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.
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.
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:
- World Fantasy Award winner Nnedi Okorafor
- NAACP Image Award winners Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due
- Nebula award winner Aliette de Bodard
- SFWA Grandmaster Samuel R. Delany
- Campbell, Locus, and World Fantasy winner Nalo Hopkinson
- Nebula, Hugo, and Locus winner Ted Chiang
- Norton and Mythopoeic Award finalist Malinda Lo
- Tiptree Award winner Nisi Shawl
- University of Alberta Writer in Residence Minister Faust
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.
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.
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.
Edited to remove one non-GoH from Balticon, fix the 2015 Arisia GoH, and correct two data-entry typos in the gender category.