I’ve been thinking a good bit about how what we write, publish, edit, and read reflects how we think about the world. Over the weekend, I read Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren F. Klein’s Data Feminism (which will be “soon” be available open access here). They include in an appendix some statistics on how well their work fulfilled their goals of producing a diverse perspective on data science in keeping with the central theme of their work. They admit that in many cases they fell short of their goals, but this transparency allowed the authors to show their aspirations and come to terms with the limits of their field, their research, and their writing. I was deeply impressed.
I’ve been trying to do a similar thing with each issue of North Dakota Quarterly. We receive thousands of submissions each year and accept far less than 10% of them. This means that our editors exert a significant influence over the shape and character of the issue. At the same time, the world of creative writing and little magazines is a small one, and our contributors influence our readers and ultimately who submits to the Quarterly. In other words, what we publish exerts an influence on who submits and our pool of potential contributors.
Anyway, here’s what I posted today over on the NDQ blog:
We’ve been thrilled to see that North Dakota Quarterly 87.1/2 has been downloaded over 770 times over the last few weeks! We hope that some of those downloaders like what they read and will consider becoming contributors, subscribers, or at very least regular visitors to our blog.
If you want to download our most recent issue, go here. No strings attached!
In the tradition of little magazines, our contributors tend to subscribe and our subscribers tend to contribute. This reciprocal relationship ensures that the Quarterly reflects our readers and gives our authors and editors an opportunity to create the kind of magazine that they want to read. Each issue, then sits at the intersection of our editors’ and contributors’ tastes. It also means that as editors we can move the needle on the character of NDQ which we also hope attracts new readers and subscribers.
Recent conversation among academic authors concerning the impact of COVID-19 has given the relationship between readers and contributors in scholarly journals a new sense of urgency. According to reports from across disciplines, there’s been a steep decrease in the number of articles submitted by women to academic journals, or, alternately, there’s been a steep rise in the number of articles submitted by men. The argument is that with stay-at-home orders and the closing of most schools, women’s roles as care-givers in the family have increased, and this has cut into their research and writing time. Limited access to home work space, the increased burden of emotional labor as classes and colleagues deal with pandemic related stress, and the greater number of women who carry heavy teaching loads made all the heavier with the requirement to teach classes online likely also contributed to a decline in submission from women. The COVID-related social changes continue into the foreseeable future, the decline in submissions from women may have long-term significance especially if it’s multiplied by declining number of women who have the time to serve as peer-reviewers, participate actively on editorial boards, and other behind the scenes academic work that shapes the content and quality of scholarly journals.
Our submission data at NDQ can be a bit messy. For example, it’s not too unusual for authors to submit revised manuscripts resulting in multiple submissions by the same author over a period of time. Our poetry and non-fiction editors accept submissions over two designated reading periods per year meaning that some authors may hold their work and the date of submission may not represent the date of composition. Our poetry editor allows for up to 5 poems in a single submission which complicates acceptance rates, for example. Finally, each of our editors deals with their archive of submitted material differently.
Despite these vagaries, we can detect an uptick in submission since the start of the COVID period between March 15 and May 12, which was largely driven by a substantial increase in poetry submission. Fiction and non-fiction submissions appear to have remained relatively stable over the same period in 2019 and 2020.
Because of differences in archiving practices, our best data comes from our Fiction submissions that remained relatively stable in number between 2019 and 2020. Between March 15 and May 2, 2019, 60% of the submissions came from authors with male names and 33% came from authors with female names. Over that same period in 2020, 70% of the submissions came from authors with male names and 25% from authors with female names. This suggests, with a bit of fuzziness, that there are hints of the larger trend of women submitting less during the “Time of COVID-19.” Since we accept fiction, essays, and poetry often a year in advance of publication and because we sometimes accept more than we can publish in a single issue, we tend to blend material submitted over a long period of time. It may be that this will help mitigate the impact of any trend in submissions during the pandemic.
NDQ 87.1/2, our numbers reflect, to some extent, the character of our submissions. About 56% of our contributors have men’s names and 43% have women’s names. This more or less holds across all genres with the number of published pieces (poets often have more than one poem published) 53% by authors with men’s names and 47% from authors with women’s names.
While the gender of our author’s names don’t come close to telling the whole story concerning the content of any volume of NDQ, it does give us one perspective on who reads and submits to the Quarterly. We could add that we published material from authors who live in 26 states and 8 foreign countries. We don’t collect data on the age, race, or background of our authors.
It would be possible to perform a more subtle quantitative reading of the issue that could map topics, the gender, race, class, age, and ethnicity of characters, their sexual orientation, the identity of speakers, and other meaningful markers of diversity, but, at some point, the best way to understand the scope of our magazine and its contributors is to simply read an issue. I hope you’ll find something that speaks to you in it.
We also recognize, of course, that we still have work to do to create issues that reflect the diversity of creative voices in the world today.
We’re also offering a discount on subscriptions with the coupon code on this page.
We’re always reading fiction, and will continue to read essays and poetry at least until the end of the month (and maybe longer in response to the chaos and confusion of the COVID-19 pandemic). It’s always free to submit to the Quarterly.