Icons and Diversity Statement

You might recall that when we announced we used the above illustration of an author as our icon. What you don’t know is that we have some other icons as well, designed to reflect the fact that anyone can be an author, and every author has a big idea. To see the rest of our icons, and how we at intend to pursue diversity in our content, click through for the rest of the entry.

First, the rest of our icons:

The current plan for the icons, incidentally, is to have them as part of the masthead, and to have one of them rotate in on a random basis whenever someone comes into the site or visits/refreshes a page. Aside from being a nice and easy way to change up the look of the site, it’s our little way of reminding people that authors come from every walk of life, and all of them have something interesting to say.

Now, to be sure, if our commitment to author diversity was limited to cute little rotating icons, we would suck. So allow me to take a moment to be very clear about this:

It is the expressed intent of to seek Big Ideas and other content that reflects the full diversity of authors and their ideas. That includes a commitment on our part to include authors of color, authors of both sexes, authors of all political and social stripes and of the wide range of sexualities. Also, authors in all sorts of genres, fiction and non-fiction alike, and authors from presses big and small. We want both to reflect the diversity of book writers that exists now, and to promote the idea of a diversity of authors going forward. Also, we think it’s cool to bring to potential readers works and authors they don’t know about — or might think at first aren’t of interest to them. That’s fun.

We’re not going to programmatic about this, in part because — and especially at the beginning — a lot of our content will be dictated on which authors want to participate. Nevertheless, it’s a commitment on our end. We’ll be letting lots of publishers know the site exists (I’m creating the publicist data sheet as we speak), and we’ll make sure we let them know we’re interested in the whole range of their authors. And we’ll do our part to let authors of color, etc know we’re hoping for them to participate. We get who we get, at least at first. But it’s our hope that as the site grows, the authors we see in it reflect the entire range of who is an author, and what they write. We want to make it happen, and we’ll work toward it.

Finally, a reminder for authors/publicists/editors that we’re putting together a mailing list for people to be updated when we have concrete news about the site. Go to to get the e-mail address.

76 Comments on “ Icons and Diversity Statement”

  1. I dig the art. It’s nice how they look like actual people rather than Ethnic Stereotype Product – there’s all sorts of little details that make you (well, me, at least) think that you could meet them walking down the street. Jeff Zugale is a good artist.

  2. Such shameless dextrism. All of your so-called diverse author icons are obviously right-handed! It’s a travesty, I tell ya!

  3. It is a diverse collection, but aren’t some authors less than hot, and older than thirty-something?

    I like the idea of rotating the icons, it allows you to add more later if you want too.


  4. So what you’re telling me is when you become a Big Name Author and get Big Ideas, you get Big Anime Eyes? (grin)

    Dr. Phil

  5. Michael @ #5 makes a good point.

    I’ll note also that none of these icons is overweight.

    Nor in a wheelchair.

    Nor is anyone wearing corrective lenses.

    Tsk, tsk, tsk.

  6. As a Counting Crows fan, I pushed hard for one icon to be a Russian Jew with natty dreads, but the idea was shot down. Just shows how much pull I have.

    I never even bothered to propose the red-haired tattooed man with cornrows.


  7. No beards, mustaches, or bowties, either, but I like the elbow patches on the jacket.

  8. Sub-Odeon is right. No representation for the bespectacled! :)

    Though I do appreciate the special care given to ’70s fashion victims.

  9. Because if you don’t make a token show of diversity with hastily composed MS Paint images you’re a white supremacist, right? Come on, this is the new millenium. Shallow shows of tolerance like this are so nineties. You really should have let the diversity of the authors you’re going to showcase speak for itself.

  10. Seriously, where’s the black pygmy radical feminist post-surgical transsexual lesbian mud-wrestling nun? HUH? HUH? Why do you hate BPRFPSTLMWRs????

    Also: nice drawings.

  11. Can I just say how much I appreciate this? This is wonderful, John.

    I have to say, one of the things that I really enjoyed in ‘Old Man’s War’ was the inclusion of non-heterosexual sexualities as just as normal and boring as any other.

    I mean, I’m lesbian, and one of my complaints is that in so much scifi (especially space-opera or militaristic-scifi) there’s just SO MUCH heterosexuality. Not that there is anything wrong with being straight (we all must bear our burdens after all *smile*), but just after you have it crop up time, after time, after time, after time, after time, after time (you get the idea), you kinda start crying out for just one, say, female character that doesn’t end up in bed with yet another male character. Just one.

    Hence, you really notice when an author puts the effort in to just include one LGBT character, and particularly so when their sexuality is just as present as those of the heterosexual characters, and not just merely mentioned once in passing and then never seen again.

    So, having the very welcome inclusion you had in ‘Old Man’s War’ continued into your work in this arena is just really simply nice. And it confirms why I read your books, John … I mean, aside from being well written, of course *smile*

    Same thing in regards to people-of-colour. Even though I am white as a white thing, when someone speaks out about racial/ethnic inclusion, it makes one feel that more than just that as diversity is probably going to be included. I mean, it’s one of the reasons I don’t like to live in an all-white neighbourhood.

    So, just thanks :)

  12. S.

    “Because if you don’t make a token show of diversity with hastily composed MS Paint images you’re a white supremacist, right?”

    No, but if you post a message suggesting such, you might be a bit of an asshole. Among other things, they’re not hastily composed. Jeff did good work.

    And we felt it important to note diversity in the site design as well as execution. And since it’s our site, that’s what we did.

  13. As a former fan-fic writer you should be ashamed of leaving out authors whose self-image is furry and/or Klingon. Sheesh.

  14. We’ll have to agree to disagree on the quality of the artwork.

    Anyway, let me rephrase my original point. This post makes you sound like a middle-aged white guy who lives in Ohio. Giving those poor tinted folk a shot at the limelight doesn’t make you seem as magnanimous as you think it does. In fact, it comes off as a little condescending.

  15. So, the solution according to ‘S.’ to ending racism, including the exclusion of people-of-colour, is to never ever overtly mention, notice, or mark race. Ever. Because, as you know, a white avatar is neutral *rolls eyes*

  16. S:

    I am a middle-aged white guy who lives in Ohio.

    If you think it comes across as condescending, that’s of course your business, although the reference to “poor tinted folks” and your previous comment suggest to me that of all the people whose opinion I need to care about on the matter, you might not be one of them.

  17. Check out George Effingers Buhayeen books. No lesbians that I can remember but gay, bisexual, and transgender are all represented.

    You are right there is a serious lack of representation for lesbians in scifi. Caitlin Kiernan might be your best bet but most of her novel length work is dark fantasy.

    I think, and this is just a hunch, that most authors have no idea how to write a lesbian love scene. That may be the issue or it may not. Something to think about anyway.

  18. S:

    You have half an hour: please, using only MS-Paint, produce an image in the style of those above, of a white homeless guy. Thanks.

  19. @Steve Burnap: Yeah, but in tune with that idea, the green-skinned one’s exclamation mark should, upon closer inspection, should be composed of lots of dense text and information that when taken together, LOOKS like an “!”. ;)

  20. The tinted folk thing was an obvious jibe at your mindset. Multi-racial artwork is a fine idea, what isn’t is this “Hey guys, look at how great I am for doing this! I’m so progressive and hip and forward thinking!” post.

    Also, you’ve no idea how happy being called an asshole by an author I like and respect has made me. Really, it’s an honor.

  21. 25: An author and blogger has a healthy ego and lets it show on his own site? Man, there’s a first time for everything.

  22. S.

    “The tinted folk thing was an obvious jibe at your mindset.”

    It wasn’t nearly as obvious as you thought, it appears. From this end, it appears to speak more to your mindset than mine.

    Likewise, I’m not going to feel terribly bad about having made a clear and unambiguous declaration that a site designed to promote authors is going to make an effort to include authors of all walks of life. Hopefully it means that when we start up, we have a good mix of authors to begin with.

  23. May I add in addition to the aforementioned age, disability & body size ideas, that there are more than two genders & sexes? Whether or not you graphically represent that, please do consider the work of trans folk, or people who write about trans issues (and the Venn intersection of those groups, of course).

  24. We should be passed this stuff is all I’m saying. Inclusion should be the norm, not an exception in need of praise, and it often is.

    And with that, I must bid this comment thread farewell. Class beckons.

  25. Justin @22 –

    Yeah, I figured my experiences regarding the lack of lesbian characters in space-opera and militaristic-scifi weren’t merely the product of a narrowness of reading.

    And I don’t necessarily NEED a lesbian love-scene to feel included (although, will say, can be kinda nice). In John’s books he hardly goes into the detailed mechanics of heterosexual love-making (thank you for that, btw, John), but yet definitely includes non-heterosexual characters that are overt and obvious in their desires, just as the straight characters are.

    Honestly, aside from a smaller dating pool to date within (try being a straight-appearing gay woman attracted to other straight-appearing women, gah), I have to say that my dating experiences in general aren’t all that different from those of my straight female friends.

    In light of the discussion in this thread, having an author obviously try to include a lesbian character as one of their main characters DOES actually mean a lot, even if the characters aren’t bumping the nether-regions.

  26. S.

    “Inclusion should be the norm, not an exception in need of praise.”

    You seem to have the erroneous impression we’re seeking praise. And the desire for inclusion is always worth noting.

    Sarah in Chicago:

    “In John’s books he hardly goes into the detailed mechanics of heterosexual love-making (thank you for that, btw, John)”

    It just makes me giggle whenever I try. I’m not brilliant at sex scenes.

  27. Just wanted to say I am really excited by the BI website. My mother at the age of 57 just finished her first novel. It’s nice to know that when she gets published there are places like the website where she could get introduced to possible readers in a more personal way, and not be bypassed just because she is an older woman.

    Can’t wait to see it finished!

  28. OMG, look I don’t know if i set off this bashing, or not. I’d just like to say that: 1/ I think your idea to show that authors come from every corner is a good one, and 2/ that although you don’t now have icons for “all types” is not a criticism, nor bashing your concept.

    The images are quite good, and in a recognizable style. If you were to come across one that you’d not already seen, you’d still most likely think that you were looking at “ABigIdea” article.

    I’d like to reiterate that if the proprietor desired they could add additional icons in the same style. Wouldn’t putting up a charicature of an author really up that author’s exposure on the site?

    These ideas are mine, that is I don’t expect you to do anything but what you want with your site, just saying it’s a neat graphic idea that you could extend however you want.


  29. Personally, I like seeing the mixed author representations, and am also happy that BIA is aiming at all types of work, not just sf or fantasy. Go, John, Bill!, and Yanni!

  30. Michael:

    “Wouldn’t putting up a charicature of an author really up that author’s exposure on the site?”

    Possibly, but the expense adds up pretty quickly.

    We have six icons now; we’re not against having more in the future. These are budget issues, actually.

  31. It just makes me giggle whenever I try. I’m not brilliant at sex scenes.

    Ooooo, trust me, I really do wish more authors were this aware of themselves.

  32. Is drawing attention to inclusive practices always the best way to promulgate them?

    Is it better to be known as a good white/black/hispanic/asian author or simply as a good author?

    Speaking about how hard one works to include someone may prevent that person from ever truly feeling included. I think we’re at the point where integration needs to become the silent status quo; ubiquitous but largely undiscussed.

    Okay, now I’ve really got to get to class.

  33. S.

    “Is drawing attention to inclusive practices always the best way to promulgate them?”

    When one is starting a business? Hell, yes.

  34. Is it better to be known as a good white/black/hispanic/asian author or simply as a good author?

    The trouble with not making the effort to overtly include minority groups is that when you don’t, the default and privileged group is assumed.

    That’s how structural privilege works; when you’re dealing with racial groups, the default is white. When you’re dealing with gender, the default is male. When you’re dealing with sexuality, the default is heterosexual. Etc, etc.

    There is no neutral position when a society is structurally unequal; it always will take that of the privileged group, that’s in part what having power in society means.

    Think of it like a playing-field that is not level, but rather tilted in one direction: the ball is always going to roll in that direction. To address such, one cannot merely act as though the playing-field is flat, one must push at the end that is tilted negatively, in order to redress the balance and actually make it flat.

    Now does this mean that all overt inclusion is automatically a good idea? No, of course not, tokenism, for instance, is one way things are actually made worse, not better. But the way John and everyone are approaching it? I tend to think this is a good thing.

  35. So, in the interests of further diversity, would you put an e-book reader in the bubble?

  36. S. While I think it’s a nice idea to think that integration is the norm, or should be the status quo, it is not. And while that is truly unfortunate, it is the truth. Telling people you are dedicated to being an open business just lets everyone know that you are. It doesn’t mean they want a pat on the back. It just means they want everyone to feel welcome.

    Again, I think the BIA is great, and really look forward to reading them on their own website.

  37. John, while I disagree with S.’s comments on the artwork, when you look at something you said within the past day and juxtapose it with this announcement, it certainly can appear to be a touch condescending.

  38. I realize that one can always point out (in tones ranging from serious to snarky) what attributes have been left out of the roster of icons, but

    (a) this being the twenty-fucking-first century, we need to get beyond making a white male figure stand for “generic human”, and

    (b) because unfortunately a lot of people are still in that “white male stands for generic human” mindset, if simply had a black woman on its masthead, a lot of people would look at that and say “oh, it’s a Web site for black female authors”.

    People who don’t like sexual/racial/etc. prejudice can either declare that it doesn’t exist or they can take steps to counteract it where it does exist. I commend the folks for taking the second approach.

  39. Shawn:

    It happens. I’m not going to worry about it too much. At the end of the day what will matter is how we carry out the commitment we mention here.

  40. Shawn@48:

    Seems to me, people who are looking for things to be upset about will always find something to be upset about. As a minority who prefers people DO more than TALK more–in complete opposition to my personal modus operandus–I say thanks, Scalzi! I see nothing condescending in actively reaching out, just like I see nothing condescending in preferring to work with Reality rather than rant about Ideally. Of the two, it’s the former who’ll remember to actually open the door and let my peeps in out of the rain.

  41. Yuhri:
    I would be more than happy to outline my point more clearly via email, as part of the context I speak of touches on something he didn’t want to be referenced on his blog anywhere else.

  42. Yuhri – It’s not always pleasant, but personally, I’d rather people were both willing to talk about race issues and also do things to end racism. It’s like walking and chewing gum at the same time.

  43. Shawn@53:

    (Aha. This time I double-checked and got the number right.) Feel free to email me, although damned if I can figure out how to–hm. My WordPress-fu is weak. How to give you my email? I must investigate.


    I grant you the merit in talking! Given a choice of Talk or Do though, when it comes to the internet, I tend to prefer Do. Though the internet is a great forum for having your say, I don’t think anyone will deny that like a poorly made cappuccino, it often whips itself up into more froth than substance. On the one hand, you’ve got productive efforts like fans organizing letter-campaigns over the casting of The Last Airbender; on the other hand, you’ve got … thingness*.

    (There is a reason I am not a professional writer or thinker. You should see the things I do to innocent metaphors and syllogisms.)

    I was curious about that, incidentally–the casting thing, not the thingness–and as a movie business ignoramus wanted to ask your opinion about a suspicion I have, John. However, I don’t think this is a thread for that, so I’ll see if I can find a more appropriate one later.

    *Insert flavored Internet brouhaha of your choice.

  44. Yuhri:

    My email is shawnstruck at REMOVETHISBECAUSEITSASPAMBLOCKERgmail dot com

  45. Yuhri – as I’m currently a victim of EconomyFail ’09, I’ve got more time for talking, and I don’t see why it *always* has to be a choice. Some people don’t have the time or inclination, but talking about race issues needs to happen, or no one will know what’s going on.

    And actually, there have been positive elements that came out of the big debate that Scalzi referenced in the other post. I’ll refrain from talking about the substance of the debate, but over $4,000 (and counting) was raised to promote a small press that’s hopefully going to offer more diversity in SF.

    So that’s something, at least.

  46. Oh, I do think little cartoons of the authors in the same style would be adorable. Of course, I understand the whole budget thing.

  47. Josh:

    Sorry to hear about your economy woes, man. It’s bitter out there, even in the seemingly bulletproof healthcare/pharma sector I’m in. I hope things work out well for you!

    In regards to talk and do: I don’t think that it always has to be a choice–in fact, I would rather it never was a case of one vs. other–but all too often, I’ve seen online cases of people getting so incendiary and/or upset that, to borrow a phrase from Bryan Fuller, Stupid finds a friend. When it comes to the point that a good idea or an important issue or a debate worth having is so covered in crud that people balanced on the sidelines would rather scoop out their eyeballs with a dull pasta spoon than think/talk/hear about it, you’ve effectively lost the people who are maybe the ones you often want to win the most: i.e. the swing voters.

    I wasn’t aware that money had been raised for a good cause, and that’s great to hear! It’s certainly more than I was expecting when I got so sick of the noise to signal ratio, I turned the radio off….

    …My God. “Less talk, more action.” I sound like a product of the last 8 years of foreign policy, don’t I? I think I’m going to be ill.

  48. Once upon a time, the default in incidental works of nonfiction (essays, brochures, workbook problems) was to refer to certain occupations as “he” or “she.” An essay would discuss a hypothetical doctor and refer to “Dr. Jones” as “he,” and his nurse would always be female. Similarly for lawyers/secretaries (never “assistants”), principals/teachers, police officers/meter maids, and so on.

    And then at some point in the 70s or so, people made a conscious effort to change that up. A hypothetical doctor might put on her lab coat. It’s still not so common that I don’t notice when an essay uses a female example, but it’s a lot less startling than it used to be. (And, I hope, even less startling to people who are younger than I am.)

    But it’s a lot harder to level those assumptions when it comes to what people look like. It’s pointless in, for instance, a science textbook, to start a word problem with, “Dr. Jones, a black physicist, wants to calculate the distance to a star. What should she do first?” The color of the physicist is irrelevant. We can slip the gendered pronoun past, but there’s no narrative reason to say Dr. Jones is black, or 45 years old, or gay, or overweight, or has Bell’s palsy.

    The only way to expand the default visual setting in people is to be sure they see a variety of people. It’s not enough to just say, “Yes, we’re going to actively pursue and include people of all backgrounds,” even if you actually do it. Why not? Because this is the internet, and it’s stories, and therefore it’s all just text. I barely note the names of people I read on the internet, and I have no idea what they look like unless they post a photo or description.

    By including a rotating image in the design, the folks at BIA will subtly contribute to an unstated message: Check your default settings at the door, because we have a variety of people here.

    I do hope their budget allows for some additional variation–I hereby cast my vote for a middle-aged, fat, blond lady, thanks–but this is certainly a good start.

  49. In re @22–For the record, Effinger’s Buyadeen books do include lesbian characters; they are well worth reading because they’re great books, but the assumed inclusivity featured within them is a bonus. Sadly, Effinger died without writing all of them that he wanted (in a story too long and complicated to get into here, a local hospital claimed the characters as intellectual property in a bankruptcy proceeding over his medical bills, as well (check out his posthumous anthology Buyadeen Nights if you want all of the details)).

    Like the art and the idea behind it. Heartily recommend works of George Alec Effinger. That is all.

  50. Speaking here as someone who’s disabled, overweight, and carrying some less visible fodder for discrimination…I really like the look of these icons, and had a feeling of the “if all these, then me too” sort. Neat stuff.

  51. John,

    While we’re talking about diversity, what is Big Idea’s policy about foreign authors? I can certainly understand if you decide to keep it to books published in the US, as that’s where your main reader mass is, and you are going to want to promote books that are available to most of your readers.

    The rise of Internet bookstores and ebooks have reduced the barriers to buying from overseas, however, so that’s not as big a barrier as it once was.

  52. Scalzi, I second what Stephen@69 said. As a non-white, non-American reader, I would love to see some non-American authors promoted on the site.

    And I love the icons – regardless of what anyone else here has said, I appreciate the effort to graphically include non-white people. Although your typical reader/writer would probably have had spectacles, less hair, more flab, scruffier clothes, messier hair, bleary eyes and a cup of coffee in one hand. ;) I also think the little green folks from Mars are being under-represented. But I understand the budget thing.

    I appreciate your putting up this post to bring home the point about seeking diversity. I didn’t get the vibe that you were looking for a cookie, just that you seemed to be trying to get the word out to all of us who don’t fit the default that we’re welcome. And since this is something I don’t see enough of, I like it when I do encounter it. I don’t think this post was condescending in any way at all – as a matter of fact, I found it encouraging – and yes, that is in spite of a certain previous post on this blog regarding a certain matter, which I did follow at a certain site while it was happening (ugh).

    Which is all a very long-winded way of saying: I appreciate what you people are doing and I support it.

  53. How about Taliban writers, John, would those get a spot? (Assuming they would write in English and would care to be on an infidel web site.)

    BTW, the Asian guy is wearing contacts but uses his glasses to read late at night. You can’t tell from the picture but he really is.

  54. Sarah @ 35

    I think I should have said ‘love’ scene. Not necessarily sex. I do appreciate what John does as well. I don’t need anything overly graphic.

    Perhaps one of us should take up the challenge and write a military scifi novel with a lesbian lead.

  55. Justin @72 –

    Hmmm, a good idea in theory, but falls down pathetically in practice, at least when it comes to me … aside from some decided amateur attempts at writing when the delusion of ability would hit me at random moments (usually in the wee hours of the morning) … I’m quite aware of where my talents do not lie … I’m a policy wonk with a large helping of academic social-analysis … penmanship and the novel are beyond the horizon for me.

    But I’ll support anyone else willing to give it a punt :)

  56. I think the Ninja/Pirate/Robot demographic is SEVERELY underrepresented here. I intend to write a letter.

    What about swashbuckling machine authors clad in black? Won’t we think about the swashbuckling machine authors clad in black!?

  57. S:

    Speaking about how hard one works to include someone may prevent that person from ever truly feeling included. I think we’re at the point where integration needs to become the silent status quo; ubiquitous but largely undiscussed.

    When it is ubiquitous, then it can be largely undiscussed. Until it is, it must be highlighted and noted both when it happens and when it doesn’t. You speak as if you understand what it’s like to be in a minority group but your attitude tells me you’re a straight white male who gets tired of being reminded that other types of people exist. That remark about “may prevent that person from ever truly feeling included” is patronizing. As a member of a sexual minority (both gender and orientation), I will tell YOU when I feel excluded or included. You don’t get to tell me.