The 2011 Count

February 27, 2012 | by | 37

37 Comments to 'The 2011 Count'

  • Any chance of a printer friendly version via a clicky link? I’d find a reference copy of this very useful when I find myself as token woman on assorted lit fest and conference panels – a role I’m happy to play, incidentally, more than ready to claim my ground and hold it once I get that foothold…

  • Cate Marvin says:

    @Juliet . . . Good point. We’ll make sure to have a print option for this article, and others, soon. Thanks.

  • Pat says:

    Once again, without stats on the ratio of male to female submissions—the only thing that would make this a meaningful exercise—this data is alarming and incendiary, but not at all helpful in figuring out exactly where the problem exists: at the editorial level or somewhere else.

  • Danielle says:

    Pat and others who think the submissions data relevant, I hope you’ll visit my post “The trouble with rationalizing the numbers trouble. A logic problem.” at Though I appreciate the observation, to suggest that the problem doesn’t exist at the editorial level strikes me, after awhile studying the issue, quite flawed for the reasons I outline there. Cheers!

  • Corey Noll says:

    It would be interesting to see a gender breakdown of readership demographics for these journals. Pulling from a faulty memory, I’m inclined to cite female readership as being higher overall across the country; but there may be a market-based defense lurking somewhere in these stats. T

  • KS says:

    @pat Not all of this comes down to “submissions.” Much comes down to hiring and recruitment practices. Many magazines also solicit work from known writers. And then, when it comes to book reviews, there’s really no excuse. 2011 gave us Swamplandia, The Tiger’s Wife, Ten Thousand Saints, A World on Fire, The Buddha in the Attic, Ghost Lights, The Grief of Others, Mr. Fox, The London Train, My New American Life, Blood, Bones, and Butter, Blue Nights, and a bunch of other “serious,” “important” books written by women.

  • Jen Fitzgerald says:

    The issue of submissions still resonates but is overshadowed by a few factors… Who is chosen to review books is at the sole discretion of the publication. They seek out reviewers. You will notice the enormous disparity there as well. Secondly, when one reads a periodical, they guage it by what type of pieces they publish and books they review. All writers know well the adage, “Read us before submitting.” Why would women submit to a publication what is male dominated? Wouldn’t they be discouraged? These numbers need to be taken seriously. They speak to voice more than gender. Whose voice is being heard? Women are 51% of the world’s population, lest ye forget.

  • Xelly says:

    Pat, you genuinely believe that an omitted variable bias represents some sort of panacea for these numbers? I’m just going to go out on a limb here and say that’s statistically ridiculous.

  • Tom says:

    Where’s the stats on how many books are written by men vs women? Are these magazines responsible for making women write more books as the bloggers of this cite seem to prefer? I read over a 1,000 books a year and most are b men, but I can’t help it if the majority of the quality books in the fields I read are by men. I don’t read much chick lit.

  • thank you, women of Vida!
    Granta appears to have undergone a transformative shift since last year, when it was one of the worst offenders. But how much of this is due to just one issue dedicated to Feminism? The poor showing in the recent “Horror” themed issue replicates all the old patterns: two women out of fourteen written contributors; three out of fifteen in total when graphic artist Kanitta Meechubot is included. This makes the Feminism issue seem like the most depressing sort of tokenism.

  • At what point do these publications become irrelevant? I’m an avid reader and writer and supporter of the arts and I don’t find it necessary to read most of these publications. I’m far more interested in what independent publishers and independent news sites are up to though I honestly don’t know how they measure up.

  • J. Smith says:

    I don’t believe pat claimed the submissions data would be a panacea, but it would set these figures in a better context. It is quite relevant to the debate.

  • Jessica says:

    I’m so impressed with the level of commentary here. Dignified, thoughtful, full of respect. Refreshing. It actually brings something to the content, which itself is thought provoking (and a little terrifying). So rare when the comments are as good as the thing itself. Well done, everybody!

  • Alison Smith says:

    Tom, that’s reductive, if illuminating – women write in every subject area and genre. Your assumption that anything women write will be chick lit inevitably prevents you from reading what they do write. Yes, you can help it; you can pay attention and choose to explore their work.

  • danholloway says:

    If I can make an observation a propos the comment on submissions. I run a web gallery, blog, and several spoken word nights that regularly feature writers, performers, and anthologists in contemporary literary/urban fiction/poetry/spoken word. We have a few contributors that are fairly highly acclaimed and have been reviewed in the likes of the publications mentioned here – Tania Hershman, Elizabeth Baines, Michael Stewart for example. But the majority of what we do/read is one level down from that degree of recognition – not in terms of talent, simply in terms of what’s on the CV to date, and I like to think (and in some cases, like the exceptional American writer Allyson Armistead whose work I first discovered whilst reading slush for an ezine three years ago (which published the story, I should add), and who has now been published at a higher level and put forward for a Pushcart Award) we can help with people’s moving from one level to the next. Anyway, the point is that the work and artists we feature, and what I read whilst looking for things to feature, consists of at least as much writing by women as men if not more. Obviously we’re just one group, but if our experience can in any way be extrapolated, then there are at least as many women as men featuring in ezines, anthologies and literary events at one level below the publications listed here. And one level below these is precisely the pool I would expect submissions for them to be drawn from. Which suggests – anecdotally and highly unscientifically – there is at least some evidence to suggest the issue is with editors in these publications not the submission pool. That said, I do agree that until you’ve addressed issues of perceived equality (which aren’t well served by the stats we have here) for starters, the make-up of submissions may be a little misleading to say the least

  • Marcel de Graaf says:

    I love how men are displayed in red and women in blue, indicating the male part is bad and the female part is good. No bias of course.

  • Madeline says:

    I find The Atlantic’s numbers really interesting. Some of their most talked about pieces are written by women (reviews by Sandra Tsing Loh and Caitlin Flanagan come to mind). Not to mention, the three most “liked” articles passed around on Facebook were all written by women: All the Single Ladies by Kate Bollick, The End of Men by Hanna Rosin, and The Rise of the New Global Elite by Chrystia Freeland. No. 4 is The Point of No Return by Jeffrey Goldberg, which was shared a little over half as much as Freeland’s piece.
    Perhaps these numbers can speak to struggling magazines like Harper’s, whose male-clubbiness I decided to leave a few years ago. I came back for Zadie Smith. Her mere presence in those pages made them breathe again, an emphysematic’s oxygen mask. Her recent departure no doubt means I’ll let the subscription lapse yet again.

  • Thomas.Mautner says:

    Many writers come from the senior levels of Academia. At those levels, there a fewer women than men. That, rather than bias in the journals, could partly explain the unequal numbers. The numbers shown do not on their own support the suspicion of bias. They must be supplemented with data on the number of potential contributors. Perhaps the writing pool is male-dominated, albeit not as compactly as the typing pool of yesteryear. The suspicion of bias would get some support if it can be shown that the proporition of writers is roughly equal but the proportion of published writers is not.

  • BugMeNot says:

    Oh, of course, Marcel de Graaf, because your entirely subjective take on what colors mean is absolutely germane to this topic. *eyeroll*

  • Pat says:

    Danielle, I didn’t say the problem wasn’t at the editorial level. I’m saying without data on submissions, you can’t say that’s the only place or even the most important place where it’s happening.

  • Pat says:

    Xelly, if the submission ratio turns out to be roughly equivalent to a magazine’s publication ratio, then the editorial process at that magazine is arguably unbiased, and that then points to something on a more basic level, perhaps the way we encourage or discourage women in schools, so on and so forth. I don’t understand the stubborn unwillingness to talk about data that will help figure out exactly how much of the problem is editorial and how much is societal, because knowing the extent of the bias, and where it comes into play, means being able to remedy it more intelligently. Or we can all just gripe at the magazines in question and hope that it’s time that wouldn’t have been better spent focusing on improving the way we encourage women when they’re young to go into the literary arts.

  • carolyn z says:

    To the skeptics:

    At the end of the day there is a bias, and that bias is a bias deeply engrained in society itself. That bias filters up through women and men writers, editors, readers, teachers, parents, role models, schools, the economy, the government. It’s called patriarchy. We live in world which systematically discriminates against women. If you insist on having every last number possible about that, there are plenty of statistics and plenty of research available; do a simple google search.

    But people need to stop distracting themselves from this fact by talking about other numbers that we *don’t* have, that may, in fact, be impossible to really get (considering how much collaboration, among other things, it would require. How convenient, to insinuate that if we can’t get THOSE numbers, then THESE numbers say nothing– a complete logical fallacy in itself.)

    You may be dissatisfied that there are no numbers on submissions ratios. It is true that it would be lovely if we could get all of the quantitative data that were possible to get. But it doesn’t really matter, in a sense. You should still be pissed that we live in a society which systemically discriminates against women and their mental and physical survival. We should admit and be pissed about the fact that we live in a patriarchy and that, obviously, women’s art and literature is going to be secondary in such a system.

    The answer, in one sense, isn’t that complicated: stop discriminating against women; encourage their self-esteem; raise awareness in yourself and others about gender and discrimination; stop denying that patriarchy is a real thing and that it manifests in a million obvious and insidious ways; educate yourself and others; encourage equality in every realm, for every being, everywhere. If we shift the paradigm, there won’t be a publishing discrepancy; we’ll have fixed the root and the tree that grows will be brilliant, probably more brilliant than we can even conceive of now.

  • Brett says:

    Hi Vida Folks,

    I ran Knockout’s numbers and found that we while we don’t get as many submissions from women as we do from men, our numbers weren’t always proportional to the number of subs we did receive. Thought you might find it interesting:

  • Mike T. says:

    I’m sorry, but the very reference to gender in your organization’s name is oppressive and anti-feminist.

  • This is a disgrace. Given that so much literature is produced and consumed by women, that the hierarchy and structure of judgment remains so overwhelmingly male is a appalling, and puzzling.

  • Andrea L. Taylor says:

    The problem, as Thomas.Mautner proposes, is not Academia. The problem is the process. If my ass looked as good atop a glass ceiling as it did on a photocopier, these numbers may be different. Such as it is, I, and women writers like me have to claw our way up your ivory towers to be heard.

  • Many of the largest-circulation magazines in English are primarily written by and read by women. What you’re saying is that if you ignore magazines aimed at women and focus on much smaller magazines that don’t tend to be written by and read by women, there are more men. OK.
    My question: why are magazines that focus on women uninteresting, unprestigious, and ignored?
    What would happen if you analyzed these magazines, instead of the smaller ones you picked?

  • Lynn says:

    These are literary events not yet hallowed. Dorothy Parker said it best, “Please, God, let me write like a man.” I will add to think like a man as well. You must know your audience. Taking into consideration my distrust of statistics in general, you’re pretty much setting yourself up for rejection if you submit your writing to a publication that is written by men for men. If you want to be considered by unbiased publishers and editors at elite literary levels, than be magnanimous, write from that lofty position and query first.

  • Tia SIllers says:

    I am a songwriter in Nashville, Tennessee and have long rued the fact that women make up less than 10% of the staff writers working with publishers in this town. One of the bitter pills I consistently have to swallow is be called a “girl writer” or “chick songwriter”, even after you’ve written number one songs and won awards. The men in our business are simply “songwriters” — which is exactly what I am. I don’t want my gender listed in my job description.

    This study is so illuminating because I always assumed that my minority status was something that only occurred in the music/songwriting world. It cracks my heart to know that, in fact, it’s pervasive in all genres. But on the flip side, it makes me feel like I’m not alone.

    Thanks for your great work — next time you do this, it would be amazing to get statistics on chart topping songs as well!

  • NB says:

    Sorry, but Danielle’s post doesn’t do anything to convince me that the ration of submissions by male writers to those by female writers is not relevant. It’s entirely relevant. We’d also have to know a number of other factors before we could conclude that these numbers represent an overwhelming bias. This is as unscientific as it gets. And, no, most publications do not seek reviewers. Reviewers pitch ideas for reviews to editors. We’d need to know that information. We’d need to know how many books were published by women versus how many by men. This is just alarmism in a vacuum.

  • Em says:

    @NB- “This is just alarmism in a vacuum.”

    No, the vacuum here is your lack of perspective. You’re asking how many books were written by women, ignoring that even there is a barrier. That more men will be published because women aren’t taken as seriously as writers. That more men will have their work promoted and, thus, reviewed. These numbers don’t reflect only one level of things, but multiple. The number of comparative reviews is just one of the final outcomes in the whole process of getting a book to the top, a process that, often purposely, takes more women than men out of the running every step of the way.

  • ebelieu says:

    Hey NB,

    While I won’t quibble directly with your issues with Danielle Pafunda’s Count article, I can assure you–having been on both sides of this issue for many years as a writer and as an editor–and knowing many editors at many magazines– literary editors DO frequently contact people to ask them to review. And not just to review, but to review very specific books their editors wish to feature. Also, when writers do pitch book reviews, they often have several they’re pitching. Question is, how many of them are books by women? And how often are these women’s books chosen for review in relationship to male authors’ books? There may be other numbers for VIDA to crunch as we go along and as magazines make them available to us, but your personal take here is certainly more anecdotal and less factual than the hard numbers we’ve gathered.

  • Thanks so very much for this timely and vital research. As a published author of 17 books, I’ve published with Knopf, Penguin, HarperCollins, W.W. Norton. I worked for five years at The New Yorker magazine in the 1970s. This gender bias is not news, shocking as it still is. It is a wake-up call to readers and publishers to practice more fairness in publishing. As readers and writers, we can help make this happen by posting articles such as this, and commenting. I’d also like a pdf. of this article to share widely. I found it on The Huffington Post.

    One of the reasons I left the East coast publishing scene to move here to Seattle was that, as a woman, I saw how limited my future would be if I stayed in that patriarchal publishing business. At lest here on the Left Coast there is a long tradition of more balance between women and men. As much as I an loath to say it, Amazon is much more female friendly. Maybe it’s the pioneer spirit. Go West, Young Woman!

    One thing I’d like to add, all of my book editors save one were women. They are the tireless and brilliant women behind the books. Thanks to these editors who have continued to publish fairly, without prejudice.

  • I have been thinking about The Count in terms of women’s literary history and the heritage of silencing from which we are descended. You can read my blog The VIDA 2011 Count and 5 Ways to Flip Silencing the Bird at

  • All I can say is thank you for doing this study. Lot’s of work to be done to change these pie charts around.

  • Peter Quartermain says:

    Does Sir Peter Stothard REALLY believe that “while women are heavy readers, we know they are heavy readers of the kind of fiction that is not likely to be reviewed in the pages of the Timed Literary Supplement.” We KNOW, do we? If a first-year undergraduate student wrote that sort of twaddle he’d flunk a basic writing course. The assumptions behind this statement are appalling and indeed mind-boggling in their condescension and witlessness. Do I need to spell them out? Real men read serious work, women read trivia? A “heavy” reader is an addicted and uncritical one?
    One might forgive the editor of an influential journal his pomposity, but his patronising condescension is (to say the least) blind and arrogant. Overall, his message – like the figures reported by VIDA – is disgusting and frightening.

  • Rob Kennedy says:

    I have been following this closely for some time, and one of the issues to come out of it is that few men are reading female writers. So I and Marisa Wikramanayake started Guys Read Gals.

    Not only are women’s book reviews getting short changed, my research tells me that about 10% of men read books written by women. It also may be that men are not reading as much as women. Maybe the libraries can tell us the figures for this.