Power to the Young People: An Interview with Claire Napoli

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Last week I was fortunate enough to sit down and interview Claire Napoli from Salad Pages, a publishing company aimed at producing literature written by young authors. From experience, I know that it is extremely difficult to enter the publishing industry as a young adult, so I was keen to chat to Claire and find out more about the opportunity. 

When I had the idea for Salad Pages, and when I spoke to people about it, they said that they loved that young writers would understand them. It’s coming from their perspective, they’ve been there, they’re talking about things they understand, rather than someone in their forties, fifties, who is remembering what it was like. 

I feel Gryphon readers will be interested to know: where does the name salad pages come from? 

Salad pages is a Shakespearean phrase actually, ‘Salad Days’. It means a time of life when you’re young, you’re full of enthusiasm, and full of creativity. We spun it and put ‘pages’ in there to make it clear what we’re about.

When I heard the name and then saw on your website that one of your values is sustainability, I wondered if it was linked to that.

There’s lots of hidden meanings in that. We’re very focused on sustainability actually. We work with our printers, which are FSE credited. They only print on paper and use sustainable methods that are good for the environment. Obviously, we’re also very eBook focused as well. 

That is so important I think, in this day and age especially. Okay, so I wanted to ask: from my own experience, I know that when you approach a publisher and tell them your age, they tend to disregard you and encourage you to come back in a few years. What makes you think that young adult authors have something to say? 

Because they do. The age element is a barrier – I’ve spoken to lots of authors who have had similar experiences to you actually. They can get typecast very quickly. I don’t think age should be a barrier, because I’ve found that some of the most interesting things that I’ve read have been from younger writers, who have fresh ideas, loads of enthusiasm, loads of creativity, and they’re not tainted by the commercial world of business, and haven’t had their ideas tainted. They’re honest, and raw, and I love that.

That’s exactly what I was thinking. Young adults and teenagers are living through their most emotional times. 

And honest times. That’s what I’ve found. Another thing I’ve found are a lot of submissions that are young-adult based, understandably. When I had the idea for Salad Pages, and when I spoke to people about it, they said that they loved that young writers would understand them. It’s coming from their perspective, they’ve been there, they’re talking about things they understand, rather than someone in their forties, fifties, who is remembering what it was like. 

I know that when I read books written by young people, I connect with them more. 

Exactly, and we’re very focused on bringing the author to the forefront. When we’re marketing our books, and when we actually publish our books, knowing about the author is a really important part. When you know where they’ve come from, you feel more closely connected to the story that they’re writing. Everyone puts into their books a little bit of them. 

I read on your website that you’ve worked in other publishing houses, so I take it you’ve worked with people over the age of twenty two as well. Have you found a big difference working with people under and over the age of twenty two? 

That’s an interesting question. I would say that people under twenty two are very enthusiastic, they’re keen to take everything on board and are really receptive. I think also possibly, partly due to being in education more recently, they’re receptive to critiquing of work as well. That’s a really positive thing. But also standing up for themselves as well, if they don’t agree with something during the editing process, and that’s important. 

Do you think that, because of getting taken less seriously at a young age, it’s putting young authors off from writing until they get older? 

I think it might put some people off submitting things. I have had quite a few submissions where people said that they didn’t think they could do this and be taken seriously. And actually just knowing that Salad Pages is there has given them the confidence to write. We’ve had quite a lot of people enquire even if they don’t immediately submit, asking if it’s okay for them to get in touch and submit something. We’re always receptive to anyone that comes along saying that. 

I know for me, knowing about the existence of Salad Pages definitely rejuvenated my submission motivation. I think it’s a great thing that other people might feel that way.

I’ve been in publishing for over ten years, and I love what I do, and working with so many different authors from different perspectives, it’s fantastic. And publishing a book is an amazing achievement. It’s an amazing achievement just to have written a book, to have finished a book – not everyone does do it. Everyone can do it, but not everyone gets to the finishing point. It should be a really positive experience when you’re going through the process of publishing a book, and there have been times when I’ve worked in some big publishers, where that fun can be taken out of it a little bit. Where there’s deadlines, and it’s very commercial and focused. 

What we do try and do is make sure that we’re guiding our authors through the whole process and explaining why we are doing all the stages that we do. Getting them really involved in things like the cover design and the marketing, because that’s such a fun part, and the author should be involved with that, because the book is their baby. It’s such an amazing feeling to be able to hold the book when its published. A really important feature of Salad Pages is that we talk about positive publishing, and we don’t focus on the negative. It’s all about being creative and collaborative. 

Empowering your writers – that is so important. At the end of the day, publishing a book is one of the most, if not the most, exciting things to happen to a writer. 

Absolutely. And we’re very conscious as well that our authors do have other commitments. A lot of them are still in full time education, so it’s a matter of working around them towards the deadlines as well and fitting it in so that it doesn’t become stressful. 

That is such a good way to do things. I saw on the Salad Pages Facebook that you’re publishing ‘The Book by Everyone’. Would you like to elaborate on this? 

Yes, we are so excited about that. The idea for ‘The Book by Everyone’ is that we have partnered up with First Story, who are a fantastic charity that work with underprivileged children in schools and use creative writing as a positive experience to get them to open up and build confidence in themselves. So we’ve partnered up with them. It’s a book that anyone can contribute to, they write 100 words.

Do the mini-contributions follow on from one another? 

Well, that’s where Salad Pages comes in. We are going to be collating all of the words – they pretty much do [follow on], and we encourage people to read the words beforehand, and add to the story, but they can bring in threads that are new, and they can add independently to the story if they want to. We just want people to feel like they can get involved, and we’ve had some fantastic entries so far. It’s been quite entertaining and fun to see what people come up with. 

How large do you think the book will be in the end? Are you aiming for a particular number of words? 

We’re hoping to get to 10-15000, so it will be a fairly small publication. I do think though, because of the nature of how it’s been written, that that’s probably a good thing. There will be an element of disjointedness to it, but that’s understandable. I think readers will be understanding of that, and we’re getting all sorts of people involved. 

That’s a great stepping stone for people that know that they want to write but haven’t written a full manuscript yet. 

Exactly, that’s the point of it, that anyone can do it. We want it to be something that anyone can have a go at. If you hear of anyone that does want to have a try, then do send them over!

I’m sure readers at The Gryphon will be really interested to hear about it! I saw that you’ve signed a writer: are there any other publications coming out from Salad Pages soon? 

Yes, you probably saw Hazel Clarke, Nightmare Scenario. We’re really excited about her book. She’s absolutely fantastic to work with. We’re going to be publishing that one in June, and it’s got dark twists, but a lot of humour in it. The protagonist is so brave – she’s a strong character. It’s really great. 

Is Hazel the first person signed? 

She is the first person signed! As you know, we are still fairly new, and it does take time to actually get our name out there. Quite a lot of people have heard about us, and then gone away and started writing. So it’s also about getting people motivated to write. We’re working with a couple of writers who are going through the writing process right now, and we are going through it with them. They’ve submitted some chapters and we like the ideas, we like the synopsis and where they are taking it, and their style, and we feel it works well for both of us. So we’re actually working with them as they write. Like NaNoWriMo. 

Oh I love NaNoWriMo! I never quite make it though, it’s always at the peak time for university deadlines. 

Next year… 

Exactly, this coming November I will be so on it! I read that once your authors turn twenty two, they can them become mentors to other authors. Can you expand on this? That seems like such an exciting opportunity. 

Yes absolutely. It’s also important to note that once you turn twenty two we still want you to publish with us and be part of the Salad Pages family, until our authors feel comfortable enough, or want to move on. But we’d love them to be with us for as long as possible really! Yeah, I think it’s really important for people who have gone through the experience, to then share their experiences with the new authors coming through.

The idea would be that a new author would always have a dedicated development editor who works with them on their manuscript from start to finish, but then we’d bring in a mentor as well, who’d been through the process. Ideally who’d been with us, but I do know a lot of younger authors who just know what it’s like. So it might not be a Salad Pages author, but they just give their feedback on the experience, and give some encouragement. 

That sounds like such a valuable opportunity, particularly for authors who are interested in the publishing industry as well. In terms of submissions, do you have any particular genres that you’re passionate about and want to find in the inbox? 

Absolutely anything. The only thing we don’t take is poetry, as that isn’t our editorial background, and we couldn’t add enough value, and it wouldn’t be fair on the authors. Mainly any genre is absolutely fine, non-fiction, childrens…

Are you getting a mix, or is any particular genre standing out? 

We’re getting a mix, but it is still stronger for children’s and young adult. Genres like fantasy, sci-fi and romance. It’s a really nice mix. 

Do you have a particular type of book that you would feel excited about if it landed in the inbox? 

To be honest, no, I’ve just been so excited to find the variety. I absolutely love reading; you wouldn’t get into this business if you didn’t, so I read everything and anything. It’s so open. The cover letters that have come through with the submissions have been so varied, and I find that also really exciting. What I’ve loved about so many of the cover letters that have come through is how genuine people have been. People have talked about themselves, and what they’re interested in, and that’s really exciting and it helps when you come to read the chapters. You get a feel for where they have come from.

That’s so true, you can feel their voice in the chapters. I also think that younger authors probably don’t know a lot about the publishing process. So from submission to publication – what goes on? 

Generally what happens, on the submission side of things, someone will submit their first three chapters. We try to get back to them really quickly, and also importantly, we try to give some constructive feedback as well. If we feel it’s something that we can take forward then we will ask for the full manuscript, if its available. Sometimes people come to us and they say that they haven’t finished, and that’s also fine, we keep in contact regularly on a weekly/monthly basis. 

I’ve never heard of that before in publishing!

To be honest we sort of fell into that. It’s not something I’ve really experienced in publishing houses I’ve worked with. But it works really nicely as it allows the author to evolve their book with the process, and we get to see how it evolves too. It’s really exciting actually. 

So then, once we feel we can bring something to the manuscript, we then sign the author – there’s an author contract to sign. We meet – and we always encourage them to bring a friend or a parent if they want to, anyone who will make them feel comfortable in the first meeting – and we explain the process with Salad Pages. If they’re happy we set time schedules, very much around where they are at. Hazel Clarke is actually in her final year as well in creative writing, so it’s a matter of working around her schedule too. We work that out, so it can be up to six months between submission and publication. Some publishers can turn things around quicker, some much longer, but on average that is what it tends to be. It does depend on where the manuscript is at, and how much editing is needed. With working with writers who are still in the writing process, we do look forward into the next year or so. With Hazel being our first author, she’s been fab to work with and we’ve found that this schedule works for her and works for us too. 

She must be so excited!

She is, and we’re excited too. We love catching up and working on the manuscript, its really great. 

So we go through the editorial process – I sign the author to a developer who will be their dedicated editor for the process. And they work on the manuscript, give them feedback. At the start its mainly adding in sentences, or possibly cutting down or increasing chapters dependent on what’s needed to build the characters and increase the pace. It depends how many rounds of edits we need, going back and forth. Then we go into copy edit and proof reads, and then the manuscript will go off to be converted into an eBook and typeset and printed as well. 

If it is printed, where is it made available? On the high street, online…

Online we have an e-shop that’s been in the process of developing but actually goes live next week. 

By the time this interview goes live…

Absolutely, you’ll be able to go onto the shop and view the pre-sale. That will be added to as the year goes on. Our e-shop is obviously the place that we encourage, but also Amazon, other online retailers, and also onto the high street. We work with wholesalers, and they go into Waterstones. That selection process is a timely thing, but we also send to independent bookshops, as we feel that that’s really important. For every author it depends where they have come from – they may want to get their home town, or their university or institution involved. That’s really important, and a collaborative experience not just with the author, but with wherever they’ve come from. It adds to getting to know the author as well, and the places that mean something so them. 

I love that. So, second to last question is a hard one. If you had to pick one book that inspired your career in literature, what would it be? 

If I could pick one that actually made me realise Salad Pages was what I wanted to do, I would say Essie Hinton’s Outsiders. She wrote that book when she was seventeen, and I read it and didn’t realise that she was seventeen but found it to be powerful and impressive. Then, when I found out her age, I was even more impressed. That made me think – yeah, I’ve read other things like this, from young authors – and it’s a really special achievement, and a special thing. That tipped me into thinking about Salad Pages. I’d been thinking about it for a while, I’ve been working in publishing for ten years, but that was what pushed me into thinking about Salad Pages. 

Yes, I totally agree that young authors have something important to say. If you’re writing a book about University, and you’re in the thick of it, there is no better time to put words onto paper. 

Absolutely, and it’s also a time when everything changes so quickly. Trying to write about things when you’re in your thirties that happened to you in your twenties – actually, things change so much in a decade. Everything changes so fast, so to read things from people as its going on is important. Really relevant. 

Okay, so I only have one more question, which I think you’ve partially answered already in reference to cover letters. What’s the one thing which draws attention to a submission and gives it that extra sparkle? 

Not just the cover letter – the manuscript is really important too. You just somehow know, and it’s very difficult to describe. I’ve spoken about this to other publishers, and its just sometimes something that you read, and it all just clicks. And it has to be something that I think Salad Pages can add value to, to help the author get to publication, and get their book out there. I always have to feel connected, and that I can help them get to that point. 

I completely get that. Okay that’s fab, thank you so much for partaking in this interview!

Thank you for inviting me to do it! 

To submit your work, check out the authors already signed, or add to ‘The Book by Everyone’, visit https://saladpages.com/

Emily Merrill