THE VIDA COUNT FAQs
Please note that this is a moving document and we’ll be updating it regularly. (Most recent update: 8/31/16)
What is the VIDA Count?
Each year the VIDA Count compiles over 1000 data points from the top tier, or “Tier 1” journals, publications, and press outlets by which the literary community defines and rewards its most valued arts workers, the “feeders” for grants, teaching positions, residencies, fellowships, further publication, and ultimately, propagation of artists’ work within the literary community. Volunteers from across the country dedicate thousands of combined hours to compile this information and release the results as our trademark blue and red pie charts.
The VIDA Count reveals major imbalances at premiere publications both in the US and abroad. For example: The New York Review of Books covered 306 titles by men in 2010 and only 59 by women; The New York Times Book Review covered 524 books by men compared to 283 books written by women (2010 VIDA Count).
The first VIDA Count encompassed fifteen major journals and publications, plus 81 editions of three Best American anthologies—including an overall Count for each of the series’ three separate anthology imprints from the years 1986–2010—for a total of 94 journals, publications, and presses. As part of the 2013 VIDA Count, VIDA added a new Larger Literary Landscape Count that examined dozens of historically well-established literary magazines. The 2014 VIDA Count results included the first Women of Color Count. Then, the following year we further expanded to the Intersectional Count which included self-reported demographic information regarding gender, race and ethnicity, sexuality identity, and disability.
What about tallying the VIDA Count to report on [insert various forms of identities, including age, nationality, religion, class, region, and more] writers? Could you please create statistics for these writers?
We are constantly working to improve and expand our work. The VIDA Count is an ongoing project; each year, we seek better and more comprehensive ways to uncover what’s really happening in literary publishing. This is a massive undertaking for our all-volunteer staff. The 2014 VIDA Count expanded to include a Women of Color Count. The 2015 VIDA Count was further expanded to report on gender, sexuality identity, and disability as well. (For more about this: http://www.vidaweb.org/vida-announces-changes-to-the-vida-count-vida-count-team/)
VIDA believes in the importance of intersectionality, and are aware that the male-female binary oversimplifies the wide range of genders and sexes that individuals may identify as and/or exhibit. It’s so important to us we published an Open Letter in 2013 on the subject and, with our 2013 VIDA Count, began including trans* writers in our data breakdown. The 2015 Intersectional Survey seeks to further address this issue.
How do you survey writers with multiple or fluid gender identities?
Gender identity is complex and ever-shifting, and some writers live one gender identity in their personal spheres, and a different one in their professional spheres. We support and want to report on the work by genderfluid authors; genderfluid people, like other trans people, tend to fall through the cracks in terms of readership due to the intersection of misogyny and transphobia.
That said, because the VIDA Count is primarily a study of how publications/editors perceive writers based on gender, we survey individuals based on the basic gender information associated with their published story, poem, or essay: author name, pronouns in author bio, and information on author website. In other words, we survey according to a writer’s professional gender identity, not their non-professional gender identity because we tally by using names and pronouns that authors use in their bios. If they are professionally “he/him” and sometimes “she/her” in their personal life, we would not include them because we are only looking at their publication credit/bio/byline.
How did you arrive at the identity categories in the Intersectional Count?
In compiling the survey categories for the Intersectional VIDA Count, we consulted with multiple sociologists and activists. And, once we settled on identity categories, we spent extensive time speaking with members within those communities to formulate the questions that would best represent those identities.
VIDA has prepared the following primers with further information regarding the survey, categories, & so forth:
What did the survey look like?
Here is the survey.
- Are you transgender or genderqueer?
- If No, are you:
__ A woman
__ A man [checking this box ends the survey]
- If Yes, check all that apply:
__ Trans woman
__ Trans man [checking this box ends the survey]
__ Genderqueer / nonbinary / genderfluid
__ A gender identity not listed. Please specify (optional): ___________
- How do you describe yourself in terms of sexuality identity? (Check all that apply.)
__ Questioning or Unsure
__ A sexuality identity not listed. Please specify (optional): ___________
- How do you describe yourself in terms of race/ethnicity? (Check all that apply.)
__ Spanish, Hispanic, and/or Latina/x
__ American Indian or Alaska Native
__ Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander
__ South Asian
__ Southeast Asian
__ Middle Eastern or North African
__ Black or African American
__ I am unsure
__ A racial/ethnic identity not listed. Please specify (optional): ___________
- Do you consider yourself a Woman (or Person) of Color?
__ I am unsure
- Do you have one or more impairments/differences (i.e., physical, intellectual, developmental, psychological, sensory or other form)?
__ Yes, one impairment/difference
__ Yes, multiple impairments/differences
- If yes, please check which type(s) (check all that apply):
__ Physical or ambulatory
__ Deaf or hard of hearing
__ Blind or visually impaired
__ Cognitive – psychological
__ Cognitive – learning disability
__ Speech or communication challenges
__ Chronic illness
__ An impairment/difference not listed. Please specify (optional): ___________
- If yes, is/are your impairment(s)/difference(s):
__ Combination of congenital and acquired
__ Unknown/uncertain if congenital or acquired
- Do you identify as a disabled person or person with a disability?
Can you explain your use of “Asian” as one of the categories in the race and ethnicity portion of The VIDA Count? Is it an umbrella term?
We recognize an embedded privilege in including “Asian” in our list of overarching race/ethnicity categories. From a U.S. gaze, it is understood that the term refers to multiple ethnicities on the continent but the label has become synonymous with persons of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean descent. This contributes to a caste system put upon persons in the Asian communities across the U.S. Persons from Southeast Asia or the South Asian Subcontinent choose Asian, which is accurate. But when asked, some authors offered that they would choose a more specific category (e.g., “South Asian Subcontinent”) if given the opportunity because that is how they identify even though the category is rarely made available. We aimed to break the U.S. gaze and allow many writers from Pakistan + India and those from surrounding islands to be seen more clearly. We hope the VIDA primer on race, ethnicity, and writers of color is helpful in understanding our evolution toward this differentiation. Are these our final categories? No. We are transparent in our journey to reflect who is and is not represented in the literary landscape. We appreciate the thoughtful, de-centering conversations happening right now to light this path.
My publication actually published [x number of] pieces by [insert identity category], why doesn’t that show in your results?
Self-reporting from women and writers who do not identify as men drives the intersectional portion of the VIDA Count. We do not assign identities based on names, rather we allow each author to provide their ancestries and definitions. Writers who identify as men are not included in the Intersectional VIDA Count. Further, because we received a 50% response rate to our survey, we do not know the identity categories of every woman published in each publication.
According to your charts, no [insert identity category] writers were published in some/all publications in the VIDA Count. Is that true? Did VIDA not survey [insert identity category] writers?
The VIDA Count reflects women and writers who do not identify as men who are included in top tier publications. We surveyed these writers and allowed them the opportunity to self-report. While it’s possible that those publications simply did not publish any women of a particular identity category, the absence of [insert identity category] authors might also be attributed to the following:
- A 50% response rate to our identity survey (700 of 1,400 authors polled did not respond);
- Publications might have published many [insert identity category] authors who are men; or
- Authors reported identities that include but are not exclusive to this category. For example, while in many publications there were no Native American women, some authors selected “Native American” in combination with one or more other racial or ethnic identities. We recategorized women who marked multiple categories as “mixed-race/mixed-ethnicity” for reporting purposes to facilitate the discussion of which groups are absent from the landscape. We moved forward with this particular analysis strategy with the consultation of researchers in humanities fields and activists in our community. The race and ethnicity categories, including mixed designations, are informed by the volume of previous responses and our interest in giving participants the chance to identify themselves with the terms they put forth. We welcome conversation about categories, reporting and honoring authors’ self-identification in preparation for next year’s survey.
Could you explain why the survey’s gender categories seem more restrictive than your final charts suggest?
The final charts reflect the broad responses we received to our survey, which showed a distinction between participants who selected transgender+nonbinary/genderfluid/genderqueer and persons who solely selected nonbinary/genderfluid/genderqueer (not transgender). The survey design placed nonbinary/genderfluid/genderqueer within the transgender category, which restricted respondents’ ability to accurately record their identities. This is an important distinction, indicating VIDA’s need to expand gender categories for clarity and in deference to authors’ most accurate identities.
Can you give us an idea of what exactly is tallied in the VIDA Count?
Sure! We separate reviews from bylines. We separate “micro reviews” from full-length reviews. When dealing with a creative-only journal, we separate genres. Reviews reported are only of the written word; if a review is, for example, of a gallery or film, that would be included in “bylines.” We do not include editors of the publications. If an edited collection features more than 2 authors, we do not include it. If an edited collection is of the work of one author, the author is included, not the editor. We do not include translators; we do include authors translated. If more than one book appears in a review, each book is included. If, for example, a poet has three poems in a publication in the course of a year, each poem is included separately.
If you have any specific questions about methodologies which are not answered here, please contact us.
These are great, but I’d love to see [insert] statistics. Please compile statistics on songwriters, TV writers, screenwriters, graphic designers, technical writers, etc. Divide between traditional and experimental, please.
With our all-volunteer staff, we have limited resources and we can only take on so many fields.
But men submit to these journals more than women do. Doesn’t it make sense, then, that journals publish more pieces by men?
No. This is the most frequently asked question in the history of question-asking, and we’ve responded to it fully here.
But don’t women read more? Don’t they buy more books? Don’t they edit these journals and read slush? And therefore – isn’t this largely the fault of women, as well?
First: sexism pervades our culture, and so it is often unconsciously absorbed/internalized by everyone, including women. Feminism is an act, not a bumper sticker. It requires the constant re-evaluation of one’s assumptions, habits, and biases. By being a part of the system, women are often a part of the problem/patriarchy.
Specifically – more women are reviewers. Shouldn’t these women be proud feminists and review more women?
Our hope is that male reviewers will review books written by both men and women, and that female reviewers will do the same. Therefore, we hope that reviewers will volunteer to review books written by women, and that editors solicit and assign reviews of books written by women.
Why does the VIDA Count feature these specific venues/publications? Why don’t you report on my publication? Will you survey my publication?
The Atlantic, Boston Review, Granta, Harper’s, London Review of Books, The New Republic , The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, Poetry, The Threepenny Review, The Times Literary Supplement, Tin House, Paris Review, and The Nation are widely recognized as prominent critical and/or commercial literary venues. Publication in these magazines and journals furthers the careers of writers by bolstering applications for grants, residencies, employment (academic and otherwise), graduate programs, awards, and more. Winning/earning/receiving these types of honors affords writers the time and resources needed to continue/advance their careers.
The prominence of these magazines, and the widespread respect they’ve earned, also have consequences beyond an individual writer’s career. Most notably, they have a ripple effect on what happens in classrooms everywhere – both K-12 and in colleges and universities. Prominent publications “ripple” into syllabi via anthologies, textbooks and readers, College Bound Reading Lists, American Classics Lists, and the canon.
The 2013 VIDA Count introduced 24 new journals: A Public Space, Agni, The Believer, Callaloo, The Cincinnati Review, The Colorado Review, Conjunctions, Fence, Gettysburg Review, Harvard Review, Jubilat, Kenyon Review, McSweenys, Missouri Review, N+1, New American Writing, New England Review, Ninth Letter, The Normal School, Pleiades, Prairie Schooner, Southern Review, Southwest Review, Virginia Quarterly Review.
These journals were chosen based on the following criteria:
- Consistent editorial staff
- Not edited by students
- Appears in print
- All regions represented
- Multiple genres represented
- Staying power (year established)
- Widely accepted as reputable among literary community
- Likelihood of work appearing in these journals to go on to be nominated for/win a Pushcart and/or appear in Best American Series.
Why doesn’t the VIDA Count include digital publications like online journals and magazines?
We do not include digital publications because online content can be changed at will leaving very little trace of the history of that change. We retain physical copies of journals until the following year’s VIDA Count has been released so that we can address alleged discrepancies.
But if these magazines don’t want women, why should women writers even bother with them? Don’t you think women might just be choosing to write for different venues?
The publications we report on have direct impact on a writer’s career, whether it’s in exposure to a potential author or agent, or with an already published book being exposed to a large reading audience. For many reasons, women might choose to (or are forced to) write for other venues, but there is no reason, other than systemic bias, why women should not be included in these “career-makers.”
What can we do?
Tally up your bookshelves. Make your stories pass the Bechdel-Wallace test. Expand/evaluate/consider your notions of storytelling, line, language. Write seriously about works by women. Solicit and commission writing by women. Consider race, gender, sexuality, and other identity categories as well.
Downloadable PDF: VIDA Handout – What You Can Do
VIDA GENERAL FAQs
Please note that this is a moving document and we’ll be updating it regularly. (Most recent update: 8/31/16)
How is “VIDA” pronounced?
Is the word “VIDA” an acronym? What does it stand for?
It isn’t an acronym, nor does it stand for anything.
How did VIDA begin?
VIDA began when Cate Marvin sent a handful of women writers an email that questioned the current state of women in literature. Together with Erin Belieu and Ann Townsend, VIDA was founded to address this in 2009.
Will VIDA help me promote my new book?
VIDA is an all-volunteer organization, we don’t have the labor to provide promotional assistance. We do love hearing about your successes and achievements, however, so please feel free to keep us in the loop via social media. Often if you tweet your news to @VIDA_lit we will retweet, although we make no promises.
How can I work with VIDA?
Woohoo! Thanks! We appreciate you. See our Volunteer page for ways you can get involved! Please contact us and give us some information about yourself and your interest in working with VIDA. We are an all-volunteer organization and your engagement is crucial.
How can I use content from/about the VIDA Count/VIDA Count pies/VIDA/HER KIND in my work?
How can I get published in The VIDA Review?
Thanks for your interest! Please read our submission guidelines by clicking here.
Who designed VIDA’s logo?
VIDA’s logo and all of its graphics are the sole creation of fiction writer and graphic designer Nancy Smith.
Nancy Smith is a graphic designer and writer. Her work has been published in Communication Arts, The Believer, Adbuster’s, and Seattle Weekly. Nancy received her MA in Media Studies from The New School and is currently pursuing an MFA in Writing at the University of San Francisco. She is the editor and publisher of Stumble magazine. (www.nancymadethis.com)