Feature article

An Interview with Hazel Cushion, Founder and CEO of Accent Press.

Wednesday 23 November 2016

Hazel Cushion, Founder and CEO of Accent Press.

Pinning down the jet-setting boss of one of the UK’s fast growing publishing companies is not easy – I was beginning to wonder if booking an adjacent seat on a long haul flight might be the only way. But then there would be submissions to read, cover designs to consider and a clutch of contracts to wade through – because Hazel Cushion, the founder and CEO of Accent Press is going places, in more ways than one!

Plans to meet in London, Wales even New York were thwarted and I was delighted to finally have a chat with her, before she headed off again.

Having completed an MA in Creative Writing Hazel founded the company back in 2003 and the business has been award-winning since inception, tipped as a HOT 100 start-up, titles swiftly appeared in the Bookseller’s Top Ten Charts, followed by widespread coverage in the Independent, The Guardian, The Sunday Telegraph, The Daily Express and The Daily Mail.

Based near Hazel’s home town of Cardiff, today the business divides into four imprints, Accent Press, its mainstream publishing arm, producing a wide range of fiction and non-fiction titles; Xcite Books, the UK’s largest publisher of erotic fiction; Cariad, mainstream sexy contemporary romance with a target market of women aged 18-35 and Accent Young Adult, teen and young adult fiction for 12 -25 year olds.
With the tag-line of ‘Feisty, independent’ I wondered if this described Hazel too? She laughs.

“We pride ourselves on being dynamic, ground-breaking too. Being independent we can be flexible and creative right across the board, meaning who we publish, what we publish and how we go about it.” Hazel explains. “Our job is produce quality work that sells.  I want readers to buy our books because they know the brand will deliver. Building brand loyalty is vitally important. This may be a creative industry but it’s a business and to develop and grow we need ‘career authors’; writers who are willing to work hard at every aspect of the job, and today that’s more than just the writing.”

Currently building their list of over 2000 titles, with around 72 new books scheduled this year, Hazel considers Accent is very much a launch pad for a writer’s career.

“I love when an author comes to me with three or four books – a series or stories set in the same place – I can see immediately how marketable this is. We work with agented and un-agented authors, and I’ve taken on a number of initially self-published authors who have gone on to great success, Jodi Taylor being one. But quality and commerciality is key. Our lists may be varied but the one constant is quality, all our books are great stories, superbly written.”

Currently heading up an in-house team of ten, including four editors led by Rebecca Lloyd – ex Harper Collins ─ Hazel also co-ordinates a further ten freelance professionals, handling everything from cover design to marketing. 

“Submissions are reviewed by our team of editors and if good enough, go onto a commissioning meeting. We’re a broad church, for example publishing Christina Jones’s bucolic frolics, Janie Milman’s very humorous Life’s A Drag and Roger Sanderson’s (writing as Gill Sanderson) medical romances. We probably take on four or five debut authors a year – which is a lot - but we need a career commitment, it’s a huge investment taking on a new author and although there are no guarantees in this business, we need to make sure the partnership – because that’s what it is ─ is as commercially viable as possible.”

Although Accent has an excellent relationship with major booksellers, including WH Smith, Hazel says Accent totally embraces the digital format because that’s where 70% of the company’s revenue comes from.

“It’s thrilling to wake up and, for instance, check our Japanese sales, discovering that one of our authors is doing really well there, this could only happen via the digital format. We’re good at marketing through social media and have a very close relationship with Amazon too, it’s all part of the marketing mix which is essential when you’re building a brand.”

All good news, but why is Accent currently closed to submissions? I ask.

‘We’ve been so busy we’re a victim of our own success and had to close to submissions in order to catch up.” Hazel told me. “It’s been a tremendously exciting year!”

Part of the excitement is the news that Accent has recently partnered with the progressive US publishing company Start, meaning all Accent authors will now be automatically distributed in  the US and Canada, I agree with Hazel this is quite a coup!

“We were in talks and it sounded so promising I just hopped on a plane to New York, negotiated the deal over three days, flew home, repacked my bag and grabbed the next flight to Frankfurt for the Book Festival,” she said. “It’s been an amazing year and with business going from strength to strength, I can share this success with our authors in terms of royalties, it’s all good news.”

More good news is the fact that Accent Press is reopening to submissions from January 2016 welcoming enquiries from members of the RNA – but do follow the guidelines on the website.

"I love the RNA, it’s superb and I can see things developing for the organisation too, it’s becoming more progressive and more widely recognised while continuing to offer fantastic support to authors. I’m sure the RNA has a star or two waiting to be discovered in 2016, it’s going to be another great year and I’m looking forward it, immensely.”

And with that Hazel had to dash, she was catching another plane. Where to? The Guadalajara International Book Fair of course.

(Taken from Romance Matters, Winter 2015)

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It's a fact

More than 1 in 10 of romance books bought are from self-published authors.