Books, Wine, Coffee and Events: An Interview with Publisher Hazel Cushion

Hazel CushionHazel Cushion launched Accent Press from her spare bedroom in 2003. It has since become an award-winning independent publisher, publishing a wide range of fiction and non-fiction. This year saw the launch of two additional businesses – Octavo (a self-publishing company which assists authors who want to go it alone) and Octavo’s (a bookshop, café, wine bar and event venue in Cardiff Bay). I met up with Hazel in the bookshop, to find out more about these new ventures.   

What made you decide to set up a self-publishing company?

The whole publishing landscape has completely changed with the advent of digital. In the old days, the bookshops were the gatekeepers. If you couldn’t get your book in bookshops, you couldn’t sell it. That’s completely changed now that there’s online retailers. And it has opened up some really interesting opportunities for people. In the old days, there was a lot of snobbishness about self-publishing and it was referred to as ‘vanity publishing’, but these days I think there really is a very good case for authors considering that option.

Octavo'sOur best-selling author, Jodi Taylor, we picked up when she self-published her first book. If she hadn’t self-published, I’d never have known about her. So sometimes it’s a shop window for your work, and then leads to a more traditional publishing deal. Other authors have decided that, actually, they can do better on their own anyway.

Which came first, the self-publishing business or the bookshop?

We decided to set up a self-publishing company, and decided that it would be better if it was in an accessible place. We wanted to have it at the heart of the Cardiff creative community, so it would be an office where people could walk in off the street, and I found that room next door there, which was offices, and rented that, and we moved in there on March 19th and set up Octavo.

Comfy seating and children's books

Comfy seating and children’s books

Then the café that was here closed down, and I very foolishly went to have a look at it and fell madly in love with the building. For a long time I’d wanted to set up a bookshop in Cardiff Bay, because there wasn’t anywhere to browse and linger and just chill out.

I was going to make this into a bookshop and café, but then we realised that the two parts connected. You couldn’t see it from the other side because it was blocked off, but when we came this side, we could see that there was a door… so, once I realised that the two were connected, I thought having that as an event room and an overflow for the café would be better use of the space, because the thing that most bookshops struggle with is that they don’t have enough room for events, so actually having our own dedicated event room was really important. We opened on June 2nd, so it was very, very fast.

Were you inspired by seeing a similar bookshop / café / event space somewhere else?

Octavo's has a dedicated space for events

Octavo’s has a dedicated space for events

Well, I’ve lived in lots of different places around the world and something like this is more common in places like America or Canada, where they tend to have hybrid things much more. I suppose I’ve picked up inspiration on my travels. I think in the UK we’re fairly unique to have such a big space that is dedicated to books, coffee and wine.

Octavo’s has been open for six months now… Has it been what you expected?

I think it’s been a big success so far. We get lovely feedback from people. They love the combination – they really enjoy the relaxed atmosphere here. People say it feels like a very warm welcome when they come in, so I think it’s a real bonus for the Cardiff community, and we’ve had some really successful events here.

What have been the most popular events?

writing-nanowrimo

Octavo’s encourages local writers with workshops and space to write

We had one last night, and we sold over 30 books, which was fantastic. A lot of the best events are local authors, where they bring their friends and family, and books with local interest often do the best.

The writing group is going from strength to strength, and the art group meet every Monday. We have three book groups so far – one called ‘Books You Wish You’d Read By Now’, a Young Adult one, and ‘Beer, Blokes, Books’, which is getting blokes in to talk about books and drink beer, basically – that one’s going to start soon.

Where will you go from here? Are there plans for any future developments?

As far as the publishing goes, we’re very much focusing on crime and historical books, and we’ve got exciting developments with some of our authors – including a possible TV series for Jodi Taylor, which is exciting.

With the self-publishing, we’ve learnt a great deal, and I think we’ll offer a more structured programme. Self-published authors, because they’re very new to the industry, need quite a lot of guidance and help – more than we had anticipated.

octavo's bookshop cafe

With Octavo’s, I think it will grow and evolve. It’s been really interesting to find out how strong the interest is for local interest books, Welsh authors, and especially Welsh language children’s books – they sell really well. And two surprises for us were that poetry did so well, and business books. What doesn’t sell, interestingly, is contemporary women’s fiction, I think it’s because women tend to buy it at the supermarket.

You can keep track of Octavo’s numerous events (including craft and art as well as lit events) on their Facebook page. You could also visit them in Cardiff Bay, and do your bit to support a local independent bookshop in the run up to Christmas.

Read more about Hazel’s own inspirational story here.

 

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