The Count 2010

May 16, 2011 | by | 107

“Numbers don’t lie.” “What matters is the bottom line.”

Such sayings sound definitive, like the dead-end of a boring story. But as these facts come to light–no longer imagined or guessed at–so does the truth of publishing disparities, the unfortunate footing from which we can begin to change the face of publishing. We are no longer guessing if the world is flat or round; we are wondering how to get from point A to B now that the rules of navigation are public and much clearer. Questions long denied will lead us to new awareness, to challenge current publishing practices, and to query the merits of selection on the level of individual publications and review journals alike.

Please take a look. Scroll slowly. Notice the Red. Your favorite publication might be here. Atlantic? Boston Review? Granta? Harpers? London Review of Books? New Republic? New Yorker? NY Times Book Review? New York Review of Books? Poetry? Times Literary Supplement? And many more…

The truth is, these numbers don’t lie. But that is just the beginning of this story. What, then, are they really telling us? We know women write. We know women read. It’s time to begin asking why the 2010 numbers don’t reflect those facts with any equity. Many have already begun speculating; more articles and groups are pointing out what our findings suggest: the numbers of articles and reviews simply don’t reflect how many women are actually writing. VIDA is here to help shape that discussion. Please tell us about the trends you’ve witnessed in your part of the writing world. Let us know what you think is going on. We’re ready and anxious to hear from you. We’re ready to invest our efforts and energy into the radical notion that women are writers too.

– Amy King

Images by Ana Božičević

107 Comments to 'The Count 2010'

  • Holly Iglesias says:

    Privilege is blind, and protective. The dominant narrative is male, effectively limiting the abilities of editors, reviewers and readers to see/understand/value what they already know.

  • Disheartening, but not surprising. And it makes me proud that I spent many years working for a literary magazine, Prairie Schooner, which was 50/50, not by design, but just because. We’d tally up the writers after each issue and almost without fail it would be 50/50. But was the editor a woman? Yep. Hilda Raz.

  • Paulette Livers says:

    Only one word comes to mind: stunned.
    VIDA, besides our writing, can you direct us to concerted action?
    What can I do to help?

  • Bonnie McMillen says:

    This is very surprising, I didn’t realize this was still a problem. I would guess that women buy more books than men. We should own the market, very sad.

  • Kristen De Deyn Kirk says:

    To be fair statistically, we would need to know how many qualified women *offered* to write reviews/essays/articles and how many qualified men did so to really determine if there was a bias by the editors. I understand that would be nearly impossible to gather, but it is the stat that would show the real picture. We would also need to know how many books were published by men and women last year. That said, I do find the New York Times Book Review to be more attentive to men in their “lighter fiction” review selections, and I find that disturbing.

  • Shelf Unbound indie literary magazine has thus far featured 50 percent books by women and 55 percent women reviewers. Check us out at

  • I guess we should all subscribe to Poetry. It’s the only one with more than 50% score.

    No, this does not surprise. In fact I’m surprised the New Yorker’s ratio is as high as it is.

  • marcia aldrich says:

    About what I guessed. It might be interesting to study the gender ratios at small literary journals in addition. I edit Fourth Genre and the numbers are much more encouraging. For example, a woman has won the Editor’s Prize every year we’ve run the contest, and the judging is blind. VIDA is important.

  • Erica Mena says:

    Stark, crazy, and worse than I had expected, though I’m not surprised. I’d be interested to know also how many different women vs. different men were reviewed. My guess is the same few women are getting reviewed over and over, while there is a lot more diversity for the men.

  • Amy Dryansky says:

    Not surprised, but glad VIDA is putting it out there in living color. We have to support each other, control the means of production, do it ourselves!

  • LH says:

    Spread the word.
    Thanks for doing this. I have known these numbers unofficially, but you can’t argue with the facts. These visuals will go a long way.

    Also, it would be good to note the persistence of these numbers over time, despite a continual and sustained publishing record by women with some serious weight…

    also note:
    FRIDAY, DECEMBER 30, 2005

    Paris Review’s DNA of Literature Reveals All
    I’m a fan of the Paris Review. Who wouldn’t be? All those great interviews. Pretty heady stuff. Recently I noticed a newish feature, this DNA of Literature. Remarkably the Paris Review has offered up many of its early interviews with writers such as Truman Capote and William Carlos Williams online! Amazing. However, the DNA also reveals what shouldn’t be too much of a surprise: there are few women writers out there. Very few. Two worthy of being interviewed in the 50s, perhaps 3 in the 60s. Even into the 1990s when the magazine included–at least on the website–a whopping 86 interviews, only 16 of those were with women. 16. So far for the first decade of the 21st century we have 10 women out of 40.

    Oh, it gets very dull indeed, but someone has to point out the obvious. Again, and again, and again. I won’t even begin to describe the racial elements of the selection. No doubt I’ve already been strung up on the peg reserved for women such as myself. Shrill and otherwise.
    Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to FacebookShare to Google Buzz at 5:53 PM 0 comments Links to this post
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  • Allison H says:

    Hi Vida–

    Nice work.

    I’m wondering if there are numbers that relate to submissions– meaning, how many men submit vs. how many women.

    I’m also wondering if you have any numbers relating to the classroom– meaning, how many young women are enrolled in MFA programs vs. men; I’m curious about undergraduate numbers, too (if available).


  • Here’s a trailer for a film that premiered at Sundance called “Miss Representation”:

    I haven’t seen it but I plan on seeing it as soon as I can. It seems relevant to this discussion. It’s a documentary about the lack of representation of positive images of women and girls in all forms of media, how this effects personal and social psyches, and how we need women and girls on the inside of the system to change this. It seems to touch a lot, also, on how even the most powerful women in the US– Hilary Clinton, et al– are completely torn down by misogynist media. If these women are able to be torn down, what are the less powerful to do? Important questions, critical conversation.

  • Laura says:

    Ack. This is so sickening. It reminds me of how Joanne Rowling had to put “J.K. Rowling” on her American books, because it was felt that boys wouldn’t read books written by a woman. Sickening, sickening, sickening.

  • Alyss Dixson says:

    All the “quality” over “quotas” arguments fail to account for this paucity of representation in print. Let’s continue to push for publishers, editors and agents to examine the biases that prevent gender equality.

  • Jim Behrle says:

    Thanks for doing all this work. I think editors should be confronted. What commitments will they make to evening these numbers over the next 5 to 10 years?

  • Hope says:

    I think these stats show a definite discrimination towards works from the women. But, too, there’s missing data here. The number of books published by both men and women are not provided, nor are the stats on the gender of the individual editors. It’s really sad and disheartening, too, to think the “overall” public would be trusting this information provided when it’s not accurate and extremely biased.

  • T. says:

    These numbers are interesting, but I’m afraid they are very surface level. As commentators here and elsewhere have pointed out, you need to know how many books are being published (perhaps even how many manuscripts are being submitted) and how many short stories are being submitted and how many reviews completed to start scratching under the surface.

    I’ve talked to many editors about this and they all agree that far more men submit work to magazines than women and they are more aggressive about doing multiple reviews and so on. They have all said that women are less likely to do work when solicited as well. It is certainly possible that the magazines above got submissions or positive responses to solicitations in equal proportion to the gender stats published, even if they solicited more women than men.

  • Mary Miller says:

    I notice this every time I pick up a literary magazine and talk about it a lot. Several times this year, I’ve received my contributor copy and found myself the sole woman in the fiction category. Poetry and nonfiction seem to be more equal across gender, but fiction, nope, not at all.

    We need submission numbers, though, to say that something seriously fishy is going on here, right?

  • Lee Kaplan says:

    Despite the unisex first name, I’m female, and I’m wondering how the data was collected, especially, how the gender of authors was determined (for those less famous, anyway). In any case, the data is disturbing and should provide a call to action for us all.

  • As long as FAMILY issues are treated as WOMEN’S issues, women will have fewer opportunities to contribute in other areas, because so much of their collective time and energy must be spent on FAMILY. As long as women in this country are treated as less fully human than men, men will have more opportunities to contribute, and they will perpetuate their own perspectives, often by promoting the work of other men over that of women.
    Okay, I realize that this is a very broad pronouncement, but I’d like to see the stats on similar publications in, for example, northern Europe and Scandinavia, where they’ve had subsidized daycare, maternity & paternity leave, allowances for child-related expenses, free health care and education for the past two or three generations. In those societies, FAMILY issues are understood as societal issues taken care of by everyone, male and female, and that lets women, as well as men, participate more in all aspects of life outside the home.

  • I think this may be because the editors are mainly male and perhaps have a conscious (or subconscious) inclination to publish the work of other males.

    I’ve published mainly in local newspapers (poetry) but have yet to “break through” with any publication that could be considered “well-known.” As a writer who is also a mother, many of my themes are domestic, which could be off-putting to editors who are male (who knows?). I was, however, included in an anthology of local writers here in Mount Vernon, New York: “Blood Beats in Four Square Miles” edited by James Fair.

    I do not have an MFA and do not have what could be termed “connections” — so those are additional impediments.

    Still, my poetry is posted on my blog, along with a podcast and video of short readings. http://mccarra– I also do readings, locally, whenever my domestic situation allows for it! (I have three small children, one of whom is autistic.)

    I’m grateful, though, that with the advent of the internet the rejection slips mean less and less as time progresses. Take that, APR, The Nation, VQR, Lit magazine, and The New Yorker (among others)!!!

    MaryAnn McCarra-Fitzpatrick

  • John Walters says:

    I believe there’s still an unspoken, and quite toxic, assumption that books by women are “women’s books,” and somehow not universal. Sorta like how some (otherwise smart) movie reviewers have visceral reactions against “chick flicks.”

    Joanna Russ’ 1983 book, “How to Suppress Women’s Writing,” is still, unfortunately, pertinent and well worth reading. Or rereading.

  • Jen Fitzgerald says:

    I sat in front of this blank comment box for a few minutes before I was able to actually process all of this information. What can we do with these numbers? What alarms do we have to sound to effect change? All I have ever wanted to do was write, it is the only time I feel at peace and productive. To think for a moment that my gender will truly be a road block to living my dream is sickening. A thick layer of denial covered my skin but these numbers have broken through that layer and more. Rage is not an emotion often attributed to women, but I assure you, that is what I feel.

  • Bridget says:

    I was going to bring up a point similar to Allison H’s about women enrolled in MFA, MA in Lit/English and undergrad English programs. I also wanted to ask about Faculty in all those programs. Looking around, I see a lot more female students enrolled in MFAs, but that isn’t from an formal study. I see more male faculty members than female.

    Another point of interest in regards to female to male ratios would be on the other end of things: how many female publishers, editors, reviewers and female-owned small-to-medium press operators are there? If proportions are similar to these results, that might be another place to address the lack of female presence in publications of all kinds.

    Thanks for doing this study and publishing the results. Let’s hope it brings an awakening.

  • Philip Weiss says:

    Could you release the spreadsheets or whatever data it is you collected that made up these charts?

  • Amanda says:

    Reading these figures has left me speechless. I’m particularly disheartened by the figures from The New Yorker and the Times Literary Supplement, though I must also echo a previous comment in saying that I’m not, on reflection, all that surprised. Maybe that’s what makes it so disheartening.

    I consider myself quite fortunate, now, to have attended a Creative Writing program (undergraduate degree at Canada’s University of Victoria) where both faculty and students were predominantly female.

    However, I did my Masters degree at the University of St. Andrews, also in writing, and found myself the only female in a class of three. Calling the year an interesting challenge is somewhat of an understatement, wonderful though it also was.

    I can only echo Bridget’s comment above and say that I, too, hope this study brings an awakening. At the very least, it needs to open more dialogue on this troubling issue.

  • Nicolas Veroli says:

    I wonder what a count on Z magazine would look like–probably worse than the NY Times… Why is it that we leftists do even worse than liberals with gender parity?

  • Amy says:

    We painstakingly looked up each name when we were uncertain of the gender.

    Of course, mainstream publications will not share the gender of, let alone collect, their submissions.

    No, we do not present this as a thorough scientific study, complete with submissions. However, I would venture to say that in any given year, more than 330 women have published books just as more than 1,036 men did, and were reviewed, at The Times Literary Supplement.

    How can we change these numbers?

    It is undisputed that in many venues, women simply submit less frequently than men. Why? What are the conditions? Are they discouraged? Does one keep knocking at a closed door?

  • Amy says:

    Also, why aren’t these publications proactively soliciting women writers in the face of such disparities? Is the onus only women’s?

  • I’m not an expert, but having studied statistics, it seems these numbers were compiled using the best possible methods and available information and should be taken in good faith for what they are worth. Statistics are not perfect and even the most careful statistics can only point to realities, not completely encompass them. So to everyone who is raising issues about the statistical methods, that’s fine, but in the process, please don’t lose sight of the reality beneath the surface of these graphs, a reality that anybody seriously involved in the writing world would have to go to great lengths to ignore or defend: Women are not encouraged to create, write, submit, or publish in a serious way. Men are encouraged to create, write, submit, and publish in a very serious way. This dynamic occurs both very subtly and very blatantly and it permeates all mainstream education, collective and individual psyches, the economy, politics, and culture. Based on these numbers, as well as common sense, it should not be surprising that men are submitting, publishing, and supporting each other, and that even the best women writers are being blown off. And it should be recognized that, generally, in the wonderful places where this is not happening, it is because people have engaged in consciousness raising and taken action.

  • Amy says:

    Super well-said, Carolyn! Thank you!

    Folks, Meghan O’Rourke’s response, “Women at Work
    A new tally shows how few female writers appear in magazines,” has just appeared at Slate —

  • Amy says:


    The OpEd Project is an initiative to expand the range of voices we hear from in the world, with an immediate focus on increasing the volume of women thought leaders in the public sphere to a tipping point. Since women currently do not submit to key opinion forums with anywhere near the frequency that men do—and because these gateway forums feed all other media and drive thought leadership and policy—we target and train women experts at top universities, think tanks, nonprofits, corporations and community organizations to write op-eds and more broadly to take thought leadership positions in their fields; we connect them with a national network of high-level mentor-editors, and we channel them to the media gatekeepers who need them, across all platforms. The OpEd Project is the recipient of seed funding and a 2008-2010 fellowship from Echoing Green.

  • Roxane says:

    I too am troubled but not at all surprised by these numbers. As others have pointed out though, we really need submission information to have a better sense of this issue BUT. At the magazine I co-edit, anywhere from 65-75% of our submissions are from men during a given month. In our most recent online issue, we had 10 men and 9 women and I am pretty sure the percentages (50/50) are similar for our current print issue. While how many women are submitting is part of the problem, I also think it’s what kinds of writing editors are open to. We really cannot put all the responsibility on the submission numbers even though men are clearly more willing to put their work out there.

  • This is more than an issue of bias, socioeconomic factors are a big part of this, too. Tillie Olsen, in her landmark study “Silences,” pointed out that underrepresentation among women(poor women in particular) in publishing often is rooted in a lack of access to “free” time needed to nurture one’s craft because of child care responsibilities. Most – 80% – of women are mothers. Much more often than not, women are the primary caregivers for children; many are in the workforce as well.

    Speaking from personal experience, it’s really difficult to keep writing time a priority – or even if that can be worked into a schedule, to have enough mental and emotional energy left over after the kids finally get to sleep to sit down and write something decent.

  • D.W. Lichtenberg says:

    Just to weigh in, in terms of the selective sampling and barebones explanation of data collection. I’m not sure how conclusive this is.

    La Petite Zine, a very widely read internet poetry journal that I co-edit with Melissa Broder, published 19 men and 18 women in 2010. I won’t go and tally up every submission we get, but looking at our inbox right now, in the first hundred submissions, I see about 2/3 (66%) submissions from men and 1/3 (33%) submissions from women.

    Maybe the problem also has to do with the amount of female writers and female submissions. Which could suggest that the inherent culture of writing attracts men and/or discourages women.

    Maybe the problem lies more in school curriculums, where we’re trained to see literature as a thing dominated by male voices.

  • Maggie hits the nail on the head….personal circumstances can certainly affect how much time and engergy you have to write/submit to magazines/journals….since women, by and large, are expected to shoulder most of the childcare/housekeeping responsibilities, many times in addition to full-time work outside the home. (“Women’s work — childcare and housekeeping do not generally have a high value placed on them, except, perhaps, when someone runs out of clean underpants.)

    It is still more socially acceptable–and admired–for men to spend time writing and attempting to publish their work, while expecting their female counterpart to get the laundry done. I think it is unfortunate, especially in this day and age, that the case may simply be that not a very high value is placed on women’s writing. Multiply that factor if you happen to be poor or a minority.

  • Heck, as a mid-list author who writes for a trade audience, I’m probably not even considered a *writer* by the literati!

  • Bob Sanchez says:

    These are disturbing statistics. Although the method of collection can influence the results, I am inclined to believe their basic accuracy. Chances are that the publications are owned by males, and the organizational culture stems in part from that. At the Internet Review of Books, we publish reviewers who can write. I don’t know our own stats on gender of reviewers and authors, but now I’m going to find out.

  • AP says:

    What does the gender breakdown for the readership of these magazines and journals look like? Are women buying, and reading, these rags more than are men? Several of the commenters above have mentioned a disparity in submissions, so toss the question of readership on the pile.

    Sure, the numbers don’t lie. But if they’re not actually saying anything in particular, why should we be listening at all?

    Maybe I’m biased, because I “do science” for a living, and feel that statistics are only of real value when they are carefully collected, presented, and situated amidst clearly articulated ideas.

    I want more information. And I want everyone to want more information.

  • Martha says:

    What are the submission figures women:men? Might not be an easy figure to define because to get a real idea of what’s happening, you’d need to identify the raw submission figures — the slush pile — to see whether there is a selection bias in reviews. E.g. if there were 3000 male subs and 1000 female subs, followed by 30 male pubs and 10 female pubs… then 3 male reviews and 1 female review would show no gender bias in the review process per se. But if the subs were 50-50, then we’d have to ask why there are more male pubs/reviews — and so on. Without the raw data, it’s hard to identify what’s going on?

  • MaryK says:

    I find this article very confusing and I don’t understand some of the numbers. I think you’re saying that female writers are not getting hired as often as male writers but you never actually spell out your point.

    I get the numbers for “authors reviewed” and “book reviewers.” But what does “overall” mean – writers who contributed to the publication, behind the scenes employees, writers discussed in the publication?

    I’m not disputing anything you’ve said; I’m just having to guess at your meaning because to me the presentation is convoluted and unclear. I came here via a Twitter link and feel like I’m reading the middle of some esoteric conversation not an article about balanced representation of women writers. Regulars to the site may understand but as a casual browser I’m completely lost.

  • Scribblegal says:

    Thanks for unearthing these depressing numbers. I’m thinking maybe we should all write letters to the publications above that we read. Who knows?

  • Mary says:

    I can’t help but think that many editors–men editors, that is, are oblivious to who and how they publish. I have been in touch with one man who edits a small online poetry journal. He hung his head in shame once he realized what he was doing. Many of you many think that I am too generous and that this is a male conspiracy. Well, of course it is; it’s been part of the fabric of our sexist society, our sexist world view. However, I am offering the possibility that some men (and women) simply have not realized the problem. Perhaps the “big guns”–meant to be a bit phallic with that–are very aware of what they are doing by shutting women’s voices down; however, I think that we can reach many men and get them to see the problem. I see that there is something in The New York Times this morning about Wikipedia and the small number of women who are represented in it. That’s all.

  • Rich says:

    Great work in compiling and sorting all this (depressing) data. I just did a quick check on some issues of McSweeney’s and found a similar ratio of 2:1 in favor of men to women. Ugh.

    The O’Rourke piece in Slate is disappointing. She used to be the Poetry Editor at the Paris Review. I thought she might offer some direct insight into the decision-making process for publishing, but there was none.

  • Brandon says:

    These are interesting pie charts, but without the context of author submission data and readership data, they’re merely tantalizing. Great for bias confirmation, though.

  • Amy says:

    Mary wrote, “However, I am offering the possibility that some men (and women) simply have not realized the problem.”

    I think that’s a large part of the problem – most editors, male and female alike, aren’t aware, which is why we’re sharing the numbers!

  • Leslie McGrath says:

    Thank you VIDA, and specifically Amy King, for doing this work. I know the literary publishing world very well– was Drunken Boat’s man. ed. for a couple years and now sit on the board of a couple of small presses.

    I can tell you for certain that at Drunken Boat, men were the majority of our submitters, particularly when it came to fiction. And specific men tended to submit more often. One submitter became notorious among the staff for re-submitting work within an hour of rejection. And this happened repeatedly.

    When we restructured our online submissions system, we added a layer of rejection ( and yes there are rejection levels at man lit mags)in which the writer was asked to submit work again, later in the year. We hoped that this small encouragement would help writers whose work came close. I believe women more than men (a generalization to be sure!) need that encouragement.

    We also added fiction, poetry and nonfiction editors– all women– because they were the best candidates. I put a lot of stock in the long term gender-evening effects of having more women in editorial positions.

    VIDA’s volunteers have now done The Count twice. This second count, with its striking pie charts, seems to have been very widely read and discussed, a good thing. How long will it take before literary magazines large and small take it upon themselves do be more forthcoming regarding the gender balance of the writers who appear in their pages? Surely they have the data available.

    It’s time for literary magazines to be proactive in terms of revealing this gender balance. I hope, like the outcry over literary contests a few years ago, which resulted in the establishment of the CLMP’s code of ethics (now widely adopted), VIDA’S Count will nudge the literary community further down the road in this regard.

  • David Daley says:

    This is fascinating, and I’ve run the numbers at my site, We published 36 stories by women in 2010 and 23 by men. So it’s a different ratio than the other major lit mags. Submissions went the other way: 82 men and 45 women.

  • Mary says:

    I remember being told when I started to send my poems out that I had to be tough about getting rejections–that it’s part of getting poetry published. I do have a much easier time getting my work out than I did 20 or 10 years ago, but I still have to remind myself not to take it personally. That’s really hard–I do take it personally. I wonder if rejection is so tough for people–especially women, since we have gotten rejected a great deal in the arts, in academia, and other professions. I feel worthless every time I do get a rejection. I have to rethink why I write poetry and that it’s my love affair more than anything else.

  • Lucy says:

    These charts are compelling but as other readers have observed, they lack data. This however does not fault an important dialogue of a weightier issue that goes beyond but ties into ratios of male authors verses female authors in print. The broader issue is that it is a man’s world – a statement made without bias. This is the simple reality of the social structure of our world. A large percentage of the global population adheres to this belief, woman included whether they fully realize this or not. Do your charts reflect this reality? The depth of the presentation leaves it unclear, but, if there is a general opinion that women can’t be taken as seriously as men, why would the female perspective be considered for print as often as the male perspective?

    I applaud your effort here. It has created a necessary discussion that I hope will aid in making the desired change.

  • If you’re an editor, you should work harder for equality in your magazine. It might take a little effort. Here is a list of female poets that might be useful for soliciting work:

    Why should your magazine actively recruit female writers? Because when you publish such an overwhelming majority of male writers, women won’t want to send you work. Your magazine seems hostile to their work. To turn that around, you might have to actively solicit work from female writers.

    There’s not a dearth of talented female writers. There may be a lack of imaginative and/or ethical editors.

  • Gene Ballou says:

    I would think more data and more specific data would shed more light than a simple “women versus men” pie chart. I think the main question any editor or publisher is going to ask is, “Will it sell?” The second question will probably be, “HOW MUCH will it sell?” I’m not saying there’s not prejudice, I’m saying I doubt prejudice is the main factor in the decision-making process.

  • Barbara Fister says:

    Sisters in Crime, an organization founded 25 years ago to support equality for women writers in the crime fiction genre, has been tracking reviews of mysteries in the press for years. This is sadly nothing new nor something that book review editors have ever taken very seriously.

  • meyer goldberg says:

    Disheartening to say the least!

  • Charlie says:

    I graduated from Oxford a few years ago with a first class degree in English language and literature.

    I applied for two jobs in publishing shortly after.

    One of those jobs was advertised, at the offices of an international publishing house in Edinburgh. The other was not. It was a whim. I wrote an email to a professor I knew and asked if he had work.

    I did not get an interview at the publishing house. I found out, some years later, that a friend got that job. She was significantly less qualified than me, but her boss ‘liked her style’ and had similar tastes in film. The office, she tells me, was 90% female. Although the editors of the journals they published were in the majority male.

    The professor offered me work almost immediately. He kept me busy with freelance for the next year. I don’t believe I was selected over any other candidates at the time. I might have been the only graduate who wrote to him and asked.

    I didn’t like what I saw of publishing, although I have edited a book in my spare time since leaving that world. Again – this came about because I knew an author and marked up his MS as a favour. The formal offer came later.

    I am male, and this comment is not intended as an opinion. Just a case study for your consideration.

  • Andrea says:

    I would be curious to see what the figures are for how many female authors get get published versus how many male authors. While I don’t doubt that publication are skewed in terms of their choices as to which books are “important” enough to merit a review, how much source material they are choosing from is just as relevant. Institutionalized sexism probably exists along several rungs of the ladder.

  • Leslie McGrath says:

    Erm, Charlie, when you express the opinion “she was significantly less qualified than me” and then tell us your comment was a case study for our consideration, my hackles get raised.

    It seems as though you stumbled on a situation where women, for whatever reason, were at an advantage where hiring was concerned. It doesn’t feel very good to know you were at disadvantage based on something you have no control over, something which has little to do with fulfilling the job requirements. I sympathize. As I’m sure many women do.

  • Miriam says:

    Scientific Journals have much worse ratios, especially compared to the number of ratio of entries. There have been a few studies where the same scientific article was sent to be reviewed just with the gendered author name being the only difference and the “female” author always was rated harsher.

    Well known authors are also sometimes published no matter how poor the quality of their work just due to name recognition. In scientific journals this makes it even harder for female authors to get published, because well known authors will be selected first.

    The author’s name should not be disclosed to the reviewers when deciding who should and shouldn’t be published.

  • ihop says:

    I co-edit (with another female editor) a humor magazine by the name of Hobo Pancakes. We take publishing women as a primary goal, but we’re hit with a double whammy: we’re not just a litmag, we’re a humor mag, and as anyone with a passing acquaintance with the world of comedy can tell you, women are not involved in comedy in the same numbers as men. Our issues are probably 30-40% female-written (discounting our own editorial contributions).

    That said, only about 20-25% of submissions we get are from women. We publish disproportionately more women (based on the submission numbers) because, although they submit less, what they submit is often SIGNIFICANTLY better — no bizarrely homophobic juvenalia about junior-high jackoff sessions, for example. But we’re still not getting enough submissions to publish equal numbers.

    Also, a higher proportion of the women we publish end up getting multiple items in our issues. Seems like the hurdle is just getting women to send stuff to us in the first place. (Note: we did put a blurb on Craigslist to try and solicit more female writers, and got flagged. The post didn’t actually violate any of Craigslist’s terms of service, but apparently there are folks out there so opposed to the idea of “striving to be inclusive of all voices, including women and people of color” that they’ll get it off the Internet as fast as they can.)

  • James Payne says:

    There are very similar numbers (actually, worse) in comics publishing, as Anne Elizabeth Moore has been detailing: and

  • Mark A. York says:

    These are for the most part nonfiction political magazines. Women buy and read the most novels and most literary agents and editors are women so I think this is a misrepresentation of the wider picture though pertinent to what it covers.

  • Kelly Virella says:

    It’s not just that our literary mags have few female writers. They also have few female subjects. And if you think the gender gap is disillusioning, think about the race gap. When was the last time the New Yorker did a story about a black woman who wasn’t a signer? No offense to Sasha Frere Jones, but we do more than music. We as women writers can and should lift the glass ceiling for women and possibly even race. But when we get there we have to make sure that we change not only the faces of the writers, but the faces of the subjects. Because I don’t have a lifetime to wait for this to happen, I’m starting my own publication, I think a lot more women and people of color need to collaborate and think about doing that too.

  • Lu Vickers says:

    Ouch. That hurt.

  • Brett says:

    First, thanks for posting this. It’s a great discussion to have.

    With that said, here’s a somewhat feisty response:

  • OV says:

    I am the male editor of a literary (non-fiction) journal and this discussion saddens me. We have an unofficial positive discrimination policy, that is, we actively seek out female writers, we respond to submissions we would reject if they were from men, and ultimately we publish work by women that simply wouldn’t make the cut if it were by a man. None of which is to say that we haven’t had some excellent pieces by women that would have been published regardless of our policy. But the policy stands, and it has benefitted female writers. And yet only a tiny fraction of our articles have been by women. What this shows is that you simply cannot read off the final statistic what the policy of a journal is. At least in our case, the most important factor by far is the quantity of submissions received from women.

  • Andrea says:

    I would like to see, for comparison, statistics in genre publishing. I would suspect (and I’m just guessing, from looking at the shelves) that women fare better in areas like horror and fantasy, and of course romance, than they do in the literary world.

    What would that mean? I don’t know. But plenty of that stuff is as well written as literary fiction, so it would be interesting for further study.

  • Jeanne Leiby says:

    Hi. I’m the editor of The Southern Review. We ran our numbers yesterday and have posted our findings on our blog at

  • Pam Parker says:

    After reading this and then Ruth Franklin’s follow-up in The New Republic, I got to wondering, maybe we need to organize a book-club revolt. So, with tongue only slightly in cheek, I give you “What if book clubs only selected books by women authors? Now there’s an idea…”

  • Monica V says:

    I’m enjoying reading the hysterical reactions to this b.s. more than the original post.

    For those of you who think this is some sort of penis-made plot and want to hold the publishers accountable, do yourself a favor and spend that time studying data/logical fallacies.

  • Carmel James says:

    something similar happens in orchestras. When blind auditions are held, ie. when candidates perform behind a curtain, no name, no speaking, the gender mix is much more even. but this doesn’t happen too often.

  • Patricia Kirkpatrick says:

    Thank you for compiling these numbers and publishing them. I am the poetry editor for WATER-STONE REVIEW. I offer this quote which introduces the syllabus for the editing class I teach each year.

    “Most literary magazines in the United States and Canada are
    edited by white men (some by white women). A few of these
    editors clearly try to seek out and publish work that embodies
    the larger reaches of North American writing and experience.
    But they do so within a constricting foreground of ‘raceless’
    white identity…”
    Adrienne Rich, Introduction,

    I have been informally noting such numbers since I was a graduate student
    in San Francisco thirty years ago. Out of such concerns came the journal
    HOW(EVER), edited by Kathleen Fraser, and many other magazines. Allow me to mention WATER-STONE REVIEW. The other editors – Barrie Jean Borich, Creative Nonfiction, Sheila O’Connor, Fiction, and Mary Rockcastle, Executive Editor – and I make concerted efforts to publish writing which reflects gender, ethnic, and geographic diversity and to make the consideration of such diversity part of the editorial selection process.

  • Fionnuala says:

    Is this really a magazine problem or does it just reflect existing power structures and, possibly, the readership?

    The magazines cited are all prestigious publications who draw on acknowledged “experts” for their reviewers. Anyone who has glanced down a faculty list will know that most of these will be men. “Poetry”‘s relatively large number of female contributors no doubt reflects the gender balance in that field. Small literary journals other commentators have cited have much more freedom in choice of contributors (though interesting that many say they have problems getting enough women to submit). Maybe the magazines are doing the best they can given their available contributor pool.

    Also, could it be that more men than women read these magazines? I’ve seen shocking data on book buying by gender – and sadly readers often want writers to mirror their gender – could the same apply here?

    Don’t take any of the above as minimizing the appalling gender imbalance. But if we’re to fix the issue we need to know exactly where the problem lies.

  • Mike says:

    Does anyone find it interesting that the only publication approaching equality is Poetry, and that poetry is the least-widely read genre in American lit? If you’re wondering why publishing is tanking and small presses are the only ones turning a profit and, increasingly, publishing innovative work, the proof is in the pie (charts).

  • Sarah Gorham says:

    After a quick count of Sarabande titles, I’m happy to report that we have fared far better in gender equality than most independent presses @ 54% women and 46% men.

  • sassjemleon says:

    could these numbers be so skewed in these major literary markets, where more money is available, because women are still not expected to be the bread winners, and the lingering perception that women can get away with literary endeavors without having to be as financially ambitious as a man?

  • Julie says:

    Thank you for doing this. Women being kept out of publishing, and getting reviewed — particularly literary fiction — is real. No one seems to care or want to acknowledge it.

  • Walter McGrain says:

    Interesting numbers and even more interesting is the assumption that there is an absolute parity between the quality and breadth of the work being submitted.

  • I believe this is compelling data, but what’s being measured in each graph could stand to be clearer. For example, what does “cover to cover authors 2010” mean? The intro paragraphs didn’t really help me figure out what to expect from the charts, other than a lot of red. And there is a lot of red! Which is alarming to me, as a worker in this industry. But still, the captions showing what is being measured in each graph could be clearer, I think.

  • P. H. Madore says:

    Girls with Insurance historically and happily does the opposite of these statistics, but mostly because that’s the way our submission pool goes. All aspiring and established women (and men, of course) writers are encouraged and welcomed to send their work to one of our editors. Funny that our female editor just went on hiatus, but never you mind (and by the way, we’re always looking to expand our egalitarian staff). — probably the most uniquely organized magazine you’ll read this week. I say that with all seriousness. We operate independently of any hierarchy and I think that might be why we manage to have such a gender parity as we have.


  • Frances Ryan says:

    Why not . . . ask the editors? Three are women: Wendy Lesser (3pReview), Mary-Kay Wilmers (London Review) and Ellen Rosenbush (Harper’s). At the Boston Review editors are Deborah Chasman & Joshua Cohen (managing editor is Simon Waxman). All the others are men: James Bennet (Atlantic), Richard Just (New Republic), Win McCormack (Tin House), David Remnick (New Yorker), Robert Silvers (NYRB), Lorin Stein (Paris Review), Peter Stothard (TLS),a and Christian Wiman (Poetry). Poetry Foundation, with its sizable endowment from the late Ruth Lilly, is headed by John Barr.

  • Juanita Baker says:

    why not let’s insist that there be blind reviews of all books, poetry, essays, etc. in our magazines, newspapers?

  • Deidre Elizabeth says:

    RE: Bonnie McMillen
    February 2, 2011
    This is very surprising, I didn’t realize this was still a problem. I would guess that women buy more books than men. We should own the market, very sad.

    I was in a book club… all women… on the list was The Secret Life of Bees.. all the women felt like they didn’t want to read this book because they were reluctant to deal with the emotional intensity they expected to find from a woman writer. Apparently, male writers are emotionally non-threatening.

    Women are wore out on women’s issues. Dealing with it all the time is exhausting and all people want an escape from reality. Somewhere in that is a slight against male writers? Success through lack?

  • Deidre Elizabeth says:

    Coincidently, the book tops the best of what I’ve ever read. My favorite is Les Miserables. Sue Monk Kidd delivers a crafty american rendition of what Jean Val Jean’s sister life might be that we were never told. It’s a stretch I know but it’s my stretch.

  • Paul David says:

    If you ever look at older poetry anthologies (’50s through ’70s), you’d think the only women writing were Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, with very brief mentionings of Adrienne Rich. The problem is systemic. Maybe the solution is only buy volumes written by women. The market usually dictates when it comes to publishing.

  • John Cowan says:

    Yeeks, O.V., don’t *do* that. Saying that you publish inferior work by women is calculated to make all your female contributors wonder if their work is among the dreck that wouldn’t have made the grade if they had sent it in signed Edward Jones. Nobody wants to be the “affirmative action hire”.

    *Encourage* women to submit by any means necessary. *Publish* on the basis of your best judgement of merit.

  • Marie Gauthier says:

    A quick glance at the Tupelo Press catalogue reveals that our stable of authors includes 75 authors: 32 men, 43 women. Of the 90 titles, 37 were by men, 53 by women. Of the books we now have scheduled for 2012, 14 of 19 are books by women or translated by women. So by the end of 2012, we’ll have published 42 (14%) men and 79 (86%) women. Without “making a fetish” of it (Peter Stothard, editor of the Times Literary Supplement), or even calling attention to it until now, Tupelo has upended what appears to be the industry standard.

  • Anne says:

    This doesn’t surprise me. When I was in grad school, taking a class on the elements of fiction, I suggested some ideas from feminist theory of plot, how women writers didn’t use the pattern from Aristotle but had different ways of telling the story. I barely had the words out of my mouth before I was shut down by the prof. No discussion, nothing. Case closed. So yeah, there’s some prejudice running rampant out there. Solution? Keep writing and using our dollars to speak for us. Thanks for this info!

  • Andrea, above, was interested in statistics for genre publishing. For SF, F & H, see Broad Universe, and specifically:

  • Linda Frost says:

    This is so not surprising yet still at heart deeply rotten. It is the kind of situation described here that prompted me to start PMS poemmemoirstory, an award-winning all-women’s literary magazine, over 10 years ago now and why it has been an absolute shining star on the literary horizon since then (if I do say so myself!). The website seems to be funky at the moment, but check out PMS poemmemoirstory out of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, edited now by the fabulous Kerry Madden. It’s exactly what things like VIDA’s “The Count” orders.

  • Eva Salzman says:

    I’ve not had chance to read through all the replies here but I wanted to mention the anthology “Women’s Work: Modern Women Poets Writing in English” (Seren) in which half my Intro is polemic on this subject, with figures for anthologies and for women editors of these.

    I came to this site via a discussion on Magma and see the figures for journals are in line with those for anthologies.

    Some of my compiled figures came out of piece I did for Guardian Online which provoked discussion but also a great deal of vitriol for even raising the subject, which point is also incorporated into this Introduction. Indeed the discussion at Magma, though good, includes a lot of people simply refusing to acknowledge there exists a problem. (In my Guardian piece, women’s own experience was considered of little import and figures were demanded but when these were provided, people ssking for this just melted away.)

    I’m from NYC originally, received MFA from Columbia but have lived for many years in the UK and the anthology does center on books produced there, although I think this book and a version of the essay geared to USA in comparative way would be useful, including the figures for journals there wasn’t room for there….although would happily make room. Although this conversations gets stuck in the same place all the time, in UK anyway, which is dispiriting, to say the least.

  • Eva Salzman says:

    PS. For one thing, the discussion of this issue is usually confined to women’s groups, seen as special interest, rather than human rights, which is how I see it. Thus never tackled by wider audiences, especially as feminism these days – in England anyway – seems a dirty word and indeed most women poets do well to steer clear of it, for fear that to be so tainted would affect their careers (as it were) which is a legitimate worry, in my experience. So I’ve mixed feelings about Guardian’s women’s pages and such forums addressing this issue, when in fact all this does is sequester it. Until everyone’s playing in the same sand-box we’ll go around in circles. Again, I speak mostly from my experience in England (my impression it’s different in Scotland, Ireland and Wales.)

  • Eva Salzman says:

    PPS. Apologies for bombarding, but I must add a few no doubt provocative points. Women say to each other “we must support one another’ but those doing so at discussion groups like this are not the issue.

    I’ve now begun to hear how women don’t put themselves forward, but this isn’t my experience nor the experience of other women self-supporting professional writers. The way it works is that mostly reviewers are asked by the editors or they can and do suggest books once they’ve been asked and established a relationship with editor.

    The figures becomes much better when we speak of smaller journals. They are much worse with the bigger ones with more kudos which, not incidentally, also pay for contributions.

  • Thanks for the illuminating, though depressing, numbers and for the many worthwhile links in the comments!

    This article made me think of how my grandmother never believed she could become a writer, and has sullied my love affair with the New Yorker.

    Glad we are calling out the problems with the status quo — and I hope more doors will be opened for the women writers we are dying to read!

  • As a female writer, I find this very alarming. When I look at the demographics of low-paying content mills such a Demand Media and Associated Content, it’s easy to see that these companies’ contributors are almost entirely female. They write at a fraction of the payment offered to print-journalists, who are (apparently) almost always male.

    I’d be willing to bet that the wage discrepency between female writers and male writers is tremendous. Going by typical content-mill wages compared to typical print-magazine wages, I imagine that woman-writers average about a tenth of the income of their male counterparts.

  • Gabriella says:

    I’ve been a writer since 1988, when I got into the creative writing program at San Francisco State University. This really doesn’t surprise me, on reflection. I realize I’ve avoided submitting to the really “big” mags, because I’ve just instinctively felt, “oh, there isn’t a hope in hell…” Well, turns out I was right!

    I’ve been published in several anthologies, all edited by women, and when my novel was published by an Irish press, the person who first showed interest in the ms. and acquired the book was a woman. If my literary career (such as it is!) had been in the hands of men, I wouldn’t have got anywhere.

    So yes, it’s enraging. Thanks to VIDA for publishing these figures. I suspect as the literary world gets more rotten and hollow and as the money drains out of it, there will be more opportunities for women. That’s cynical, isn’t it? I do think book publishing is a slightly different and more equal “game” than magazine publishing. We can be thankful for that.

  • gwen reed says:

    Horrified! Just today I wrote to my sister (a published writer herself):

    dear abigail

    i have been having some difficulty arranging my books..
    library of congress and dewey both not adequate

    then i looked at whole collection from a
    feminist perspective…

    aside from maybe 5 or 6 books that i bought
    precisely because they were written by women..
    all of the books here are here without prejudice
    they are here because i considered them,
    at the time, the best of their type

    with a combination of dread and excitement
    i pondered… what about book day…
    where i took ALL the books (approx 2,000)
    off the shelves and catalogued two
    collections.. one written by men and the other women

    my estimate for the whole collection…
    collected without prejudice is
    there are no more than 15% of books here
    written by women…

    isnt that kind of amazing???


  • J. Goodman says:

    Part of the reason for the gender bias is that fewer women submit work to magazines. From my (admittedly informal) research, submissions for most magazines run about 70% male to 30% female. If there is more work by men being published, it more or less reflects the submission ratio. The important thing is that women are free to submit if they so choose and that their work will be considered (hopefully) on merit rather than on gender. The way to balance the numbers is for more women to submit – and there are more than enough excellent women writers to effect such a balance. And perhaps we need more women editors as well.

  • Freda says:

    Is there any way to find out which way the statistics are going? These figures are bad, but are they getting worse, slowly getting better year on year, staying static?

  • Sammy Rain says:

    Indeed, these numbers are troubling, and I’m curious to know what other responses might be — in addition to the obvious, which is to encourage the publishing of more female authors.

    If a restaurant stopped serving women or chose to serve women only a fraction of the food served to men, sensible patrons would submit letters to management, would publicize the discrimination, would undoubtedly boycott the establishment.

    I’m curious to know how many writers — especially those who aspire to find a home within the pages of these journals — are willing to boycott them based upon the damning statistical evidence provided by VIDA.

  • Annette de Grandis says:

    There seems to be a depressing correlation between the sex of reviewers and the sex of the reviewed. I read books /poems on the merit of their content so I don’t care if the writer is male or female. I bet a lot of women would agree with that – so do we possibly have a male speaketh only unto male attitude problem? I wish I could think how to change this. I guess the best way is just to be continually assertive about the merits of women writers and plug them shamelessly when they are good.

  • suzanne says:

    This is very surprising, I didn’t realize this was still a problem. I would guess that women buy more books than men. We should own the market, very sad. suz from ubytovanie na slovensku

  • Another statistic being bandied about is that less than 12% of the plays produced in the United States are written by women as well. As a female playwright, I can attest to the likely hood of that stat.

  • Perry says:

    Many of us look forward to a VIDA count by gender of acquiring editors, agents, and magazine staffers–that is, the people who control access and make the normative judgments about literary publishing.

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