Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Ask the Industry Expert: Hazel Cushion

Today we welcome Helena Farifax to the RNA blog. Helena is going to be bringing us a monthly blog interview with the ‘movers and shakers’ in the publishing world. Over to you, Helena!

It’s a great pleasure to welcome Hazel Cushion, Managing Director of Accent Press, 
to the RNA blogtoday. Hazel and some of the Accent Press team were at the RNA conference in London this year, taking pitches as well as running one of the sessions. I also have fond memories of their Pimms party by Regent’s Canal. We thought an interview on the RNA blog might be an opportunity for those who weren’t able to attend the conference to find out more about Hazel and about Accent Press, and we’re delighted Hazel has accepted our invitation.

Thanks so much for dropping in, Hazel. Please tell us a little about the history of Accent Press and how you came to start it.
I started Accent Press in 2003 in my front bedroom when my triplets were seven years old. I was effectively a single mum as my husband worked in the Middle East and I wanted to start a business that would work around my kids. I’d just done an MA in Creative Writing and, as part of that, we put together an anthology of our work. Once I knew how to make a book I was hooked! The timing was just right too as desktop publishing and the internet suddenly made it all possible. Needless to say it quickly moved out of the bedroom and we now have offices on a business park north of Cardiff where I employ a team of twelve amazing people.

What do enjoy most about your job? And least?
Well, the very best bit must be making authors’ dreams turn into reality – when they get to hold their books and see them climbing the charts and on book shop shelves. That is always a magical thing. I also love employing young people and seeing them grow and develop their careers. We’re based in south Wales and there aren’t a great deal of opportunities for young people – I’m very pleased that we can offer permanent jobs to people in such a vibrant and creative industry.
The worse bit is that’s it a tough market and we can’t make it happen for everyone. Trying to sell one book by one author is incredibly difficult – it takes time to build a following which is why we no longer commission standalone titles.

What is it you are looking for when a manuscript lands on your desk?
Brilliant writing, realistic authors and books with commercial potential. I find it really depressing that we have to reject so many submissions because authors haven’t read our guidelines first.

Where do you find your new authors, and how?
Very often it’s word of mouth or by attending events like the RNA conference. We do use agents sometimes but are equally happy to take on unagented authors. We do also actively seek successful self-published authors who are climbing the Kindle charts.

For anyone who missed your excellent talk at the RNA conference, what advice would you give someone submitting to Accent?
Read our guidelines first! Make sure the book is a publishable length and is either a series or that you have or plan other titles. We no longer publish single titles as they are just too hard to get noticed.

What benefits do you feel a publisher offers an author over self-publishing?
Where it works best is when we work as a team with the author supporting them and allowing them the time to develop their writing career. We provide the editorial support and guidance to enable that to happen and also free them up from the business side of selling and marketing their books. Authors are usually happiest plotting, planning and writing, and tend to find the whole pushing and publishing side uncomfortable. These days everyone hopes their authors will engage on social media too but if authors hate it then we say don’t worry about it. Our job is to promote and sell their work – I’d really rather our authors were writing than tweeting!

Romance is the biggest-selling genre in publishing, and yet the one taken least seriously by the mainstream. Why do you think this is? And how do you think romance authors can address the negative perception?
Sadly a lot of publishing folk are ridiculously pretentious and I find that very tiresome. Romance is the biggest-selling genre because it provides brilliant entertainment and enjoyments to the most discerning of readers – women. They are also the largest book buyers, especially the 18-26 age group. Cynical me might say they enjoy romance because they are still naïve and hopeful – and older women love the escape from repeated heartbreak!

What’s your favourite romance novel of all time?
Wow – that’s a hard one. Can I cheat and say what my least favourite was instead? I think some of you may agree if I say the words ‘fifty’ and ‘grey’?

Apart from your own authors, which book have you enjoyed the most recently, and why?
To be honest I tend to listen to books rather than read them, either when driving or before I sleep. One I read though was All Change, the final part of the Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
I’m very creative and messy – I love painting and crafts. My latest thing is felting where I take vast quantities of beautiful and quite expensive merino wool and spend hours soaping, soaking and rolling it into completely unwearable or usable objects.

If you could describe your working-day in just three words, what would they be?
Varied, rewarding, fun.

Thanks so much for your thoughtful answers, Hazel. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you.

You can find Hazel on Twitter and Accent Press Readers’ and Writers’ group on Facebook:

If you have any questions for Hazel Cushion, or any comments at all, please let us know. Hazel will be dropping in again today, and we’d love to hear from you!

Helena Fairfax writes contemporary romance novels. Her latest release is a romantic suspense

novella called Palace of Deception. You can find out more on Helena’s website www.helenafairfax.com
Thank you, Hazel and Helena!
The RNA Blog is brought to you by,
Elaine Everest & Natalie Kleinman
If you would like to write for the blog please contact us on elaineeverest@aol.com


Unknown said...

A great interview. Thank you Hazel and Helena!

Jane said...

Thanks for this. I find what you say about standalone titles fascinating, Hazel, and very worrying for the industry as a whole. I nearly always think in terms of series myself, or some way of linking books so the long tail can happen, and books can sell themselves - which they seem to do in certain areas of romance, if you strike it right. But I feel there should still be a place, outside literary fiction, for the standalone title.

It's a real dilemma, because obviously publishers need to make good returns on their investments, but at the same time, we need to find a way to market standalones successfully and avoid the book market becoming nothing but endless examples of series fiction.

Standalone fiction, whether long or short, is where big important ideas have a chance to thrive. Without standlones, we risk narrowing ourselves down to lots of smaller ideas, repeated with variations and nicely packaged for easy reading.

Just a thought. Great interview! All the best, Jane Holland (also writing as Victoria Lamb, Elizabeth Moss, Beth Good etc)

Rhoda Baxter said...

I was about to ask about the standalone novels too, but I see that Jane has already said most of what I intended to.

Could you define what you mean by series? Do the books necessarily have to follow on from each other, or do books which are loosely linked (e.g. set in the same location or have characters in common) also count?

Thanks for a very interesting interview.

Joan Fleming said...

Thank you, Hazel and Helena, for a great interview.

Like Victoria and Rhoda, I was particularly interested in what you said about standalone novels - it's good to hear this from the publisher's standpoint.


Hazel Cushion said...

Hello - thanks for the nice feedback.

What I mean by standalone books is a single title by an author. They are incredibly hard to sell - unless we can say it's a debut and book two and three are already in the pipeline. The subsequent books needn't be a series but should be in a similar style and genre i.e. if the first book is romance the second shouldn't be sci-fi as we have to start from scratch to build a following for that author.

Does that clarify things?