Edward Lear
At the end of the last blog, I asked why more women and POC don’t submit to markets that will get them on the Locus Reading List. Everyone is limited by barriers and opportunity costs. Check Ursula LeGuin’s website for her rejection letter on Left Hand of Darkness, for example. Even though the editor notes that she writes well, he thinks the novel is too complex and contains “extraneous” material. For anyone out of touch, the book was groundbreaking. It features an investigation of androgyny and went on to win both the Nebula and the Hugo Awards for best novel in 1970. However, LeGuin had trouble selling it. So, what barriers do similar women and POC face when looking at the SFF market?

Likelihood of success The first big question a writer makes is whether to spend the time slaving over something that possibly no one will publish. Women often have more responsibilities than men, being the primary care givers for their children (or others), managing a household and holding down a job. They have to balance this against what they really want to do.

Economics: Reality dictates that writers can’t afford to waste time on stories that no one will publish. If women feel driven to write, they tend to avoid the risks of heavily male-dominated genres like SF and stick to fantasy, romance and young adult where they’re likely to find willing publishers and fans looking for what they write.

Education: POC may come from disadvantaged backgrounds and attend schools that don’t provide much in the way of an education on how to write anything, much less fiction. Writing workshops are expensive. Of course, some people have an innate talent and overcome lack of education regardless, but still this can have a significant effect on an individual’s willingness to try for a career as a professional writer. If there’s going to be a steep learning curve, then it’s likely a poor economic choice.

Worldview: Another barrier concerns the worldview that will be expressed in the works. Recently I featured comments by writers of color who complained about having to write in stereotypes and stick to the dominant cultural expectations for stories. One even noted that she always wrote about white characters. This works the same way for women who are writing in a male-dominated genre. Publishers and fans have expectations about characters, tropes, topics, plot, development and theme, and if the story doesn’t meet these expectations for some reason, then the writers are wasting their time. See LeGuin’s rejection slip above.

Recent changes in the market have opened the way for small publishers of online magazines and e-books, and there’s always self-publishing. These have somewhat leveled the field, opening up opportunities for both women and minorities. I especially notice an explosion of work from LGBTQ writers. This, plus the active effort of many markets to attract minority writers seems to be having an effect. The stats show more women and POC are submitting and more of their work is being published. The Nebula Award looks to be fairly diverse, however this is accomplished. Still, women and minorities have a long way to go before they have equal opportunity.