Encouraging diversity – an editor’s perspective

During the last day or so, both John O’Neill, the editor of Black Gate, and Nathaniel Lee, the Managing Editor of Escape Pod,  spoke up against Dave Truesdale’s review  of Women Destroy Science Fiction. This is really important. I was heartened to see these reactions, and I applaud both John and Nathaniel for taking a stand.

As a part of these blog comments, the question of encouraging diversity came up. It is a topic I would like to discuss.

Here are the relevant bits:

Nathaniel Lee:

P.S. – Plz send more science fiction stories to Escape Pod, authors who are female! *waves semaphore flags, does a little jig* If you could see what our slushpile looks like, you’d send us your stories out of pity!

John O’Neill:

> Plz send more science fiction stories to Escape Pod, authors who are female! *waves semaphore flags, does a little jig*

And to everyone else: THIS IS HOW YOU DO IT. Was that hard? No. But this is the kind of attitude you need for your publication to be perceived as open towards women.

I greatly appreciate both John and Nathaniel’s reactions, but I am not convinced that encouraging women submitters via a blog post comment in another male editor’s blog is quite how you do it.

When I founded Stone Telling, I knew I wanted the market to be diverse. I talked to both poets and editors before founding the magazine, and heard from quite a few that there just weren’t that many PoC poets in the field, and that very few poets write queer content. I was planning to solicit, but heard back from a few folks that I should expect to quickly run out of PoC poets from whom I could solicit.

That did not happen. What happened was that the field grew in response to a welcoming market. New poets, including queer and PoC poets, sent work to us, and had their first poems published at Stone Telling. Starting with Issue 4, Shweta Narayan joined the team – first as a guest co-editor (with J.C. Runolfson), then as a co-editor. We consistently encouraged and are continuing to encourage marginalized and diverse voices, and the community responded by sending us amazing, fresh, and thought-provoking poetry. The slush pile changed from 2010 to 2014 to better reflect our editorial direction and choices.

There is a lot more work to be done, and we are limited by our health issues, as well as limited opportunities to attend cons. We also made our share of mistakes. I am sure we could have done even better. However, I also feel that we learned a lot about how to diversify a submission pool. Here are some tips:

1. Solicit. Ask for recommendations from other editors (especially those who are different from you), and read stories by authors who don’t usually submit to your magazine. See if you like something, and if you do, reach out to that author and ask them to send you work.

2. Actually buy work by authors whose demographic you’re looking to encourage. Writers make decisions about your market being welcoming to them based on whether you publish writers like them.

3. Solicit from established *and* up-and-coming authors. If you buy, e.g. stories from white cisgendered men at all stages in their careers, but you only buy from women, trans and nonbinary people, and/or PoC creators, if they are famous, that is not going to appear especially welcoming, and will not necessarily balance your slush.

4. Invite a co-editor of the demographic you seek to encourage. E.g. if you are an all-white, all-cisgendered, all-straight male team, think of inviting someone different to collaborate with you. Then actually give that person power to make some choices.

5. One of the easiest ways to test the waters with potential co-editors is to invite them to guest-edit.

6. Special or themed issues are a great way to encourage new authors to discover your market.  E.g., we are very proud of our Queer issue, and we are also very excited about an upcoming issue of new-to-us poets.

7. Talk to people. Participate in important conversations. Actively challenge yourself to seek out new perspectives and voices. Weigh criticism carefully. Grow.

8. Also, if you could please encourage people of all underrepresented genders, not just cisgendered women, to submit to your magazine, that would be great. Gender diversity is more complicated than men vs women.

5 Comments

  1. C’mon, cut a guy a little slack. That was a random angerblog at eight in the morning, which is 90 minutes past my third-shift bedtime. 😛 😉

    We’re updating our submission guidelines even as I type this. Made sure the broadest possible verbiage got in. Thanks for the tips. 😉 To be vague and mysterious, some events may already be in motion. 😉

  2. An excellent post. As an editor, I agree wholeheartedly.

  3. Polenth says:

    I find the biggest thing that discourages me as a writer is not seeing work that goes outside of the common themes/approaches of the privileged group. It’s not enough for the author identity to be different. It needs to look as though that author could write about their experiences if they wanted to, rather than having to pass as being part of the privileged group. If unfamiliar (to the editor) themes and storytelling techniques get rejected it’ll mean there’s no change in the market. Even if they do find a few writers who can write the familiar story, it doesn’t mean authors of that identity are welcome. It means they’re welcome if they can pretend that isn’t their identity.

  4. Gina Fairchild says:

    I agree with Polenth. The market has a long way to go.

  5. […] We had a list of people we sent the call for submissions to and personally invited them to submit. These are folks from all over the world—science fiction writers always find each other somehow. They then forwarded it to people they knew. We also had a general call for submissions page, on the publisher’s website, on Tumblr, and on our blogs. But the bulk of the work in finding the authors really depends on having made friends in the various Southeast Asian SFF communities we could think of reaching, and communicating clearly our vision for a diverse anthology that is Southeast Asian-centric. Rose Lemberg has an important post on how to encourage diversity in submission slush piles: http://roselemberg.net/?p=830 […]

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About

Rose Lemberg is a queer, bigender immigrant from Eastern Europe and Israel. Their work has appeared in Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Unlikely Story, Uncanny, and other venues, and has been a finalist for the Nebula, Tiptree, Elgin, Rhysling, and Crawford awards.

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