Clarkesworld On Story Submissions and Acceptances

I reached out to several editors regarding my statistics I found in analyzing monthly short fiction outlets that take submissions last week. I did the research into that very large cross-section of the industry primarily because of the way one magazine treated me in asking the question to begin with – encouraging their followers to attack me, and actually going so far as to make a “your mom” joke about me from their professional magazine account. If you watched my recent periscope on 4th Generation Warfare Tactics, you would know this was a mistake, as certainly responding with such vitriol is not going to get me to de-escalate the situation – it in fact drove me to spend the energy researching into the industry and prove conclusively that among pro-paying markets, there is a preference toward female authored stories.

My interest, however, is in the facts of the situation and what can be done about it to create a healthy and good environment for authors and artists. This is why I reached out to several editors to begin with. The only editor of one of these professional markets to respond thus far, is Neil Clarke of Clarkesworld. He took the time to answer some of my questions after my statistical analysis, which is a testament to his professionalism and genuine care for science fiction.

When I first did my analysis on Clarkesworld I couldn’t find the author’s bios easily – but they are posted on the side bar below several of the advertisements. This allowed me to go back through and find the sexes of the stories I couldn’t determine from the names. The stats on the year total at 34 male written stories and 38 female written stories in the last year of issues, which does not change the percentages in my total analysis to any significant degree.

There is, like most magazines, a slight female preference in his magazine over the last year, and so my first question to Mr. Clarke was what does the submission data look like?

It’s been a while since the last time I ran those stats and I don’t have all the data I need to do it right now, but I did monitor this for several years and during that time, 65-70% of all submissions came from men. The percentage fluctuated, but always stayed inside that range. The data included all SF/F/H submissions. Expect more fluctuation when you look at specific genres. If I recall correctly, men were also slightly more likely to submit multiple stories per month.

While the differential isn’t large as the Submissions Grinder appears to be for most paying markets, there is still a heavy weight of male submissions he receives. While with other magazines, the reasoning for the ratio published is either obvious from the political things they post, or actually stated in their submissions that they prefer certain groups, I was interested in how this goes across the industry. Mr. Clarke also pointed out that all submissions are not equal, there are qualitative differences, which I do know to be the case as I’ve read slush for a major science fiction magazine. Slush readers deserve cookies. They are poor, poor souls and you have no idea how bad some of the stuff is they have to read unless you’ve done it yourself. While within a particular magazine, this can account for some differentials between the sexes, when it comes to a sample size of about a thousand stories published, of which there are probably a hundred times that in submissions, the qualitative differences is, in my opinion, no likely the cause.

The qualitative element is still an interesting discussion point. I followed up by asking to drill down on that: is it a stylistic judgment where men prefer writing direct action/adventure or is more an objective qualitative measure of bad prose?

Honestly, I don’t spend much time concerning myself about why stories don’t get in, so I can’t really say what it is that most of them do wrong by gender. There’s bad prose, way too many zombies, predictable plots, and a lot of same old stuff. 

On the flip side, I find that authors who read more broadly tend to have something different in their stories and that appeals to me. Broadly can be stretched to include reading or being influenced by authors I haven’t. (This partially explains my interest in works from other parts of the world.) I’ve been reading SF for forty years. Loved Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov, etc., but I feel like SF is supposed to move forward and build upon what came before. Some people are very nostalgic for that era/style and I get the appeal, but it’s generally not what I’m looking for at Clarkesworld. There are other publications that fall more in line with those stories and that’s one of the nice things about the short fiction market at the moment… a lot of variety if you know where to look.

What I take from this, despite his not analyzing the breakdown of why stories fail through submissions by gender, is that men are more prone to submit stories which don’t fit with Clarkesworld’s style of science fiction, and submit them anyway just hoping they make it in a crap shoot. It would be very interesting to see what the percentages are of the make ups here and how that works, but it’s a lot of data points to drill into this at that level, and it would probably take more resources than this magazine has at its disposal.  Mr. Clarke also mentioned that he gets about 1,200 submissions per month – a crazy amount to go through considering they publish 6 to 8 stories per month, which means they do have to spend their time trying to get through as many submissions as fast as possible. Clarkesworld as a magazine has a reputation for having one of the quickest turnarounds in the industry too, so authors don’t waste as much time with their stories in the pile as they do in other outlets.

This provides great insight into this specific magazine, and my only conclusion is that Clarkesworld treats authors fairly, and is therefore a good outlet in the field. I’m extremely impressed with the information Mr. Clarke was willing to share to give a good insight into how his editorial team tackles stories. I’ve very much appreciated my discussion with him.

While I believe that Clarkesworld may have a slightly different interest in style than many of my military science-fiction and pulp-enthusiast readers, as a writer, it is good to get a breadth of reading so you don’t have a completely insular mindset as to what good fiction is. There is certainly room for SF more influenced by the Heinlein, Clarke and Asimov influenced crowd as there is for those of us more into Poul Anderson, Michael Moorcock and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Your mind draws upon what you read, and the more your read, the more tools you’ll have to be able to create.

With this data provided, and the honest answers I received to a very difficult question in such a politically charged climate, I made the decision to support Clarkesworld in their efforts and subscribe to the magazine. It’s rare to find anyone willing to dialogue these days to discuss fiction on a meta-level, and mosti importantly to treat me fairly in doing so, and I believe that’s something that should be encouraged so we can all enjoy science fiction together.

If you want to join me in this, which I am recommending for my readers, you can subscribe to Clarkesworld here:

http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/subscribe/
or support them on their Patreon which is here:

https://www.patreon.com/clarkesworld

 

 

6 thoughts on “Clarkesworld On Story Submissions and Acceptances

    • I had an author give me some of that info who regularly submits and uses that site, who was helping out on the first post. Has to be anonymous for that person’s protection as association with me at this juncture could lead to blackball.

      • I use that site daily and have no earthly idea how to suss out gender information. That’s not information they even collect. They’ll publish your name when you get an acceptance, if you opt in to that, but I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to get a breakdown of male and female submitters from the raw data.

        Also, the people who use the Grinder are a small percentage of people who actually submit, and it may skew one way or the other, so I’m not sure it’s useful data anyway.

  1. This fits with what Clarke has said before. Can’t find the post now, but he mentioned at one point that he’d asked a bunch of submitters to cite their literary influences, and that male writers tended to cite the same people that he (Clarke) was familiar with–Asimov, Bradbury, Arthur Clarke, etc.–and was sick to death of, whereas women were more likely to cite influences that Clarke was less familiar with.

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