Here at Better, we spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about how culture—and especially literature—will change as a result of social networking and other online technologies. So when we heard about a group of writers calling themselves “Submission Bombers,” who swarm literary journals, flash-mob style, in the spirit of social change, we wanted to get the inside story from the group’s founder, Laura E. Davis.
SR: For those who don't know, what exactly is submission bombing and/or who are the Submission Bombers?
LED: I’ll start with the latter, since that one has a shorter answer. The Submission Bombers are writers who want to be heard. We are writers who feel that our voices have, in some way, been marginalized. Our voices are marginalized by our gender, race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, physical or mental ability, parental status, socio-economic status, etc. If a writer doesn’t feel that her/his/zher voice is represented in the literary landscape, for whatever reason, they can be a part of Submission Bombers.
Simply put, “submission bombing” is submitting written work, en masse, to a publication. It’s akin to the tone of yarn bombing or seed bombing, where the word bombing is being playfully re-appropriated. Still, all of these bombings are subversive acts that seek to change a literal or metaphorical landscape. With an act like yarn bombing, the “bombing” aspect lies in the surprise element; you don’t expect to see a lamppost decked out in a rainbow knit. While I originally intended submission bombing to have that same element of surprise, once the group was formed, many members were concerned about potentially burdening editors by sending hundreds of unexpected submissions. So, instead of surprising editors, we work with them and schedule a bombing that lasts about two weeks. Our sheer numbers, rather than the element of surprise, warrant the word“bombing.”
SR: What inspired you to start this project?
LED: The idea came to me after the first VIDA Count. When I saw those pie charts finally depicting a bias that I had only sensed, I waited to see how the editors would respond to being called out about the gender gap in their publications. When they finally did respond, it seemed like they all simultaneously shrugged and said, “We get fewer submissions from women.” And that was that; they took no responsibility for it.
As a feminist, this response pissed me off. But I also knew they were right. I’ve seen it with my own magazine, Weave. During our first year, something like 2/3 of our submissions were from men. It wasn’t until Weave became known for welcoming diverse writing that we began to get more and more women submitting.
After the second VIDA Count was released, I thought, what if a bunch of female-identified writers all sent submissions to the same place? Then that excuse would be off the table. We’ll do our part as writers, so editors can do theirs.
SR: How do you decide which journals the Submission Bombers are going to target?
LED: If an editor asks us to bomb them, we put them on the schedule. So far I’ve only approached one journal on behalf of the bombers. After I put out the call for journals, a range of print and online publications contacted us. At first I would ask the group if they wanted to bomb certain kinds of markets (for example, journals that require submission fees). We determined that we’d bomb any publication that asked, however, members don’t have to participate in every bombing. Sometimes it’s a poetry-only publication, so the fiction writers opt out. Other times, a journal wants genre fiction or translations.
The best part about the process so far has been when editors participate during the bombing. All of the editors we’ve worked with have been very generous with their time: answering questions that the group raises, weighing in on the group discussions. I think that a lot of the writers in the group are realizing (if they didn’t already know) that editors are often fellow writers, and we all share a deep love of literature and community. We have a common goal: sharing words with the world.
SR: Aside from encouraging women and other marginalized writers to submit more frequently, what else would you like to see writers or editors do in the coming years to change the VIDA stats?
LED: I’d really love to see more efforts from the editors’ camp. From my experiences editing Weave, I’ve learned that what often keeps writers from submitting is uncertainty about how their work will be received. Is my story welcome here? Will it be seriously considered? I’d love to see editors consider how they can be more encouraging. I think this is really essential when it comes to evening the publishing field. I’m not talking about coddling insecure writers (aren’t we all insecure sometimes?), but rather, editors standing up and saying, “We want to hear from you.” This small, but meaningful act can really change the tone of the submissions process for many writers. Then it’s up to the writers to do the work of submitting and sending their very best work.
The other thing I’d like to see is more compassion around how we discuss and problem-solve these issues. In short, stop blaming and start doing. Contribute to your literary community. Writers can volunteer as a reader for a journal. Editors can organize workshops locally or online. If you have an idea about how to fix a problem, run with it.
SR: How do you become a Submission Bomber? Can anyone join?
LED: Anyone can join the Submission Bombers. It’s up to you to determine how you and/or your writing is being marginalized. At this point we are only on Facebook, but we’re working on a mailing list that announces the bombings each week for writers who aren’t keen on social networking. You can join by adding me as a friend on Facebook and sending me a message to add you to the group. We also have a public group that announces where bombers have been published called Submission Bombers: Spotlight.You can join there and request to be added to the private group. We hope you will.