Neil Clarke’s SF/F writer demographics

I am one of the 944 writers who voluntarily participated in a survey Neil Clarke (editor of Clarkesworld) is in the process of taking. He won’t release the full information for another week or so (which I can’t wait to see), but a few days back he gave some demographic numbers.

These are spare bits, but interesting nonetheless.

Interesting because it’s answering questions like: How many people write SF/F? Like: what is their gender? And like: how old are these folks?

Here’s the simple raw data.

And here’s my overview …

How many?

First, the fact that the survey included 944 writers–a boggling number, perhaps. And that 81% of those 944 writers responded that they were traditionally published. That means there were something in the range of 750 writers in this pool who self-report having been published in a traditional market someplace. If we take this at face value, and also assume this 944 total writers is (1) not the complete set of SF/F writers, and (2) these 944 writers are a representative sample of the whole of SF/F writers … well … it seems like this is a very productive era as far as creating folks who write speculative kinds of stuff.

What gender are these folks?

Bottom line: 53.8% male, 43.5% female, and 2.6% who identify as other.

First things first, the question still remains about whether this is a representative sample. My raw guess is that given the total number of respondents, it probably is. But one never really knows–especially given my little perch on the world. But a few things strike me when I see these numbers.

(1) The gap has probably closed considerably since the day I started seriously writing. I would have purely guessed it was more like 60/40, but the purely biological break-down is more in the area of 55/45. If I’m right, this represents what I consider positive progress. (I would put the numbers 25 years back to be more like 70/30).
(2) In a homogeneous world, the biological numbers “should” be more like 48/52. But the world is not homogeneous. I’m wondering if the discrepancy in STEM fields is bleeding over into these numbers a bit, and if the factors that combine to create that imbalance are working to do the same thing here. If that is the case, then these numbers could well mean that the environment that the SF/F world is built around is actually doing even better than the numbers might show.
(3) If these numbers are truly representative of the actual population of writers out there, then the various Puppy slates that created a ballot with so few female writers has come about with some form of very clear intervention that makes the distribution non-random. This is a question I started thinking about because of a post I read on Jim Hines’ Facebook page.
(4) Clearly, there is more progress to make, regardless.

All, right, how old are these writers?

The answer (64% are 30-50 years old, with the majority over 40) is unsurprising to me, but could perhaps be a shock to outsiders who consider SF/F to be the free range of the ultra-young. I often run into “adults” who consider the genre to be for the immature. Sigh. Anyway, I find the tails to be interesting, too, since they swing to the elder side, with 23% being over 50, and only about half that number having lived less than 30 years.

My personal thoughts here are:

(1) Yes, my daughter Brigid (who sold stories at barely 25) is pretty far ahead of the curve.
(2) Yes, being now 54, I’m getting perilously close to the 85th percentile. Crap.
(3) I’m struck here how ageism is the more silent “ism” of them all. It was rarely discussed in the corporate world I was involved in, and it’s not heavily discussed in the circles I’ve been around as far as SF/F writers are concerned. This data curve, however, is very different from those I saw in the corporate world–which skewed quite a bit younger. I think I like that (though maybe it’s because I’m moving more and more rapidly each day along the axis [grin]).

Share Me
Posted in Uncategorized.


  1. On the age thing, that goes along with what we’re seeing at SF cons. Not the big media conventions like San Diego Comic Con or the various Creation Inc. type cons focused on Star Trek or LOTR or whichever, or the anime cons or steampunk cons or furry cons and such, which have sprung up as their own conventions in the last decade or two, after having been part of the general SF conventions before. I mean the old-fashioned, fan-run SF cons that focus on written fiction.

    I don’t know if you go to many of those cons, but my observation is that they’re getting older. I’ll be 52 in a couple of months, and I’m one of the younger people at WorldCon when I go, or at BayCon, a regional I’ve been to every year since it started. The younger kids are more likely to go to those media cons, or to the anime etc. cons, because media is where the kind of SFF the kids are into shows up prominently on the program. It’s like Kris has said, that after the 70s, a lot of written SF got sort of grim, and despite SF taking over film and TV recently, literary SF hasn’t grown with it.

    Even kids raised at SF cons are heading across town to the media based conventions. A friend of mine worked almost as many BayCons as I did, frex., and her kids spent every BayCon weekend when they were small on a baby blanket behind the info desk, or gofering when they were older. Now, of her three kids, one doesn’t do conventions at all, and two go to the anime con that’s literally across town, in their costumes, selling their fan art. They have no interest in our little lit con. The anime con they go to is more than ten times our lit con’s size, too. It’s where you find the kids that weekend, while their grey-haired parents (and parents’ friends) are at BayCon.

    All that being the case, I’d actually be kind of surprised if the average age of people writing SF were under thirty, or even under forty.


  2. Yes, I think the “old” cons (especially those focused on the written word) are getting older, which makes sense, really. There are a lot of elements combining there to make that happen.

    But the large influx of electronic magazines (that did not exist in the 90s, and barely in the 2000s), does change the game a bit. Still, I’m not stunned by the age data here. The act of writing well is really quite difficult. There’s also an element of the fact that it’s still quite hard to make your living in the field, so younger people often need to work multiple jobs to make a writing career happen.

    It would be interesting to know how this chart has changed over the years (assuming, of course, that Clarke’s data is actually representative).

  3. I have LOADS of students who want to write or do write SF/F – but I think this survey in focusing on short fiction, is going to show what it shows, because the steps involved in going from writing for one’s self or at school, to actually sending one’s work for publication and knowing what Clarkesworld is, to filling out this survey – well, most people aren’t going to go to all those steps. It’s amazing so many people responded – that is a TON of people and mathematically that would represent pretty much every pro short fiction “slot” available for maybe the past 2 years. Obviously these folk are not the same as those responding to our survey – ‘ceptin you, Ron …

    NEED 14 more!!! This isn’t for an editorial it’s for “the future.” $300 from Clarkesworld or … freedom.

  4. Good thoughts as always, Amy. I think you’re under-estimating the number of pro slots available in the SF/F market for short fiction, though. By a lot–especially when you include the number of anthologies being published.

    The full demographics of any such survey are always in some question (where they came from, how they found the survey, what other elements of the diversity spectrum they sit in), but 900+ responders are a pretty robust number. Someday it would be interesting to design a better experiment.

  5. I can’t tell what the survey was looking for, Ron – unless it was just demographics outside of the Clarkesworld crew – more general short fiction stats.

    Once we start doing the reader market stuff it will be out of control. I’m going to write a series of articles about the writer market validation starting next week. This a.m., I looked at quite a few readership surveys and pretty much everything commercial is focused on reading DEVICES – like, what do you own, will you buy one, how much are you willing to pay, what do you want it to do type questions.

    Some individual writers have done surveys to try to assess impact and I guess, ROI on various promotional activities or superficial stuff like book covers. This is akin to “would you buy a RED iPad or a BLUE iPad.” Do you prefer the Apple symbol to be silver or embossed? Everything done by my compadre Peter Hildeck-Smith is of this nature because that’s what he can test and what he’s been paid to assess. I know he understands things much better but it’s still 100% focused on the existing book categories and “who’s bought what in the past.”

    Anyway we’re going to try to go about it a bit differently, and will do in-person groups and surveys here in So Cal as we’re able. And will respond accordingly to what we learn.

  6. PS – we were looking @ BookBub this a.m. and Scott popped up. I thought, isn’t that amazing that Ron, Scott and myself are all doing something a little bit similar.

    I thought “Ron is family-oriented with what he’s doing, Scott is SCOTT – the horror king and hard-charging self-sufficient guy, and me?”

    A fool rushes in where angels fear to tread.

  7. My guess at this point is that you’ll find there are distinct, but overlapping markets based on both presentation format and pricing levels. If true, this means your book/content/product performance in one sector will often be different than its performance in another (especially if your presentation and marketing presence isn’t consistent).

  8. Pingback: Clarke’s Data, Part II | Typosphere

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *