Through October and November 2016, FIYAH hosted a survey on our website, inviting Black writers of speculative fiction to share their habits and experiences while on submission to short fiction markets for the preceding 12 months. This provided a 13 month window during which 55 writers responded. It is worth noting that we can confirm the existence of at least 107 individual Black SFF writers, when combining the respondents to the survey and unique writers who have submitted work to the first two issues of FIYAH. So our sample is, at best, representative of just over 50% of our target demographic.
All writer-side data is self-reported and can be incomplete. Participation may have been limited by a number of factors including but not limited to awareness of the survey, desire to complete it, and failure to meet the stated requirements. Writers:
- must have submitted at least one piece of short speculative fiction to a paying market in the last 12 months. Speculative fiction includes fantasy, science fiction, horror, paranormal and all of their included subgenres. “Short” fiction includes shorts, novelettes, and novellas (under 40,000 words).
- must identify as Black or of the African Diaspora (to include mixed/biracial)
We do hope to increase the participation in future surveys by increasing the confidence Black writers have in submitting work regularly.
The study does not include sales that were made outside the survey window but published within it. For example, P. Djeli Clark’s A Dead Djinn in Cairo was published by Tor.com in May of 2016. The sale of the work, however, occurred before October 2015 and thus did not meet the parameters to be included in this survey. As such, this data should not be presumed to reflect the number of stories to appear in publications between October 2015 and November 2016.
Name: We collected the names of each participant to gauge any correlation between rejections or publication frequency and the “Blackness” or visibly ethnic nature of the writer’s name. The data provided indicated no correlation.
Country: The countries of residence for each participant were collected to gauge any potential bias against western/non-western voices. Respondents hailed from nine countries, not limited to Western nations, the Caribbean islands, and the African continent.
With what derivation of ‘Black’ do you personally identify?: Diaspora has created many different terms for Black identity, so we asked participants how they referred to themselves organically without structured pre-selection or multiple choice options. Over half of participants globally identified as “Black,” while 50% of U.S. respondents added that they also consider themselves “African-” or “Black American.” Mixed or multi-racial identifiers varied in expression as “mixed”, “biracial (specified)”, or with “Afro-” appended ethno-nationalities (“Afro-Asian American,” etc.).
Have you ever been published in a paying short fiction market?: 35 of the 55 respondents stated that they have been previously published. Those previously published submitted on average 5.6 stories, while those still seeking first sales averaged 4.1 stories.
Do you self-identify racially/ethnically in your submissions?: This question was asked to establish any correlation between self-identifying and rejection/acceptance rates. Only 16.4% of all participants felt it was either awkward or inappropriate to self-identify in submissions. 77% of previously published participants stated that they either always self-identified, or would if the market requested it/when submitting to a “diversity” issue of a publication.
Where do you find your markets?: Participants were provided a selection of methods including word of mouth, submission portals (The Grinder, Ralan, Duotrope), author blogs, conferences, and “Other” (ie social media) and invited to select all the ways in which they find their markets. The majority of participants stated that they found their markets primarily through Word of Mouth (65%), The Grinder (58%), and social media (40%).
In the last 12 months, how many *different* stories have you submitted to paying short fiction markets?: Participants submitted an average of 5 unique stories to markets between October 2015 and November 2016. 374 total submissions were made in this time including those stories with submissions to more than one market. A total of 279 unique stories were submitted, out of which 48 (17%) were published.
Have you submitted work with more, less, or about the same frequency in the last 12 months as in other years?: We wanted to know if the number of stories submitted in the designated period was typical. 60% of participants marked an uptick in their usual submission frequency during the assigned period. It is worth noting that 2016 saw two significant diversity in publishing studies released, beginning in January with children’s literature publisher Lee & Low’s Diversity Baseline Survey, and then Fireside Fiction Co.’s #BlackSpecFic report in July. Both studies examined systemic bias in various aspects of publishing, and the publicity they received undoubtedly had an impact on Black writers on submission during that time.
Has the publishing of statistics showing bias against black writers had an impact on your continued submission efforts? We wanted to gauge the psychological impact of Black writers reading reports revealing the apparent bias against them in publishing. 22 participants stated that reading these reports discouraged their submissions, while 25 said these reports had no impact on them. 5 of the participants stated they did not read the reports. 3 felt encouraged. Combined with the relative frequency submission question above, we can see that the discouragement did not always translate into abstaining or decreasing the participants’ submission numbers.
Submitted Markets: We provided participants a list of 62 markets using the list provided in Fireside Fiction’s #BlackSpecFic report, and allowed respondents additional space to write in unlisted markets to which they submitted work during the sample period. This generated a list of 105 sampled markets. 23 of the original list received no submissions from our participating writers.
Of your submissions in the last 12 months, how many markets resulted in sales?: 48 stories were sold to 33 markets.
Average pay level of sales: For the purposes of this survey, we categorized PRO markets as those paying >$.06/word per SFWA guidelines. SEMI-PRO markets were those paying between <$.06/word but at least $.01/word. All markets paying a flat rate <$50 or <$.01/word were categorized as TOKEN markets. Respondents were published most frequently in PRO (36%) or TOKEN (39%) paying markets.
Reasons cited for rejection: Outside of form rejections, we provided space for those who received personalized rejections to tell us why they were told they were being rejected. Of the personalized rejections, the majority received messages that included verbiage citing mechanics (pacing, polish, structure) or that stories were well-written, well-liked, but “not for me.” At least one writer received a response that a market “already had a Black writer.”
Is there anything else you would like us to know about your experience on submission? We allowed participants space to vent or expound on their experiences on submission in case we neglected a part of the study that was important to them. You can read the summation of these anecdotes (free of the participants’ identifying information) in our Forward Movement piece.