Please note that this is an evolving document and will be updated as needed.
Each year the VIDA Count compiles over 2,000 data points from the 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.
The VIDA Count’s overall goal is to highlight the lack of diversity in publishing: in gender, in race, in ethnicity, in sexuality, in disability, etc. While the annual data can be illuminating, we’re interested in patterns. If a publication has spent five years publishing less than 30% women, what does that say about their publication? What does that say about what they’re really contributing to the literary world?
Three teams of 4-6 people each individually track the numbers for a set of publications using a rubric provided by team leaders. This rubric is designed to ensure consistency across publications, and has been developed with the input of a committee of diverse professionals from the writing, publishing, and sociological fields. Each team meets to compare their data, double-checking their figures. Their reconciled data is compiled and finalized by team leaders. Where necessary, count coordinators and the VIDA Survey team do additional research, which may include contacting writers or publishers, to determine writers’ identities or genders. These numbers are compared once more against self-reported data provided by writers who participate in our Intersectional Survey. Data is typically revisited one last time when it’s being prepared for publication.
We count writers who have a byline in a periodical. We count per piece of writing, not per writer—if someone has three poems in a given issue, we count them three times. In some creative-only journals, we separate genres. In literary reviews, we separate book reviews from regular bylines, and we also count the authors whose books are reviewed. We separate “micro reviews” from full-length reviews, and for micro-reviews we count only the author being reviewed. Conversely, for book roundups, we count only the reviewer. We only count reviews of books; if a review is, for example, of a gallery or film, that would be included in “bylines.” We do not count the authors of art books or cookbooks that are reviewed, unless they are deemed to have sufficient literary content. We also do not count editors of anthologies that are reviewed; however, if an edited collection contains the work of only one or two authors, those authors are counted. As of 2018, we count translators (in a separate category) as well as authors translated.
We do not count editors’ introductions, letters to the editor, advice columns, Q&As, comic strips, visual art, or puzzles. We count interviews only in certain publications that are known for interviews and publish them with regularity.
You can find a list of publications we count here. The periodicals in the Main Count were selected and first counted in 2010, while the periodicals in the Larger Literary Landscape Count were selected and first counted in 2013. Each journal was chosen based on its widely recognized critical and/or commercial literary value.
Publication in these magazines and journals has been known to further 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.
Generally, publications we count meet the following criteria:
- Appears in print;
- Consistent editorial staff and not edited by students;
- All U.S. Regions are represented;
- Exhibits clear staying power (year established);
- Widely accepted as reputable among the literary community; and
- Strong likelihood of work appearing in these publications go on to be nominated for a major prize (e.g. Pushcart or Best American).
In 2020, VIDA will be reevaluating our list of publications for the first time since the Count’s inception. Interested in being included? Editors can make a request here.
One reason we do not include digital publications is 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. Online content supplementing print publications has become increasingly ubiquitous since we began the VIDA Count in 2009. We do not incorporate online content in our data. It is too easy to confine women, gender minorities, and other marginalized writers to cost-effective web platforms, which frequently pay differently (or don’t pay at all), compared to their print counterparts. For these reasons, as well as for consistency in the VIDA Count from year to year, we will only be focusing on the women and nonbinary writers afforded space in print. We recognize the importance and increasing prominence of online publications, but publication in those spaces still does not match the career-advancing potential of the print publications. Woefully imbalanced publications often point to their online content as being more equal. That’s great, but it’s not enough. We believe in striving towards inclusion and representation in all literary spaces.
VIDA largely relies on pronouns to determine gender for the VIDA Count. We recognize that this method is imperfect, as some nonbinary people use gendered pronouns, and some men or women may choose to use gender-neutral pronouns, particularly in their professional bios. Still, pronouns are often the most accurate and reliable marker of a person’s gender we have to go on.
Because what we seek to identify in the VIDA Count is publisher bias, we count using the information that is available publicly about a writer, and the information that the editor soliciting or selecting their work presumably would have. This does not, unfortunately, always account for the full depth or range of someone’s gender, but it does give us meaningful data to spark conversations about gender-related biases and inequities in the literary landscape.
For Count purposes, “nonbinary” includes people who are nonbinary, agender, genderqueer, gender nonconforming, two-spirit, or another identity outside of the gender binary. We recognize that these terms are not synonymous and account for many different experiences of gender. But, because each of these genders are hugely underrepresented in the journals we count, collapsing all genders that exist outside the binary into one category allows us to collect more meaningful data.
“Unidentified” is used when there is not enough evidence to reasonably determine a person’s gender. It is also used for pseudonyms and anonymously-written pieces.
While we would love to, with our all-volunteer staff, we have limited resources and can only take on so many fields.
Counters collect names of all women, nonbinary, and unidentified writers on both the Main Count and the Larger Literary Landscape and send this list to the VIDA Survey team. Survey volunteers then scour the internet to find email addresses for each of these writers so that we may send them our Intersectional Survey. Volunteers are sometimes unable to find contact information.
Simultaneously, the Intersectional Survey committee works to fine-tune the language of the survey by consulting experts and literary practitioners whose lived experiences reflect the intersections of identity accessed by the survey.
After the survey is sent out, responses are then hand-sorted and separated by respondent and publication.
While we can rely on pronouns in bios as a reasonably reliable marker for determining a writer’s gender, VIDA will not make assumptions about race, ethnicity, sexuality, disability, class, or age. Since the survey is entirely voluntary, the data that we collect is often incomplete. Response ranges vary greatly across publications, so it’s impossible to make any definitive claims about who is being represented in a given periodical across the literary landscape. Still, having a slice of this data has inspired important conversations about representation and access in literary publishing.
Survey Response Rates From Previous Years
996 responses; 2150 surveys sent; 2964 total names*
46% response rate of surveys sent
33% response rate of overall possible participants*
588 responses; 1,738 surveys sent; 2410 total names*
33% response rate of surveys sent
24% response rate of overall possible participants*
684 responses; 1,522 surveys sent*
45% response rate of surveys sent*
* These numbers includes people who are deceased and who have previously opted out of the survey, in addition to writers whose emails we simply couldn’t find.
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.
The Intersectional Survey committee who helped develop the Survey as it stands have included: Gabrielle Bellot, Ching-In Chen, Melissa Febos, Hafizah Geter, Sara Iacovelli, Beth Jackobson, Ashaki Jackson, Alexandra (Ola) Jacunski, Christina Mun-Lutz, Airea D. Matthews, Sarah Clark, Sheila McMullin, Danielle Pafunda, Trace Peterson, Camille Rankine, Sami Schalk, Jean Thornton, Elissa Washuta. We are enormously grateful for everyone’s time and dedication.
No. This is the most frequently asked question in the history of question-asking, and we’ve responded to it fully here.
Press & media inquiries regarding VIDA and the VIDA Count should be directed to D. Arthur, our Media & News Director at email@example.com.
Last update: November 8, 2019
If you have any specific questions about methodologies which are not answered here, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.