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How to start a publishing company

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Hazel Cushion is the founder of Accent Press, a successful publishing company that started life as a student project.

Based on the side of a Welsh mountain, Accent distributes books worldwide. Many of Hazel's titles compete in top ten bestsellers lists, not bad for a company that's only five years old and used to operate from a front bedroom.

Hazel has won many awards over the years and recently visited Buckingham Palace at the Queen's behest

Hazel has won many awards over the years and recently visited Buckingham Palace at the Queen's behest.

I caught up with Hazel and asked her to think back to day one.

Sally Grant: How did you end up in Wales?

Hazel Cushion: I returned to the UK after living abroad for years and years, my husband was still working abroad, we just moved to Wales.

I did an MA in creative writing - I was 40 when I started it, my children (triplets) were each five years old.

SG: Triplets? Wow! Did you feel isolated in Wales?

HC: I was effectively a single mother, running the home with the children and I just knew that I would never be able to get a job in Wales earning the kind of money I needed to be earning.

SG: Was starting the business a direct result of studying for your MA?

HC: The MA opened up so many different opportunities. I was trying to think of a business I could run, where I could be based in Wales and I did this course not realising it would lead anywhere.

SG: How did one lead to the other?

HC: My fellow students and I took ourselves far too seriously! We decided that we would make a book as a product to sell. They had a student scheme at the university where they helped you set up a business, so we set up a little publishing business. We got grant funding in order to produce our book and it was all done on a committee basis.

SG: Did you think you were the architect in terms of starting the company?

HC: I'm afraid it's a bit of a reflection on my personality, but every committee I seem to join I end up doing all the work as everyone in the committee tends to back off!

SG: So you like to be in charge?

HC: I got involved in the sales and marketing aspect of the business and the production and found that I was completely hooked.

I learnt how to cost a book out and things like that; it seems an incredibly daunting thing if you've not been involved in publishing before, but it is, in fact, so very simple.


SG: When did the penny begin to drop that you could be a successful entrepreneur?

HC: I realised a book was a product that you can produce in your front bedroom, because all you need is a computer.

You don't actually print it there, you pay a printer to print a book, so I didn't need big premises - it was financially viable to do it, the hardest part was attracting sales.

SG: That must have been an empowering feeling. Did you need finance?

HC: I was given a £5k bursary upon graduation. I also got a business start-up grant from my local county council. Additionally, there was also a scheme in Pembrokeshire called the Pembrokeshire lottery where I got an interest-free loan.

So all in all I started with about £20k pounds finance.

SG: With 140,000 books published in the UK every year, how did you make yours stand out?

HC: I thought if I combined sex with some kind of charity, it would be a good combination to get some attention! I would develop a niche market.

I came up with this range of stories called 'Sexy Shorts', and I got big name authors to donate them in order to raise money for charity. I got Katie Fforde on board for the first book.

I also got on the phone to WH Smith and got my first book into its top 300 stores. The books did very, very well and raised a lot of money for charity. I literally did all of that from my bedroom. It got us established, kick-starting us beyond many struggling small publishers.

SG: How have you kept up with the initial success after having such a successful first innings?

HC: If it's not commercial, it's not for us; we have to be able to make a living. A lot of publishers get grants from the art council. But we're an independent publishing company so therefore we have to be really commercial about what we do.

I aim for books that have good publicity potential, where there's good media interest and there's a good angle on which you can get publicity from.

That's what sells books. People need to hear about them and read about them, know that they're out there.

And that's where we punched above our weight when we were very small. People didn't realise how small we were because we kept being really pushy about our publicity.

SG: Many business owners talk about pressures and responsibility in running their own business, what do you feel are yours?

HC: Having employees puts a huge responsibility on you. It puts a lot of pressure on you because it can be hard to keep everyone motivated and everyone energised and juggle work, life, the children and stuff like that.

SG: Do you think it would have been possible for you to be based in Wales and run a successful publishing company 10 years ago?

HC: I could not have set up my publishing company from my bedroom 10 years ago. It's only the internet that has made it possible.

Now I can sit on my Welsh mountain, in my primary school (Hazel's home and office) and run a successful publishing company.

The internet has opened up so many opportunities because now we can sell directly to customers. We can also talk directly with our customers in a way that you couldn't have done before.

Through Facebook and MySpace we have fan groups for our books, our authors and we can connect directly with people, all around the world.

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