I sat down with Jacs, The Founder of Salomé Literature, a magazine and online community set up in the name of supporting upcoming female writers.
An Interview With Salomé
So why did you start the magazine?
At the top of the website, it says: “Salomé was born by a group of pissed-off women.” It was really just one pissed-off woman, me. But then I found other women who were pissed off and they joined in. I was writing quite a lot then, I have less time now because I run the magazine. I had quite a difficult year last year so I thought I’d like to write to be cathartic, to explore things and get over things.
I also belonged to the “Write Like A Grrrl” community which is run by a woman called Kerry, they run a six-week writing course and they’re amazing. That was part of the inspiration for the magazine because you do a course and then you join a huge community. If you go to a Salomé event, there are tonnes of Write Like A Grrrl girls. If you go to these other events that are run by a sister company called “For Book’s Sake”, there’s tonnes of them there and you can recognise everybody, it’s really lovely.
Without that group, I wouldn’t have carried on writing, I also wouldn’t have felt brave enough to do something like the magazine. I felt sort of confident about my writing because I’d done those courses and because Kerry had said, ‘Yeah you’re a great writer!’ I still wasn’t sure but I thought, ‘It’s not just me who feels like this, there are other women out there, I know lots of women like this from the Write Like A Grrrl course.’ I just said to Kerry, ‘I’ve had this idea to help me and other people who are writers, what do you think?’ She said, ‘Bloody go for it! Sounds great, tell the group, see if anyone wants to help you out.’ Twelve people came forward, I was expecting three! I didn’t even know more than a third of them and that was it.
How long has Salomé been running for?
I had the idea in February 2017 and we launched the first issue on April 12th. I feel like it became a part of my life so quickly, it consumed everything. At the time I had another job, so I was doing Salomé in the evenings and weekends; even on my lunch (if I had one). I can’t imagine my life without it now, it just happened so quickly.
Where does the name Salomé come from?
I’d written a piece and I was quite proud of it, I was travelling in Cambodia and I just thought, ‘I’d really like more people to read it than just me and my mum who follows my blog.’ So I thought, ‘Right, I’ll make a platform, I’ll put my piece on there, I’ll put other people’s pieces on there, all the people I know who are like me.’ I knew I wanted it to be a literary figure and “Salomé” came up. Lots of people know who Salomé is if they’re into literature, she’s in the Bible and even art. I didn’t know who she was but I read that she chopped off John The Baptist’s head when he didn’t fall in love with her after she fell in love with him. I looked at lots of the art, thought it was amazing so I branded the website based on that period. Some people say, ‘I know how that is!’ and some people are like, ‘What? Why? Who? What?’ and then I explain it, it’s still a nice link.
How does Salomé link to the message in your audience?
This message of “empowerment”, being fierce and brave, I suppose. I wanted to create a community as well, I didn’t just want it to be just a magazine. A chance to meet people and get to know that you’re part of something bigger than just the writing and your own submitting.
So you want your audience to adopt Salomé’s characteristics?
Well, that’s what I thought, the brand tone, the message, I suppose. I wanted to push the idea that Salomé would do it! If you want to write, just do it, we want to see it, send it to us!.
Would you say Salomé’s a safe place?
Yeah, sometimes I get emails from women who submit to us and they say, ‘Oh, I was really hesitant and I almost didn’t click send but I just thought I’d do it,’ and I ‘m always like, ‘Yes!’ It’s just as you said, it’s about having a safe space, knowing that the whole submissions process is really lovely with how we communicate and how we treat people. It’s brave, Salomé’s brave, we’re trying to be brave as a team so be brave and just do it.
What kind of impact are you hoping to make for the women who submit?
There are different levels and it depends on where we get to, how long the magazine goes on for if we’re able to sustain it. My hope is that it can create revenue but obviously there are finances that come into that. The impact, we hope, is that women will submit more. Submit pieces to us but also to other people more because they’ve had a positive experience with us, we give feedback on every submission as well, so, that is a positive experience and it’s one that can help improve their writing or at least that piece. We’ve heard back that it’s done wonders for some people’s confidence or that they’ve learnt something. One lady said she edited a piece according to what we suggested and it got into another publication. To us, that’s perfect. As long as it’s getting somewhere!
So that’s one thing, more submissions for women, then also improving the writing if we can. It’s like a springboard so I’m not under any illusion over what Salomé is, we’re new and the quality is brilliant, but we’re not granting book deals and I would hope that one day, we will be.
The other thing is I would really like to work with literary agents and publishers because they spend a lot of their time looking for fresh female literary talent. They have to be quite creative about how they find it and I’m like, ‘Well, we’ve had 270 of them submit to us in the last issue I’ve got a few, there are 12 you can see here in this issue,’ so it would be lovely if one day, we could secure a book deal for somebody.
What were you doing before Salomé started?
I used to run a business called “Stemettes” which I co-founded. It’s a social enterprise that inspires girls into science, tech, engineering and math careers. That’s what I did from 2012 to 2017, I left in January because it was time to move on. That’s why I was travelling as well because I had left without finding another job and that’s when I had the idea for Salomé. It is a bit of a weird route because I didn’t have any experience of publishing. I read no more than the next person who reads, I really enjoy it but it’s hard to make the time. I wish I could read more. Before Stemettes, I was a tech consultant for a big company in a city. I have a really different background but the similarities that I see between Stemettes, which I love, and Salomé is that it’s helping to push for gender equality in some way. Whether it’s the tech industry or the science or the publishing industry…
Would you say you went in with no expectations?
Yeah! The stakes were not very high, you know? If this had failed after the first issue, my friends might say, ‘Aw I’m really sorry.’ I would be disappointed that I couldn’t have made the impact that I had wanted to. But really there were no real risks involved so I’d just say, go for it, as typical as that sounds. Then, surround yourself with good people that can help you. If you’re doing something that adds value or if you’re doing something that people can see the benefit of people will get behind you and they will help you.
How were you able to pay your writers the second time around?
It was always my intention to pay writers. I knew we couldn’t on the first one because I wasn’t financially in the position where I could invest my own personal finances so we had to see how the sales went with the first one in order to fund the others. How much we made was a guide on how much we would continue to make and therefore how much we could probably give per person. It always shocks me because I didn’t start this for the money and I don’t take any at all but you do have to have one eye on the finances. Even if I wasn’t paying the writers, you need to think about paying your web posting for your Gmail, your business account, all the little bits and pieces you wouldn’t even think about. We’re alright for the next issue, we really really appreciate everybody who buys it because every quarter is a nail-biter: ‘Are we going to be able to pay the next issue?’ I would be so upset if we had to say one issue, ‘We can’t do this issue because the last one hasn’t sold so well,’ but thank god from the very beginning we’ve sold really well. That doesn’t mean people should stop buying it, keep buying it! It’s always a bit touch and go.
Tell us, how much work and planning goes into an issue?
I was under the illusion it would become less work but the last issue became even more work. When we were bringing out the first issue I had to do all the sort of processing stuff, making feedback forms and writing what feedback I was giving out etc so there was all that stuff, that took a long time. It takes about two and a half months actually.
When it comes to selecting the pieces, the readers get two weeks to read everything and then we spend a weekend, back then it was just one day, going over the pieces and choosing the final one for a good number of hours, like 4? We had 60 pieces so the reading wasn’t too strenuous, it was super easy to choose, there were 11 that had great clarity, the quality was there, it didn’t take us very long to go through each piece. There’s always a bit of struggle for the final ones but it’s quite apparent which ones are the best ones and which ones are going at the bottom. July came around and then all of the stuff was there, we were prepared for the next round and then we got 270 submissions…I was only planning for the same 60. I had 6 people reading submissions on the first issue panel, 6 people reading 270 submissions but not only that but each piece has to be read by two people so that’s actually, 540 readings for 270 pieces! I brought on a few people to help but I took on a lot of it myself because I felt a bit guilty as they’re volunteers. That’s the longest part, all the reading and then the choosing and then the sending out the feedback, that takes a long time because you have to attach 270 documents. The design takes about a week if we’re good, the layout. We changed designers so then it took two weeks so all in all, it’s very non-stop.
What makes a piece stand out when you receive a submission?
That’s such a hard question! We have certain criteria that we look at as well in terms of stuff that pushes the boundaries a bit, pieces that look at interesting issues from a new perspective even if it’s fiction, it doesn’t have to be non-fiction to do that. Bringing up really key topics within that theme, exploring things in really interesting ways, we like that. I like to feel the passion behind the writing as well. We have standard things like characterisation, plot, sense of time and place, passion and the overall quality. We mark it along those guidelines. It’s largely down to the reading panel’s opinion. Yes, I want your opinion as a writer but I also need your opinion as a reader, what do like about it? Would you read it?
With that in mind, any book recommendations?
“The Power” by Naomi Alderman. Such a good book. It’s set in a time where young women have developed this electromagnetic power, it’s very dangerous but only young women have developed it. It then tells a story of how society changes around that, their relationships with men, the social structures. It’s a feminist dystopian novel.
Where do you hope to go with Salomé in the future?
We’re launching a podcast, we have a team that meets every week to discuss it. We have our first guests lined up, it’s basically a podcast for creatives but with a focus on people who like reading and writing. We also hope that it will be something that the creative community can really enjoy, we hope to build our audience a bit by doing that. We want to work with publishers and/or literary agents. We’d love to be a scout for them, that would be cool. Find some of our great writers and help them to become published… ending up in Waterstones. I’m really enjoying running the events too. We’ve done a launch event where we had performers, two spoken word people, a storyteller and a feminist comedian and it was free to go to. I really enjoy those so I’d really like to build on that and maybe do regular events for the writing community. Lastly, just casually, the goal is to become the biggest literary magazine for women in the world.
I decided that when I first decided to do it, that’s it. I’d start with the UK but with the internet, why not make it the biggest thing in the world? I think we can do it, I just don’t know how long it will take.
What advice would you give to somebody wanting to start their own magazine?
I think this applies to somebody who wants to start their own project because I think it’s the same. The difficult thing in anything is starting it, the first step. People say to me, ‘You’re so brave doing this!’ and I’m like, ‘Really?!’ because if it’s something you feel like you want to do, trust yourself to do it. Just do it. Take matters into your own hands.
The thing I say about Salomé which I feel makes me quite fortunate is that I don’t feel like I have my livelihood resting on it at the moment. My income doesn’t rest on it, I don’t take any money from it.
I had an idea on a bus and then I said, ‘I’m going to do it,’ and the next day and I said, ‘Right, I’m doing it.’ Ten weeks later, printed, everything, I had the first issue.
If you’re interested in getting your hands on a copy of Salomé, get on over to their website.
Written by Brittany Sutcliffe.
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