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Let frustration be your fuel: 7 lessons for start-ups from Salomé Magazine

Salomé is one of the newest publications to hit the independent press scene. Launched in April this year, Salomé is the literary magazine for emerging female writers, and gives self-identifying women the platform, confidence and experience to get their writing published. Jacquelyn Guderley, the magazine’s founder, shares lessons she’s learned along the way.

“Salomé was born by a group of pissed off women”, the top of our website proudly proclaims. Frustration can be the harbinger of many things; in this case it was a desire to provide a new and supportive platform for talented female writers. A platform for women only – in an industry that publishes far more writing by men –  that cares about the women behind the writing, their needs and their aspirations. It stemmed from not having the confidence to submit my own work to publications as much as I would like to and knowing a number of women out there in the same position as me.

10 weeks had passed since the very first seed of an idea for Salomé, when I found myself standing before a room of people at our sold-out launch party, holding a print copy of the first issue in my hand. In such a short time frame, the learning curve is steep, as one might well imagine – and actually it continues to be. Though particular to my experience of launching Salomé, I believe there are some universally helpful lessons in there, which I hope will be useful to anyone who’s thinking about starting their own publishing company.

Know your values and commit to them

My first step, once I’d decided to launch a magazine was to write down a manifesto of sorts:

  1. All writers who submit their work for publication in Salomé will receive feedback on their writing
  2. All writers whose work is published in Salomé will be paid

These are the principles on which this magazine was founded, and it is by those principles that we stand. The way we see it, subscribing to the way things have always been done for no reason, doesn’t create the sort of change we wanted to see in the publishing industry.

Of course, with a very prominent socially focused goal, being guided by a set of values feels immensely important. Still, I believe that being value-driven in some way will help any new publication, or business in general, for that matter. Complex decisions are bound to crop up; if you have a set of “non-negotiables”, it can keep you on the straight and narrow when invariably you’ll feel pulled in a number of conflicting directions at times.

Embrace otherness aka your uniqueness

My background isn’t in publishing and, while I’ll happily admit that, it wasn’t until Salomé was up and running that I started to really notice how that set me apart, and to wonder what the effect that might be on our success. It would have been easy to feel apprehensive, working with the unfamiliar.

But it has actually proven to be hugely liberating. We haven’t felt constrained by “the norm” (partly because I genuinely have no idea what the norm is). I had no idea how notoriously difficult it is to run a financially sustainable magazine that pays its writers. Nor did I really realise how unusual it is for publications to give written feedback on every submission.

These standards that we’ve set for ourselves stem purely from thinking “what would I want as a writer?”, which has naturally seen us offering an alternative way of doing things to many traditional publishers. Of course, there are times when I wonder, “is this madness, writing all this feedback?”. But I’m learning to be resolute in my commitment to the differences about our magazine that make us what we are. Even if not the norm.

Prepare yourself for success so that it’s manageable

Responding to demand has been a challenge, though admittedly a most welcome challenge to face. When your second issue receives 270 submissions – four and a half times more than the first issue – and suddenly you’re staring at 270 pieces of writing to read, critique and give feedback on, some creative thinking is needed. We’ve had to draft in last minute readers for our reading panel, I’ve worked every day on holiday this year to get all the feedback finished, and I’ve had to find a way to manage all of this in and around a day job.

However, learning our limits and how to manage an – in some ways – unexpected popularity has also been extremely important in making Salomé sustainable. For our third, and upcoming, issue we decided to introduce a 250 piece submissions cap. I can’t tell you how strong the desire is to open up the floodgates and see just how many submissions we’d get if we were to remove this. But I’ve realised that running at a size we can manage does not make the magazine any less successful – it just makes it more sustainable. It’s felt important to learn our limits and listen to them, rather than taking on too much.

Try not to be expectant

I’ve been bowled over by the way that the magazine has taken off, but I resist the pull of complacency wherever possible. I don’t automatically expect the next issue to sell as well as the last. Instead, I try and treat every issue like we’re starting from scratch. By not assuming that submissions will simply roll in, by not assuming that we’ll sell enough copies to keep us afloat and pay our writers, I’ve approached many of my days like I’m fighting for the life of our magazine – arguably, when I didn’t need to. While this can be a little stressful from time to time, the fact that we’re already in a position to pay our writers for the next two issues means that we can get on with our current issue, knowing that we have a solid plan for the medium term as well as the next couple of months.

Surround yourself with supportive people who really care

Thankfully, though I run the magazine alone, I’m certainly not a lone ranger when it comes to pulling it all together. The people around me that make up Team Salomé are invaluable. I feel incredibly lucky to have a steering committee of eleven passionate and committed women, as well as the support of a number of our community who have felt motivated to help too.

As a steering committee, we all contribute to the magazine in our spare time, so I’ve tried to make it as light touch as possible. We mainly use WhatsApp (we’re a team of mostly millennials, after all!) and sometimes email to feed into decisions. Finding a way that people can contribute that fits in around their lives, and without it feeling hugely time intensive, has allowed the team to grow to twelve of us. From my perspective, the diversity of thought and opinion that comes with a larger team, is key to creating a well-rounded and balanced publication.

Find your community and enrich it

I always wanted the magazine to be the start of a community, united around a common cause, and we’re beginning to see the signs of that. I personally think it goes back to defining your values and committing to them; people understand what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and – when they find that they believe in the same things – that’s where community begins. Sometimes it’s just a matter of tapping into it.

Since we’ve found the cause and the people, I wanted to do something to enrich that community. For me, that meant taking Salomé beyond the page. To this end, we put on events, we run writing salons with published female authors, and we’re launching a podcast later this year, all with the aim of providing a new space for our community of people who care about supporting emerging female writers, as readers or as writers themselves.

And lastly, the biggest lesson of all:

If you’re frustrated by something, why shouldn’t it be you that sets out to change that? If nothing else, I’m certainly not that “pissed off woman” that I once was.

Want to know more about Salomé? Head over to our website.

Our July issue is on sale on our website, in print and digital formats. Our next issue is out in October. Sign up to our newsletter via our website to be the first to know when you can buy your copy.

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