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Wanting More: A Publisher’s Note

For as long as I can remember, I’ve heard folks complain about (and complained myself about) the limited viewpoints and limited opportunities for many writers in speculative fiction.  Over the history of our genre, you can ‘graph out’ published SF works by race, sex, sexual identity, sexual preference, and cultural orientation with a relatively straight line.   Over the past few years, this notion has been the topic of numerous articles, blog posts, flame-wars, and RaceFail09.  Different ideas have been floated as to why only ‘Blue-eyed He-Devils’ from the UK or the USA have a disproportionate representation in SF.  There are many factors that play into this, and not all of them are nefarious, and, while progress has been too slow for our tastes, there has been progress.  Ultimately, I believe it is pretty simple: professional publishers are buying the product that they believe will make them the most money, and they tend to base these assessments upon past and current revenues.

Those of us that complain about limited choices in terms of stories may want to consider how we can impact what choices are available.  My whinging on the internet has been fun, cathartic, and largely unproductive.  Leading gripe-fests at ‘cons’ has gotten me a lot of free drinks over the years (usually provided by a self-appointed representative of the disenfranchised).  That’s all well and good, but what I believe has done the most to get me access to the sort of stories that I like is buying them, spreading the word, and encouraging others to do the same.  The solution seems pretty simple; use your own money, and the money of whomever you can influence, to encourage more production of what you want to read.  Start your own venture, financially support authors/sites that provide what you like for free, or purchase works that you like (directly from the authors, or from a vendor that is passing along a fair portion of the proceeds to the author).  Borrowing, stealing, shopping second-hand bookstores, and reading for free online saves you money, but does nothing to encourage a greater production of what you like to read.  I am not telling you not to do these things, but if this is how you obtain your reading materials, it seems a bit daft to bitch about not being able to find what you’d like to see in print (or e-pubbed).

If you like something that you’ve read, tell everybody that you know.  Give copies as gifts.  Get the word out, and get money flowing (well, maybe trickling) to the author that produced it.

At Redstone Science Fiction, we’ve been dedicated to publishing whatever the hell we want.  Thus far, we’ve been wildly successful at that (our accountant might question our definition of wildly successful, but we aren’t measuring our success in units of profit—which might even mean that we are part of the problem).  The fact that Mike, Mary Ann, Tobermory, The Ferlie and I are not dependent on RSF for our livelihoods allows us to pick what we like without worrying overmuch about salability—we’re only limited by what writers choose to submit, our ability to agree about what to buy, and our ability to generate enough cash flow to pay the writers a professional rate.  Hopefully, this will lead to us getting to read more excellent stories, and getting exposure for those who write what we like to read.  So far, so good.

We like to think that we’ve picked the best of the stories sent our way, but there are no delusions that we’ve picked them without bias.  We have had slush-help from three continents and a variety of guidance, but primarily we are three gals, two guys, eight languages, and a whole lot of opinions.   After setting criteria for what we’d choose to buy the rights to publish, we picked what we thought were the best stories that met those criteria.  One of this month’s stories, ‘Dragonfly Girl’, is an example of a story that doesn’t exactly fit our guidelines, but is getting published anyway.  Why?  Because we like it, and we want to see more like it.  ‘White Lies’, another of this month’s stories, wasn’t picked because Thoraiya Dyer satisfies our non-existent quotas for female and international writers.  It was picked because we think it is amazing.  We want more.

Several folks with whom I’ve sat down recently (including Joe & Gay Haldeman, Voltaire, Gene Wolfe, and Charles Tan) gave voice to the need for SF to be open to a variety of voices, and have done so much more eloquently than I could hope to do.  The conversation about this has prompted us to measure ourselves.  We will never choose a story just to have a member of ‘Group Label X’ listed on our authors’ page.  We’ll never choose to buy a work solely because we need to run a story about a queer-identity dyslexic Buddhist robot to feel like we are ‘the good guys’ (not that we’d turn down a good queer-identify Buddhist robot story…take that as a challenge, if you’d like).

We do recognize that it is important to measure any process that you want to optimize.  Our ‘demographic’ numbers:

Total number of published original works: 41
Total number of these that are written by:
females: 15
white American males: 13
those with citizenship other than U.S.A.: 15
% of submissions that are identifiably male:  ~72% (when in doubt, we left ‘em out)
% of submissions that include U.S.A. mailing addresses: 83%

I won’t say that we are proud of these numbers, nor would we be proud of any set of demographic data.  Rather, we are very pleased that we’ve been receiving excellent stories from a varied group of folks (and a lot of stuff we didn’t want to buy from our American neighbors).  We don’t keep demographics on our readership, but, as you would expect, the vast majority of the web traffic comes from North America, the English-speaking bits of Europe, and Australia (my family in the Philippines gives us a bit of an Asian skew—mahal kita, guys!).

The past year has seen a dramatic increase in individuals across the globe stepping up and making their needs, desires, and demands known.  We at RSF love the power of the individual, and individual-rights themes.  These inspiring acts dwarf the importance of SF, but they can also serve as an example.  We hope that SF readers world-wide decide to exert their influence to increase the production of works that they like, whether they find it in RSF or elsewhere.


1 Redstone Science Fiction #21 February 2012 | Redstone Science Fiction { 02.01.12 at 1:33 am }

[…] Publisher’s Note by Paul Clemmons […]

2 Sam X { 02.17.12 at 11:56 am }

You guys can say, at the very least, that you’ve been keeping one eye on “individual-rights” while also publishing quality SF stories, and I think that’s the most publications like ours can do.

Generally I hope that as the Internet’s grasp expands to poorer, more disparate regions, the number of submissions outside the “developed” world will grow. Scratch that hope–this will happen no matter what, it’s the only path forward. More people will have access to the Internet and thus more people will be able to submit their stories featuring spaceships. SF isn’t just a genre of looking ahead, it can help us get there.