Underground Reading: Fade to Blonde by Max Phillips
Friday Five: 10 books that should win the Hugo Awards (but probably won't)

The Kitschies: 2012 Submissions by the Numbers

We've received a record number of submissions for The Kitschies for 2012, both in volume of books and number of publishers and imprints sending books to us. We're pleased as (rum) punch, as the award has continued to grow from year to year.

The first year of The Kitschies, Anne and I went through a shade under 70 books. This year, the two judging panels - Patrick Ness, Rebecca Levene and I for the literary side, Lauren O'Farrell, Gary Northfield and Ed Warren on the cover art - have been discussing more than two hundred entries.

Math is fun, so I've taken the liberty of putting together a few charts:

All definitions are both subjective (I'm not going to argue what's fantasy vs what's SF here) and non-exclusive - if a werewolf superhero snogs a post-apocalyptic vampire on a scary spaceship, it'll tick a lot of boxes.

Before I get into my own superficial conclusions, it is important to note that I'm not claiming that our submissions are indicative of anything besides our submissions. But, at 200+ books, selected by the publishers (and occasionally prompted by the judges), there's possibly some sort of loose/anecdotal correlation with the year's genre output as a whole. 

  • There's a shocking lack of fiction in translation - statistically, a UK genre title is twice as likely to have a zombie than be first published in a non-English language. Sadly, I suspect this is probably true across the genre, and not just in our submissions pile. 
  • Vampires and zombies are still going strong.
  • Steampunk's not going away either.
  • Quite a few people predicted that angels and demons would be popular in 2012 (yup) and that superheroes and werewolves would be on the rise in 2013 (we'll see).
  • As the award ages, we're now in a position where previous finalists (and winners) now have new books submitted. This year, we had six (plus two others with re-jacketed old books submitted for the Inky).
  • "Mid-series" is also an interesting one, encompassing both outright, "picks up after the cliffhanger ending" sequels and self-contained novels that are set in existing worlds. How to judge a mid-series book seems a uniquely genre challenge: George RR Martin's latest installment in A Song of Ice and Fire is an inevitable Hugo finalist, whereas "lit-fic" prizes deal with, at most, the occasional sequel (see: Hilary Mantel).  
  • There was some discussion earlier this year about a self-publishing "avalanche" overwhelming the submissions piles of all book awards. Even with our liberal submissions policy - no fee, only two physical copies required - we only received seven self-published books. (Requiring physical copies, which can even take the form of stapled print-outs, isn't meant to be a barrier, as not all of our judges have e-readers.) 

On to more meaningful statistics, here's a look at how this year's submissions split up by the gender of the author:


The '?' category covers books that have multiple authors (male and female) and authors that have both pseudonyms and gender-evasive bios. 

57 of 211 is 27%. Basically, this sucks. 

How reflective this is of the genre as a whole - or even how The Kitschies' submissions pool compares to other genre awards - I'm simply not sure. It also doesn't matter. Even if the industry sucks, this is an award consciously intended not to celebrate the status quo. Saying "that's genre" isn't good enough.

It is especially worrying as we're an award that actively seeks the progressive as one of our three key criteria. Our numbers are also boosted by the fact that we're encourage submissions from to all aspects of science fiction, fantasy and horror - including young adult, an area with more female authors. 

For what it's worth, there has been some improvement over time:


(2009 records don't exist, as the award didn't have a formal submissions process as the time.) 

The number of books by female authors has grown year by year, both in absolute terms and in percentages (from 17% to 22% to 27%). But, as noted above, 27% sucks. 

If there's a silver lining, it is this:


There's better gender balance when it comes to debut authors and, in 2012, we actually received more debut novels by female authors than male.

Partially, this is from the growth of the genres noted above - especially young adult. And A Monster Calls winning the Red Tentacle for 2011 also put The Kitschies on the radar of young adult publishers, many of whom submitted in 2012 for the first time. Those caveats aside, the gender split of debut authors is nothing but good news, especially since the overall quality of the 2012 debut authors was absolutely outstanding.

This is just a first poke at the data, as well as a few of my own personal conclusions. The Kitschies have a board meeting in a few weeks, and I'll be gleefully dumping the whole thing on their lap. What's under-represented? What's over-represented? What can we do? What should we do? How's this compare to what they see in their roles as writers, editors, marketers and agents? Next year is our fifth anniversary, and we've got some big schemes for growing further, but it is important to get the essentials right.

My personal sweeping conclusion? I think we're a pretty solid sample of genre literature - possibly, since we include literary and YA publishers - more solid than many other awards. The traditional core of genre tends to disdain "trends" like YA, steampunk, romance and the undead, but they're not going anywhere, and pretending they're not a part of geek culture is just burying one's head in the sand. Similarly, the lack of female authors and work in translation is a huge problem. But the goal of The Kitschies is to "elevate the tone of the conversation", and that won't happen if we're just saying the same things over and over again. We need to encourage new voices (which may be happening, if you look at the debut category), but we also need to make sure they're welcome when they speak.

All frilly, aspirational stuff, but we're all fans of the "literature of the imagination", remember? If we can't picture a more diverse geek culture, who can?