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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Why aren't more science fiction books written by women?

As it turns out, it might be because fewer women are writing science fiction. At least from the publisher's perspective. In fact, fewer women are writing in general.

Julie Crisp, the editorial director of Tor UK, wrote an article addressing the accusation that publishers are responsible for the obvious sexism on the shelves. It's eye opening.

Only 32% of submissions are from women. Right there we have a 1:3 ratio caused by the authors, not the publishers. Of those submissions, an overwhelming number were in YA/UF/Paranormal Romance. Not horror. Not sci-fi. Not epic fantasy.

Women aren't writing those genres. Or, if they are, they aren't sending their manuscripts to Tor.

Why aren't women writing in those genres? That's a very good question.

I have a very skewed perspective because 1) I'm a woman writing science fiction, 2) I belong to the SFR Brigade which is largely women writing science fiction, and 3) most my friends are like me regardless of their relationship to the SFR Brigade and they too write science fiction.

But I'll throw in my two cents...

First off, Big 6 publishers tend to be a little scary, especially their slush piles, and the general feeling of authors on the internet is that they are a desperate measure of last resort. Especially since some slush piles require an exclusive and can take a year or more to respond (Tor UK is open to sim-subs and has about a 12 week turn around - hint hint). That means the Tor slush pile is probably not the best test subject if you want to look across the industry. It does explain why so few female authors get picked out of the slush pile.

Second, there's an urban legend running around that says publishers won't buy books from women because books by women don't sell and it becomes this circular monster of cause and effect. I've never seen this substantiated. I've never had a publisher say this is true. But the rumor is out there and I think it does scare some people away. They have an idea, maybe they've even written the book, but they won't try to publish because they're convinced they'll be rejected.

Third, a couple of times I've run into people who say they think it would be hard to write sci-fi. There's a fear that you need to be an astrophysicist to write good science fiction. That's like saying you need to be two to write a picture book. Sci-fi is for the dreamers. The best sci-fi books are about ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things... in space! You don't need space marines, or galactic empires, or a peacekeeping fleet to write sci-fi. Don't be scared of sci-fi. It's a big genre and you can get away with anything if you're sneaky enough.

Fourth, science fiction is not the darling of the genre world right now. Ignoring the SFWA nonsense it's easy to look at the publishing industry and see YA is selling well. Lots of agents rep YA. Lots of YA hits the bestseller list. Lots of YA authors are very visible on the social media sites. A few years ago everyone was writing vampires. A few years from now everyone will be writing spaceships. Because I have a plan.

We're all going to write more science fiction. It can be YA science fiction. It can have vampires in spaceships. It can have strong, beautiful women rescuing the men they love. It can have tentacles. Science fiction is a big genre where everyone can play there doing whatever they want. There can be magic in sci-fi. M'LADY WITCH is sci-fi and there's a unicorn on the cover. ACORNA is about a unicorn in space. All those dragon novels set on Pern? Science Fiction. They had spaceships AND dragons.

And then, everyone is going to read more science fiction. We can make science fiction work for everybody at any age. If you don't believe me, send me an email telling me what kind of books you like and I'll find a sci-fi title you'll love. 

Are you ready for this?

The Plan
Write More Science Fiction.
Read More Science Fiction.

Sci-fi: you're going to love it. 


  1. I read sci-fi and fantasy and just about anything I can get my hands on. About half of the authors I read are female. I haven't actually sat down to figure it out. All I know is that I have a good mix of male and female writers on my shelves and in my reader.

    I prefer writing fantasy just because I like it better. I find, though, that some books seem to cross the line. For example, I would have thought the Pern series was more fantasy based (maybe science fantasy rather than straight sci-fi or fantasy) even with the spaceships and original science involved in creating the dragons.

    I guess that confusion is what happens when the book store mixes two genres together on the same set of shelves.

    For myself, there are many reasons why I haven't tried getting published. Mostly the fact that I have so many things to do and don't have a place to write uninterrupted being the major reasons. I hope that changes at some point but I doubt it will for the foreseeable future.

    1. I put a lock on my study door and put headphones in. Getting up 2 hours before the kids also works, but only in the summer when they sleep until 9 or 10. :)

    2. I don't have a spare room to consider my study/craft room/office. I also prefer being able to sit not lay at the computer unlike Hubby who prefers to lay on the bed with his laptop. So my computer is in the living room. Which means I'm the one positioned best to answer the phone, answer the door, have everyone who passes by talk to me, and usually am the one handling meals so I need to be able to keep track of that. *shrugs* Maybe some day. I can always dream.

    3. My computer used to be in the kitchen next to the dining table. Ear plugs kept me sane, and early bedtimes. The kids went to bed at 8 and I had two hours to myself.

    4. My daughter is good at leaving me alone when I ask. It's my hubby who likes to talk constantly who keeps interrupting me.

  2. I also don't understand why more women don't write scifi for the same reason - I'm a woman who writes scifi, reads scifi, and knows lots of fellow female authors who write scifi. However, I know an awful lot of women who DON'T read scifi, and who, when I tell them what I write, ask me if it's like Twilight. >.< I'd say good plan, definitely what I have in mind.

  3. *claps* I'm all for more people writing sci fi, and reading it!

  4. You also have to wonder if women are successfully self pubbing, which is what I've done for my SFR so far, one novel last year (which did hit the Amazon Best Seller list in SF Adventure this year) and one coming in August, with a third out early next year. I also have some paranormals with Carina Press, so personally I enjoy being a hybrid author, as far as publishing avenues. I can put the books out there one way or the other for anyone who might enjoy reading them. I'm totally good with this plan - Write more SF, Read more SF and definitely REPEAT!

  5. >You also have to wonder if women are successfully self pubbing

    Great point. Publishers like Tor have limited slots available. So even if they actively sought SFR, they are still mightily constrained by the limits of mainstream print distribution.

    Subsequently, women authors--being incredibly intelligent people--calculate the odds and then go where the doors are open. Sometimes that includes directly to the readers.

  6. Great post. One minor observation: 32% gives you a 1:2 ratio, not 1:3.

    I've only published one sci-fi novel so far, but I chose to self-published largely because I find rejection demoralizing. I wouldn't think that's a bigger issue for women than for men.

    Now that my book has met with a fair amount of success, I'm feeling a bit more confident, and may pursue traditional publication, to get access to more prominent reviews. For anyone tentative about rejection, I think self-publishing offers a great way to test the waters.

    Love your plan. I never meant to write sci-fi, but it turned out the story I wanted to write involved future technologies... and now I'm hooked. It's definitely a big genre, with room for everyone.