This is the third year that Fireside has published #BlackSpecFic Report, and while things seem to be trending in a positive trajectory, we still have a long way to go before the short fiction field in genre publishing resembles anything close to broadly inclusive. Three years in, we can start to identify trends. What has become obvious is that the markets that are interested in doing this work are showing results, and the ones that are not are still publishing few or no Black authors.
As I mentioned in my publisher’s essay last year, the work is hard, but it needs doing—and in a concrete and measurable way. With that in mind, last year I set out what felt like an ambitious but reasonable goal for Fireside in 2017: to have the percentage of stories by Black authors that Fireside Magazine publishes be proportionate to the percent of Black people in the US population, which stands at around 13% according to the latest Census data. As you can see in this year’s report, achieved that goal and more, coming in at 22%.
This kind of growth takes work, and commitment on the part of publishers and editors. In our case, I outlined a couple of things Fireside would do: review and revise our submissions guidelines in order to make them more welcoming and inclusive, and personally reaching out to Black writers groups. We did those things, and continue to do them—in fact, we recently revised and streamlined our submissions guidelines for a second time. We removed all sorts of exclusionary language from them, and also got rid of specific prohibitions (it turns out that the jerks who are going to send us objectionable stories are still going to do that, and authors working in good faith might be discouraged).
Here are some of the other things that we’re doing: we reach out to communities of underrepresented voices. Receiving submissions is the first step, but building a relationship and trust with marginalized community members takes more work. We try to consistently and proactively reach out to Black (and other marginalized) authors, sometimes by sending personal responses to submissions when we can, sometimes by actively soliciting work from individual writers whose work we admire, and sometimes by working with writers to revise stories we think are close, but not quite working for us when they first come in. All of this work leads to publishing more marginalized voices, which, in turn, shows marginalized community members that we value them and want to include them in our worldview.
So what’s next? We’ve worked hard on this in 2018, too, and we believe next year’s report will show that, but this work doesn’t have a final goal—it’s an ongoing practice. We’re constantly striving to improve, and we have our work cut out for us.
While we know that the problem of Black representation in the genre fiction market is particularly egregious, it’s not the only place where we need to improve. As other markets get with the program and improve their #BlackSpecFic numbers, and magazines like FIYAH rise in prominence (I see you on that Hugo long list, friends—much respect!), Fireside needs to widen its focus to live up to our values of inclusivity and representation, not just for Black authors, but for all marginalized people. There are places where we do better than others, here, but there’s definitely room for improvement. For instance, it’s pretty egregious that a publication with a Puerto Rican publisher and a Mexican-American editor has such a meager Latinx presence in its fiction mix; we could be doing more to reach out to the disabled author community; and holy smokes are we falling down on indigenous peoples rep—as is absolutely everybody else in the field1.
So this next year will see Fireside broaden its scope in this area. We will continue to work hard at consistent Black representation in our stories and our artwork, and we will also focus on bringing in an even wider gamut of voices. The result will make Fireside a better magazine for everyone.
Even though Rebecca Roanhorse swept the awards she was nominated for this year. ↩
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