More on Book Quality — Statistics and Recommendations

As some of my readers know, I was trained as an economist, and economists occasionally lapse into statistics, and, in this case, I will offer some figures associated with recommendations about purported quality of the books that you read.

Last month, the vaunted Locus published its list of recommended books released in 2007, 40 in all, of which 22 were science fiction and 18 were fantasy. Since these books were deemed to be of quality by Locus reviewers, as someone who is skeptical of any one source, particularly any one source of experts, I decided to make a comparison of the Locus findings to the reviews, or lack thereof, in Publishers Weekly.

Of the forty books Locus listed as superior, PW gave exactly 11 (or 27.5 %) starred reviews, their mark of quality. I would have made a similar comparison with other “authorities,” such as Booklist and Kirkus, but, alas, I don’t have access to their full databases, nor do I wish to pay their exorbitant rates for that privilege, but I will note that a number of books which did receive starred reviews from other sources such as those were not included on the Locus list. In the interests of full disclosure, I will point out that none of my books figure into these statistics, since nothing I published for the first time in 2007 received any listings by Locus or starred reviews [not that I know of, at least] from anyone else.

Having some interest in statistical oddities, I also noted that the Locus list predominantly featured male authors [72.5% of the recommended books were authored by males]. The breakdown by gender and genre did change slightly, since 77% of the SF titles were by males, as compared to a mere 67% of the fantasy titles. From my infrequent perusing of Booklist and Kirkus review summaries, I do retain the impression that at least several of the books receiving starred reviews from Booklist and Kirkus, and not included in the Locus list, were written by women.

For another comparison, the final Nebula ballot lists five novels. So far as I can determine, exactly one of them got a starred review from PW, but three of the five were on the Locus recommended list. And, of course, four of the five Nebula nominees were written by men.

All this suggests that there’s definitely a difference in who and what are considered quality between those officially “in” the F&SF field, and those not so in. But then, haven’t we always known that?

ADDENDUM: After I originally posted this, the thought occurred to me, as it might to many readers, that the selections by Locus reviewers and the Nebula voters might merely reflect the gender distribution of authors and titles in the F&SF field. So I did a quick analysis of the 2008 advance title listings of the twelve publishing imprints that are projected to issue more than 30 books. Of the twelve, six will publish more titles by men, and six will release more titles by women. Overall 56% of the more than 750 titles listed for those imprints will be authored by men and 44% by women [and I gave 1/2 credit to each gender where there were mixed gender co-authors]. To me, that does seem to suggest a certain gender disparity.