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The first time I was invited to be Author Guest of Honor at a convention, it felt like I’d leveled up. I was thrilled and excited and — truth be told — more than a little intimidated. (It didn’t help that the prior year’s GoH had been bestselling author Brandon Sanderson.)

I’ve done a number of Guest of Honor gigs since then, and as a general rule, it’s a wonderful experience. There’s a fair amount of work, but you also get to meet a lot of great people. There’s also the sales and publicity boost that comes with it. I don’t know how much of a sales spike a GoH spot can create, but between books sold at the convention and the long-term effect of fans who might decide to buy more of your stuff in the future, it certainly doesn’t hurt.

But who actually gets those shiny Author Guest of Honor invitations? I decided to try to pull actual data to see if there were any trends or patterns.

I started with Wikipedia’s list of SF/F conventions. I filtered out the media and comic cons, because I wanted SF/F conventions with at least some significant literary focus. From the remaining 69 conventions, I built a list of all author guests of honor from 2015. If a convention wasn’t held in 2015, I used their scheduled GoH for 2016. If there was no con in 2015 and nothing planned for 2016, I removed it from the list.

Author Guests of Honor, by Gender

I gathered data on author gender from the authors’ websites, Wikipedia, convention listings, and other online sources. To the best of my knowledge, all authors listed identify as either male or female.

Of the 102 Author Guest of Honor slots, 52 were male and 50 were female.

Pie Chart - 2015 Guests of Honor, by Gender

This balance is great to see. I’d be interested in seeing longer-term trends over the past decade or two, but that’s a much more ambitious project, and I’m not sure how much of the data are publicly available.

This is encouraging, but does it mean we’ve solved sexism in SF/F? Obviously not. This is one measure among many. We still struggle with harassment, gender inequality in who gets reviewed and promoted, and a host of other issues. I also worry that we’ll see something like what happened with the Hugos this year, where a trend toward gender balance was abruptly reversed following pushback and backlash.

But this is very much a positive and encouraging sign, one I hope to see continue in the future.

Author Guests of Honor, by Race

Next, I categorized the guests of honor by race in order to see how we were doing in terms of racial diversity. This again involved referring to author websites, Wikipedia, and other online sources. For the sake of simplicity, I broke the data down into two categories: White and PoC (people of color).

92 of the 102 author guests of honor were white.

Pie Chart - 2015 Guests of Honor, by Race

This was disappointing, to say the least. Don’t give me that bullshit about how PoC don’t write speculative fiction, either. That’s as ignorant and wrong as saying they don’t read it.

Here are just a few of the authors who aren’t on that list of GoHs:

Yet I’m on the spreadsheet three times.

And people wonder why PoC don’t always feel welcome or wanted at conventions. Not to mention all the fans who are getting cheated out of the opportunity to meet a more diverse range of authors, and read a broader range of stories.

We can do better. We should do better.

Survey Weaknesses

No survey is perfect. Here are some of the flaws I’m aware of. I don’t think they invalidate the points I’ve made, but they’re important to acknowledge.

  • This doesn’t include all SF/F conventions. I used Wikipedia’s list as a starting point so my own knowledge and biases wouldn’t affect the results.
  • Gender and racial identification may not be 100% accurate. If I’ve misidentified you, please let me know so I can correct that.
  • A data pool of 69 conventions and 103 guest of honor spots is pretty good, but a broader and longer-term study would have been even better.
  • 56 of the 69 conventions listed are in the USA, with 4 more from Canada. So the data is heavily skewed toward the U.S. and North America.

Disclaimer

This is not meant to criticize any individual convention. My frustration is with the trend as a whole. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with inviting John Scalzi or S. M. Stirling or David Weber or Jim C. Hines to be your author guest of honor. The problem is when conventions as a group stop looking beyond a narrow pool of potential guests, and when fandom focuses on honoring white authors to the exclusion of others.

My thanks to Tobias Buckell for double-checking my data. Any mistakes are mine and mine alone.

Raw Data

Here’s the Excel spreadsheet with my data, including author and convention names. Please contact me with any mistakes so I can correct them.

Edited to remove one non-GoH from Balticon, fix the 2015 Arisia GoH, and correct two data-entry typos in the gender category.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Comments

( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
shadesong
Aug. 14th, 2015 03:17 pm (UTC)
(Psst: N.K. Jemisin was Arisia's 2015 GoH.)
jimhines
Aug. 14th, 2015 03:52 pm (UTC)
Yep! I'd pulled the 2016 guest by mistake on that one.

Should be fixed now, thanks!
ironed_orchid
Aug. 15th, 2015 12:05 pm (UTC)
She was also GOH at Continuum in 2013, and at Wiscon in 2014.

Nisi Shawl was GOH at Wiscon in 2011, which was the one drama over Elizabeth Moon being an invited GOH.
beccastareyes
Aug. 14th, 2015 03:49 pm (UTC)
Of course, I wonder what the ideal would be. We know to aim for 50-50 because that is the gender split in the general population.

The US census tells me that in the USA, whites make up 72% of the population, leaving 28% for people of color (including multiracial folks). Currently your graph shows 10% of people of color, so less than 1/3 of what we'd expect.

I'm not sure that the US demographics are the correct model: the US is not the only source of authors, even in the English-language publishing world. But it strikes me as a good goal to have: 1/4 to 1/3 of GoH who don't ID as white alone, rather than 1/10.
jimhines
Aug. 14th, 2015 03:53 pm (UTC)
It's hard to know for certain, and it's not like anyone is trying to set up quotas. But it's pretty clear there's some significant overrepresentation of white authors.

Edited at 2015-08-14 03:53 pm (UTC)
beccastareyes
Aug. 14th, 2015 03:59 pm (UTC)
Yeah. Quotas would be the kludgiest way to solve the problem, but I like knowing what a representative set of data would look like to short-circuit people arguing that 10% is totally representative of what SF fandom should be, because insert-stupid-arguement-about-how-SF-is-a-white-person's-genre.

(Heck, some of the reason I looked it up was because I honestly didn't know how white America was or was not. (Some of that is because it varies so much from place to place.)
gehayi
Aug. 14th, 2015 04:08 pm (UTC)
Whites seem to have been overrepresented in the past. I'd like a convention or two to just have black, Latino, Asian, Middle Eastern, Native American/First Nations, Pacific Islander, etc. writers as guests. There needs to be a lot more diversity. (It would also be great if there was intersectional diversity, so that some of the POC writers were women, disabled, QUILTBAG, etc.)
jkusters
Aug. 14th, 2015 07:32 pm (UTC)
The con I work on (FOGcon in Walnut Creek, CA) isn't on that list on Wikipedia (yet), but I know there's been thought in our GoH selection towards greater diversity. I know our panelists are fairly diverse across multiple axes. I think we can do better, of course, but it's always something we should keep in mind since it's so easy to overlook. Thanks for the data to chew on.
klwilliams
Aug. 16th, 2015 07:17 pm (UTC)
I was delighted to see that the 2016 guests for FogCon are Jo Walton, Ted Chiang, and Donna Haraway. I've been a Ted Chiang fangirl since I read his first published story. Jo Walton is amazing as well (I just devoured her Small Change books), and Donna Haraway looks like she's very interesting as well. I'm really looking forward to it.
jkusters
Aug. 17th, 2015 03:46 am (UTC)
Yay! Happy to hear that! :-)
rj_anderson
Aug. 14th, 2015 09:16 pm (UTC)
I find it kind of hilarious that you left off Continuum, seeing as you were their GoH last year. :D
jimhines
Aug. 14th, 2015 09:20 pm (UTC)
They weren't on the Wikipedia list. Which surprises me, actually...
ariaflame
Aug. 15th, 2015 05:30 am (UTC)
Given that it was N.K. Jemisin's speech at a previous one (Continuum 9) that set off a whole heap of stuff. But it is, let's face it, still a small convention in terms of people. But we did enjoy having you as a guest. And Ambelyn Kwaymullina.
ironed_orchid
Aug. 15th, 2015 12:09 pm (UTC)
Samuel Delany and Nalo Hopkinson have both been GOH at Readercon.

Apparently wikipedia's list of sf cons does not include most of the ones I go to...
dogzilla30
Aug. 15th, 2015 03:25 pm (UTC)
I think it's great you wonder about such things and then started to pull data together. Gathering data is NOT my thing but telling the story with it is.
scarlettina
Aug. 15th, 2015 03:30 pm (UTC)
This is great work, Jim. You always bring so much to the table. In this scientifically-minded community, where data matters almost as much as emotion (I think we all know it's true because, well, human), this is a terrific reference to have and a great way to inform the conversations that are going on.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )

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