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Criticism, Publishing, Ruminations, The Writer's Life, Writings

VIDA Count Update

I’m more than half done with my survey in response to the VIDA Count. I am tallying the editorial staffs at nearly 300 literary journals to determine the percentages of men and women.

My admittedly unscientific survey is being done in response to VIDA’s unadmittedly unscientific survey, which selected a dozen or so prestigious magazines and reported the percentages of men published versus women published, with stories and articles by men significantly outpacing those by women.

Reading their post, one can’t help but get the feeling their small sampling of the publishing industry is intended to represent the whole, and more important, that their rather random results confirm gender bias in the publishing industry.

Such an approach is often employed by special interests—one or a few examples are held up as universal truth. Statistically speaking, that approach is invalid.

In the worst cases of statistical abuse, the hoped-for result of a survey is decided before the work is undertaken. This leads to a selection of sources that tend to confirm the hypothesis. I sincerely hope that is not the case with the VIDA count.

If the women at VIDA really want to make a valid statement about the publishing industry, they will have to go much more in depth. As many have pointed out, the percentage of men or women published may be related to the percentages of men and women who submit. And who gets published might, just might, have something to do with the quality and value of the work (at least that’s what the journals and magazines claim in their editorial practices).

For my count, I seek statistics on the gender percentages on literary journal staffs. These are the people who determine who gets published from the submissions they receive. See my previous post for the methods used to determine the count.

Oh yes, the update.

More than 150 journals have been surveyed, with total staff counted at 1255. This includes large journals with staffs of 20-30, and small journals that are run by one person.

Senior staff = 529; women = 279 or 52.7%; men = 250 or 47.3%

Other staff = 726; women = 462 or 63.6%; men = 264 or 36.4%

Total staff = 1255; women = 741 or 59.0%; men = 514 or 41.0%

Another 100+ journals to count. Give me a week or so to finish and I’ll have a few theories for you.


About Joe Ponepinto

Co-publisher, with Kelly Davio, of Tahoma Literary Review. Author of "Curtain Calls," a featured Kirkus Review. Married to Dona. Dad to Henry, the coffee-drinkin' dog.


5 thoughts on “VIDA Count Update

  1. So while I was writing my response to all of this I felt really sick. Like I didn’t even want to go there. Because I begin to see how none of this matters. I begin to feel like thinking about all of this just opens the doorway to other things and other things and none, none of which is important to the work. So as much as I hated having this conversation, it helped me realize what I am about. And while I used to be about social issues and justice and equality and etc… Now I am just about the work. About being a writer and all that it entails. I hate talking about gender. In so many ways it’s just irrelevant.

    Posted by moondaria | March 8, 2011, 6:00 PM
    • Gwen, you are so right. It is, and should be, all about the work. And yet, at the end of the working day, the conversation about gender in publishing needs to be held, because it matters to so many people, and because there are many misconceptions about the state of the industry.

      Is there prejudice in publishing? Probably not conscious prejudice, but certainly there are editorial preferences based on upbringing and culture, which includes gender bias. And there is most likely a vestige of the “good ol’ boy” network left over from when publishing was a male-dominated industry in a male-dominated culture, which is probably a contributing factor to the number of men on major magazine editorial staffs. My unofficial count so far shows that is changing, but can the fact that there are more women than men in publishing overcome the inherent gender bias in some male (and female) editors’ minds?

      Stay tuned.

      Posted by jpon | March 8, 2011, 8:40 PM
      • Sorry to seer there has been no follow-up. The statement, “editorial preferences based on upbringing and culture, which includes gender bias” is most certainly true, especially if one looks at websites etc. for various literary journals with prestigious prizes. The dominating aesthetic is feminine, with several journals awarding upwards of 70% of their honors to women, year after year after year. These are “blind” entries, so what is at work has to be a mentality that after a generation of MFA programs enthralled to affirmative action English programs makes fiction and poetry less about art than about political leverage–the much awarded become the much published who become the much hired. All one needs to do is run one’s eye down the list of honorees. One can you expect when there is an academic industry that pronounces 25-year-old attendees “masters” and contest after journal proudly states they are in pursuit of “emerging writers” — a euphemism for the untried, uncertain, and unremarkable,

        Posted by perrier | July 19, 2013, 4:32 PM
      • I see you’ve noticed the same trends in the literary world that I have. And I’ve found it virtually impossible to break through this new glass ceiling, where male white preference has been replaced by the aesthetic you described so well in your comment. But of course, as a white male, I can’t possibly complain when my stories and books are rejected those 25-year-olds, because that would be sexism/racism or some other ism that happens to be handy.

        Posted by jpon | July 19, 2013, 5:24 PM
    • Bravo

      Posted by perrier | July 19, 2013, 4:23 PM

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