything to self."

In the case of why male authors are far more likely to not read a magazine or their guidelines before submitting, and are more likely to submit multiple stories in a short time frame, I think it ties in with them not seeing the motivations of others and believing all that matters is what they want. 

But if you're submitting your stories to an editor, what you want isn't what lands the acceptance. It's what the editor wants. Otherwise, an author is merely wasting everyone's time.