Creating Better Magazines (and Anthologies)

A couple of weeks ago at Readercon I was on a panel called “The Future of Magazines.” Actually, I was on the second part of this panel focusing on online magazines since the premise aimed at pitting print and webzines against each other. Granted, when talking about new vs. old models of publishing the divide often does come in the form of print or online, but not always. In my summation I said that the real issue is not print or online, it’s that SF needs better magazines, period.

This ties into the latest iteration of “Oh My God there are no female authors in that anthology, and oh look no writers of color, either” that Arachne pointed to last week. There are more layers to what’s going on with the Mammoth book than just one editor’s massive fail. More than just his failure to find and include women (which he has already attempted to pass off as a matter of taste, the first fallback position of fail-prone editors). More than just his failure to include writers of color (which he has, as far as I know, not attempted to explain away). This anthology, like so many others, like so many magazines, is lacking several other less-obvious minorities: LGBT, non-American/Western European, differently-abled, just to name those that come to mind. Obviously I can’t say for sure that there aren’t any authors in the book that come from those groups, and the reason is that you can’t always tell by the name. But considering the lack of attention paid to the more obvious exclusions, I feel safe in betting that there’s a severe (but perhaps not total) lack of the others, too.

Before you start yelling at me about quotas and affirmative action, let me explain that I do not consider the above as some kind of checklist. Editors need not collect one of each like Pokemon or something. No one is advocating for editors to engage in tokenism. We blew past the point where tokenism was useful about 30 years ago — some genre editors must have missed that memo. What people are advocating for is a change in the way editors think, the way they make decisions, in the way they see their jobs. It is not merely a matter of taste, anymore. It’s a matter of not having a small mind or narrow vision.

The other week I wrote a post about Intersectionality. If you don’t know what that is, I suggest you go read. In that post I talk about how oppressions and prejudices do not occur in isolation, they are all connected, they all intersect. So too with this problem. Though the easiest exclusion to notice may have been gender, it’s not just gender Mike Ashley failed to take into account. What he failed to do was to be a better reader. He failed to recognize the value of stories that do not cater to his point of view, his values, his comfort zones. He failed to make a better anthology.

He is not unique. Many editors fail to make better anthologies or better magazines. And this is why many online magazines and many indie press print zines are simply better. The editors of these markets recognize that the demographic for speculative fiction is not narrow. That the present and the future of the genre and the community is not just heterosexual, able-bodied, upper or middle-class American or British white males. The future of SF is made up of women and people of color, and people of various cultures and classes, and LGBT folks, and non-Americans and non-Western nationalities (China, India, the Philippines, to name just three).

Editors who understand this truth also better understand that broadening one’s perspective, one’s taste and one’s goals to seek out and encourage fiction from these quarters is not to fill out a set of quotas. If you do it right, you won’t need to. Intersectionality is not just some theory we use in activism, it’s a reality. Writers’ identities intersect on many levels (I am not just black, but also a bisexual woman, to name three). Those intersections, those aspects of who they are, how they were brought up, where, when, etc., affect not only what kind of person they are, but what kind of writer they are, and then, obviously, what kind of fiction they create. And when these aspects of themselves do not match up with the assumed default/correct way of being, writers either have to write to the “mainstream” ideal or choose not to.

Writers that choose not to are then faced with finding editors who aren’t invested in the idea that the “best” stories are ones that cater to the supposed default/correct view. This isn’t always easy to do. Mainly because so many editors haven’t even taken the time to examine in themselves whether they are operating under this idea by default. If they haven’t considered it, if they haven’t taken the time to examine their own privilege and the way culture shapes them (from how they think of themselves to how all this affects the way they imbibe media), then they are more likely to consider stories keyed toward white heterosexual males as “better.”

The magazines and anthologies that I love tend to have editors who have taken the time to examine themselves or their culture, to expend their knowledge of other people and ways of being, to open their minds. These magazines and anthologies contain far more stories I want to read by authors of many varied backgrounds. As I said, it’s not fully about print vs. online, it’s about better magazines and books.

The solution here is straightforward, though not simple or easy. Editors have to change their minds, change themselves. Of course there will always be bad stories in the slush, or stories they just plain don’t like, or stories that don’t fit their themes or editorial scope. These stories will be written by all kinds of writers from every race, gender, sexual orientation, class, physical ability, and so on. This has always been the case, will always be the case. But it doesn’t take a seer to predict that with more awareness and a more open mind, editors will be less likely to dismiss, even unconsciously, fiction that is good but isn’t only about white heterosexual male concerns.

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