A survey about SFF fandom

So there’s this really good conversation going on in Twitter about encouraging Diversity in SFF. The hashtag is #DiversityInSFF and I highly encourage checking it out. Anyway, reading that and thinking about the other conversations, I started wondering who the fans of speculative fiction are? I mean, I know who goes to conventions, but what about everyone else?

So I figured I’d just ask and made a survey.

Pass it around? The more people who fill it out, the better the sample.

Edited to add: I updated some of the questions and added some to address concerns people raised. If you go back to the same link, you can change your response.

The results are here, if you are curious.


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56 thoughts on “A survey about SFF fandom”

  1. I have been a reader of SF since my teen years. I have been a collector about as long (4,000+ books). I am also a writer. I have a couple of publication credits from a long time ago. SFWA member. I had never attended a convention until a couple of years ago and then only locally. All the talk of diversity frankly scares me. I have no quarrel with anyone writing, participating and expressing their viewpoint. I think it should be encouraged for all writers. That being said, I fear an over reaction. Yes, I am an an old white guy, but my voice is just as valid as any one else. No, I can’t express the opinions and viewpoint of minorities of any kind and wouldn’t want to. I don’t want to take away anyone’s voice. What I fear is the drive for diversity will lead to things like quotas; places in publications “reserved” for a designated minority voice. Won’t happen you say. I’m not so sure.

    1. If your writing is good, I suspect it will be published. Speaking as a middle-aged, straight white guy, I don’t fear diversity at all. I welcome it!

      Remember that women novelists were once thought of as odd. Aren’t you glad that our host doesn’t feel pressured to publish under the name “Currer Bell”, or perhaps as “A Lady”?

      Adding voices to the SFF community will not take away your voice.

  2. Heads up: The forms are not working well with Chrome for iPad. (But safari for iPad worked like a champ.)

    Great survey, Mary. Thanks for doing this.

  3. Thanks for doing this, Mary. This is a period in SFF where everyone has an opinion but no one has any real empirical data, so surveys like this one are vital.

    Personally, I’d have also liked to have seen a few questions focusing on political viewpoint. Liberal-leaning blogs say SFF is full of reactionaries, while right wing blogs say it’s all liberals. Both sides viewpoints are anecdotal- something that could and should be addressed.

      1. Also, SF fans in particular are likely to have more nuanced political views than “left wing/right wing”. Within the US, self-identification on the Pournelle axes (or similar two-dimensional chart) might be a useful question; and given the overwhelmingly US-based response to your current survey, the results could be meaningful.

        From all the attempts I’ve seen online, I don’t think a political viewpoint survey can be made meaningful even between cultures as similar as the USA and Western Europe, let alone the rest of the globe. The British-derived cultures US + UK + Canada + Australia might just barely be comparable, but the survey would need to be carefully designed.

        Primary language might have been a good question for this survey, to go along with nationality & ethnicity; although the survey being in English would skew the results somewhat.

  4. When you say “What kinds of speculative fiction do you consume?”, do you mean only stuff I consume nowadays or does it also include stuff I have (once or often) consumed in the past?

    1. Sorry. It’s not meant to be, but I used the surveymonkey.com template for race/ethnicity and didn’t think about how US-centric it was. I’m working on getting that changed. If you have any suggestions, I’d welcome them.

      1. So the UK-census “race classification” is on wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classification_of_ethnicity_in_the_United_Kingdom (this is not without controversy/people who hate it, but it’s the “official” thing).

        Of course many US readers would be confused or feel left out presented with those options (it doesn’t have “Hispanic” or “Native American” for instance).

        I don’t think there is a useful culture-independent classification of race. You could ask for nationality, and then have multiple different options for the race question based on the nationality; or you could have a free-text entry where people could write whatever they like.

  5. Thank you for an interesting survey. This is a good idea, I think. You may need to alter or expand the personal section, though. At present it reads rather American in its definitions and is causing some queries amongst non-US fans, readers and writers. It might well be worth asking for nationality before ethnicity, thus avoiding seeming to ask non Americans to identify themselves by US-style definitions. (And thus allowing non-Americans to define their ethnicities in their own terms.)
    Sorry to be picky.
    best wishes

  6. Jeremiah Whitmore

    Huh. I tried taking the survey twice, but both times, upon finishing the second page and clicking “next” it took me back to page one…

      1. I got exactly the same problem.

        Also, I think the categories in many of the questions would have been better off as hierarchies. For example, there’s ebook and book, but not graphic novel on tablet and graphic novel on paper, which I think would be the equivalent choices. One thing is what it is – written book, narrated book, graphic novel – and the other is the medium on which it is consumed – tablet, mobile phone, printed paper.

        The categories for book genres also made confused (did not agree with divisions) and then I had to cross everything, since I am more a follower of specific authors than specific genres. =)

      2. I had the same problem with bouncing back to page 1, using an iPhone to complete the survey.

        I wish I’d known about this survey before you posted it, because there were several consumption- and occupation-related questions that I would love to have asked. Basically I’ve wanted to refute or prove Stephen King’s assertion that only writers read short fiction anymore.

        In any case, I hope you’ll make the full dataset available so that we can play with correlations. 🙂

        1. How strange! I’m a non-writer (well, I write poetry, but not for publication) and I love short fiction, as does my daughter. Maybe he just knows a lot of writers? 😉

  7. Fascinating! I know I consume Australian, Finnish, and Swedish SFF in particular due to having visited conventions in those countries. I wonder if this is similarly true for others who filled out your survey, or if you’ve reached a particularly large number of Aussies, for example. After you’ve run the survey for a while, will you post some of the interesting correlations?

  8. Hi, Interesting survey. It’s not easy to fill out – especially the questions that list country (there was a lot of hunting to find country names, and some I didn’t check because I didn’t “see” them).

    I completely missed question 10(?) (“Why haven’t you attended a convention?”), as did most other respondents. My guess is that its placement is such that we aren’t aware that it’s even there.

    I would also be interested in seeing the results.

    Good luck!

  9. Someone has probably already been annoying about this, but North Korea and South Korea are both in there twice (i.e. also as “Korea, North” and “Korea, South”). I’m hoping to save you possible confusion while you mine these data! 🙂

  10. Hi, I was pointed to this survey via friends. I’m afraid I was unable to complete it. I got stuck on the “preferred kinds of speculative fiction” question.

    I like speculative fiction. Period. The fact that it contains all other genres within it is part of why I enjoy it, not a way for me to pick and choose which books to avoid.

  11. Hey! I took the survey. Loved it. Very nice and pretty balanced. Very interested in seeing the conclusions the data will provide or inspire might be a better word.

    Wonder if it’s skewing so hard on epic fantasy because it’s on your site? Not that I consider you an epic fantasy writer but I wonder if it was on Scalzi’s Whatever if it would yield different results.

    Still and all I think it’s a necessary thing in light of the recent discussions. Rock on!

  12. So, here’s something that tripped me up in the survey… What’s ‘Harry Potter’ filed under? I don’t think it’s Epic Fantasy, and it’s not quite Urban Fantasy, because in a number of ways the books feel very anti-city.

    The reason I ask is because I’m mildly addicted to Harry Potter fanfic, which I wanted to track in the survey as well.

    1. I would say that HP falls under alternate-world fantasy, which isn’t on the list. There are a lot of subgenres that are more prevalent in children’s and YA than in adult fantasy, alternate-world fantasy (or portal fantasy, an example of which is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) being one of them.

    1. Great survey, and it’s tough to cover everything; but I agree. In a survey about diversity, this was an unfortunate omission.

      Anyway, props to MRK for the survey! BTW, I enjoyed the whimsey in certain choices (“how often?” “seldom often” was my fave ;-).

      1. I completely agree, and its an example of how blind even someone who wants to be an ally can be. I used a template for the demographics so the questions would be “certified” and remembered to adjust the gender choices but forgot that I needed to add something about orientation. It absolutely should be in there.

  13. Interesting survey.

    I don’t think it could practically have been done, but it’s a shame that you can’t track frequency of reading from different countries or in different genres. I’ve read speculative fiction by authors from 13 different countries this year. But proportionally, my reading was overwhelmingly American, followed by Australian and British. Most of the other countries were just represented by one or two short stories. How diverse is that?

    As an inveterate lurker, I wanted to check that the interaction question is looking for active participation? SFF related blogs, twitter streams and podcasts definitely shape my thinking, reading and awareness of fandom, but I am not part of creating the community.

  14. Hi, fun survey. I was linked to this from a Goodreads group. It’s interesting, but I found it very difficult to fill out (and my husband, who was offering aid, dropped out after the second page.)

    I believe, the issue is that we don’t read that way. We don’t pay any attention to genres in more than a ‘where might they be shelving books I might like’ sort of thing. We’ll read anything that comes under the Speculative Fiction bracket. For example, I normally avoid Epic Fantasy, but had to tick it because I love Name of the Wind. And we didn’t even know what some of the genres are (I looked up both interstitial and slipstream, and I’m still not sure I know if what I read fits in there.) To decide which ones I like I ended up looking up my favorite authors and asking google/wiki to tell me what genre they are (I’d left out ‘secret history’, but that’s where it says Tim Powers belongs.)

    And then there were the countries. I barely notice authors and don’t know genres and now I’m supposed to know what countries the stuff I read comes from? I have no idea. I choose books based on whether they sound like fun to read. So I just left it at American/English with a couple of others that I happen to know are outside. But I might have read tons more – I have no idea 🙂

    I’ve been to a con once, almost 30 years ago. So I checked never, but that isn’t quite true. I also saw Wicked in the theater. Does that mean I consume SpecFic as live theater? I’m not sure 🙂

    I enjoyed the survey and think it’s a great idea and the results will be fun, so thank you very much.

    1. I also had a lot of trouble with the countries — I know that I’ve read books by African authors and books set in Africa, for example, but I don’t recall which specific countries in every instance, so I *know* that my responses skewed US/UK, possibly disproportionately.

      (I also very likely have read books by authors from various Scandinavian countries, but unless it’s something I recalled *specifically* about the author, I wasn’t able to write it down. I do only read English — aside from having enough French and Latin to be amused by “Asterix et Obelix” in the original — which also affects my results.)

      If I was better with names and memory, I’d have researched some more author backgrounds before ticking the boxes, but I did the best that I could.

      I agree that the “categories” were sometimes hard to select (I preferred the ticky-boxes to the radio buttons, since I read a LOT of SFF genres, and some things are hard to quantify.)

      I’m not a huge military-fantasy person, but I still love “The Man/Kzin Wars” and Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan books, which do occasionally rely heavily on military tactics and tech. But I think of the latter as character-based space opera with a focus on reproductive technology and how it affects societies, rather than being “military SF,” which I tend to associate with certain specific authors.

      And I have no idea what box/es Jo Walton’s “Lifelode” would hit — alternate-history, fantasy, cheerful domestic polyamory, alternate-society, feminist fantasy, etc!

      I still think the survey is well worthwhile, and it was thought-provoking — I’d love to know if there IS a database available of SFF authors by country, because I’d definitely love to expand my reading horizons, or discover that an author I’ve enjoyed is from somewhere unexpected — I admit, my brain tends to put them wherever their books are set!

      I do think that questions about sexual orientation and relationship type (single, partnered, married, dating, monogamous, polyamorous, open relationship, poly relationships, aromantic, other — and those should be ticky-boxes rather than radio buttons, since you could be poly and married, for example) would have been a good idea, but it’s hard to add to a survey when it’s already in progress. Maybe for a future survey?

      Thanks for doing this, MRK!!

    2. Woah, don’t over think your answers. 😉 No need to let the perfect (you attended one con; some would say secret history’s a subset of alternate history) be the enemy of the good (generally accurate answers). I’m glad you made it through, though your husband didn’t.

      I approached the genres thinking: If it’s something I know I like, even if only occasionally, then I checked it. If it’s something that I avoid–even if I HAPPEN to have read it a few times–then I didn’t check it. Generally. What we look for, or what we find ourself reading enough that someone else might say, “Oh, you like X subgenre”…. Not exceptions like one convention, play, or book. (Shoot, I’ve seen Wicked, Spider-Man, Addams Family, and…ugh, now I think I should’ve checked Theater, LOL! Yeah, I obsessed over answers, too.)

      Anyway, just my take on it. 🙂

  15. Great survey! Love the idea. Now if only we could have a survey of why some folks don’t like SFF.

    The sex orientation question didn’t slow me down. Why would it? It’s an anonymous survey.

  16. Lovely survey!

    One point… I’m not sure if you’re hoping for accurate numbers of trans people taking your survey, but if so putting “transgender/transsexual” as an option under gender identity is not the way to do that. I consider myself trans but didn’t choose that option, because transgender isn’t my gender. My gender is neutrois/genderqueer, I’m trans because when I was born the doctors went “it’s a girl” and I’ve been told I’m supposed to be one ever since (simplified). I know a lot of other trans people feel similarly. If you want to get an accurate measure of how many trans respondents there are you should probably have an extra question after gender identity that goes along the lines of “Do you consider yourself transgender or transsexual? Yes/No/Other” (although it’s probably too late to change that now, of course).

    Of course, I know a few people *do* consider transgender to be their gender identity, and if you were just hoping to provide an option for them then carry on…

    1. Good point, Kaz!

      The thing I liked about the way the question was phrased was that they were ticky-boxes and not radio buttons — thus, “transgender” could either be the only box you ticked, OR you could tick “transgender” and “genderqueer” and “neutrois,” which sounds like a fairly accurate summation of the way you have stated your identity here.

      I appreciated that you could select multiple categories, which allows for a more nuanced self-portrayal (rather than something like “Pick one: Male/Female/Other or Male/Female/Transgender,” which are really poorly-phrased and other-ing, although I see them more often than I’d like.)

      If you thought that you had to choose one, it looks like you can go back and edit your answers! 🙂

      The only thing I’d have changed would have been to include “Cisgender” as a ticky-box, because it shouldn’t be “male/female/trans male/trans female,” if we’re working on full inclusivity, I’d put it as “cis/trans/all the other categories already included” — so that “male/female” isn’t a default state, people can indicate whether they identify as cis or trans.

      It’s a minor thing, but it helps inclusivity by not making “cisgender” the unmarked class: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Markedness

      (Since cisgender *is* currently the unmarked, assumed, and socially-dominant class, it’s worth including it as a category so that a cis woman would be listing herself as both “cis” and “woman,” not just “woman,” with all other women being marked classes — trans woman, genderqueer woman, etc.)

      In this case, it’s a minor omission and I’m not being critical of the decision not to include it, but for future surveys, it would be nice to have a ticky-box that says “Cisgender,” possibly with a brief bracketed explanation of what that means, for people who might be unfamiliar with the term, i.e., [Gender matches the one assigned to you at birth.]


      — A <3

      1. I noticed the ticky-box thing, and appreciated it (I got to select neutrois *and* genderqueer! Awesome! :)) The point I was making that I still didn’t tick “transgender” because, well, it isn’t my gender identity. It’s a descriptor that is related to my gender identity, but not actually it. I don’t identify as transgender in the gender-id sense, I don’t have a strong internal sense of myself as being transgender. I am transgender because my gender identity is not the one I was assigned at birth. In a perfect society where no isms exist, I wouldn’t be trans (because nobody would assign any gender at birth, so nobody would assign the wrong one) but I would still be neutrois. As a result, it’s just not true to say that my gender identity is “transgender”, even in addition to other things. Does that make sense?

        This is something a lot of trans people will be sensitized to because, well, there are a lot of surveys whose idea of trans inclusion is “pick one: man, woman, trans.” And the idea that e.g. trans women are not entirely women, or trans women but not women-with-no-modifier, but cis women get to be just women, is pretty pervasive… even if you don’t mean to imply that the connotations still exist. Adding cisgender would make it somewhat better but it’s still sort of founded on a misunderstanding of what the terms mean to most of us? (As said, there *are* some folk who actually identify as transgender genderwise – Justin Vivian Bond is the one I know of – but they’re a minority.)

        This is why, as said, most surveys I’ve seen that want to register trans people have a separate question of “Are you: transgender/cisgender” following gender identity, which is what I’d advise for the future. Well, I suggested “Are you trans: Yes/No” instead because I’ve seen a loooot of cis people erupt in indignant fury at the idea that they might not get to be the unmarked class anymore how dare you call me something like “cis” you don’t even know me “cis” is a slur blah blah blah… anyway, although that’s a battle worth fighting it’s possibly not the battle one wants to fight on a relatively unrelated survey, especially since you might get your data muddled due to angry cis people skipping the question. I also suggested “transgender or transsexual” because I know there are some binary trans people who dislike the term transgender because it lumps them in with us nonbinary weirdos and insist on transsexual. Identity politics! Complicated!

        1. All very good points! I agree that, for a maximally-inclusive survey, it would make the most sense to have transgender status as a separate question from gender identity — I can see pros and cons, but I think that the pros, as you have elucidated them here, outweigh the cons.

          Thank you for laying it out so clearly! 🙂

  17. What the hell has gender or sexual orientation to do with my ability to read? It is more relevant to what I want to read that I currently can’t find. Perhaps because mass market fiction keeps it’s LBGT features (if any) undiscoverable.

    It would be better to ask what my interests are within a title.
    Relationships or ‘splosions. Romance or conflict. teaching me stuff or lying to me about how the world works.

    You asked my level of official education as if it matched my reading comprehension or interest level. Which is insulting but perfectly normal middle class white folks behavior. As code for income level it’s so out of date now. So why ask it?

    It’s more relevant to ask my discretionary income for entertainment as a whole, then the SFF split. I cut the cable and sold the car to boost my book budget because I’m a non-recovering book addict.

    Most of my book consumption (audio or otherwise) is on public transport. There’s nothing else to do (if you discount mobile phone conversations) and I’m too busy any other time.
    The reason I mostly buy e-books now is they weigh nothing. That and my mother can share all my e-books without her coming to visit. (She used to borrow dead tree books from me then give them to Goodwill having forgotten where she got them)

    The survey results are not surprising if you consider the originator is an author of Jane Austin based titles (among others) The demographic of which will probably be mostly young, childless, salaried women, over-educated for the work they are paid to do. Not a criticism but who else would travel all the way to Texas or London to talk about books they didn’t write.

    The marketing categories originally meant something when roaming a Borders but now it’s all down to Amazon’s recommendation engine. Would you be better off using an author’s name or a book title to suggest a genre? Example ‘Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance’ Military fiction or comedy of manners? It’s the most Kowal of Bujold’s books (except ‘A civil campaign’)

    BTW I’m jonesing for more adventures of Huang and Metta. You know you want to put out more chapters on the Scalzi ‘Human Division’ model.

    1. Gender and sexual orientation have nothing to do with your ability to read. But when the standard meme is that only boys read SF and that SFF fandom is made up of old white straight men, it’s useful to have numbers to point out that it’s not so. As for my audience skewing the results, I worried about that too, so I asked John Scalzi and other people to pass the link to their readers. At this point, it’s been passed around so much that it’s way, way past the people who read my stuff.

      The reason that I went with education level rather than income is that there was no way to ask about income that wasn’t US centric or incredibly classist.

  18. Taking up Caroline’s point (and something that has also come up at rec.arts.sf.written), it does seem that our reading is to some extent controlled by distributors. When I first started following r.a.s.w., it used to surprise me how everyone knew about books I had never heard of or seen here in Australia. Since then, I bought a huge number of books from Amazon, which put me firmly into the American camp; Amazon.uk offers a different selection.

    On a more general note, the results didn’t really surprise me: the favourites (can’t remember them all) epic fantasy, space opera, urban, etc. were the most likely. I do hope urban fanasy will go away again soon, though, or at least vampires, zombies and were-creatures as I am getting heartily bored with them. On the other hand, I do like steam punk, but my personal favourites are thick trilogies (each volume min. 500 pages) and the author then moves on to something different. What I get fed and am fed up with are 300 page “serials” all set in the same world and which look set to surpass 15 volumes.

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