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Expert Editor & Accomplished Writer Cate Hogan Says Don’t Be Too Anxious For Success

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What is your area of expertise, who do you serve, and how do you serve them?

When most people hear the word ‘editor’, they imagine a pedantic fusspot wielding a red pen. Of course, grammar and style are important, but if the story is boring, unstructured, or predictable, it’s not going to engage readers. It’s my job to analyze and deconstruct the journey, then show a writer how it can fulfill its dramatic potential.

Why would someone choose you over a competitor?

Editors are great at quick fixes; correcting typos and polishing clumsy sentences. But what if the entire scene is irrelevant, or unstructured? Suddenly, we run into issues that require hours of careful strategizing and rewriting. It’s simply more expedient to fix the mistakes on a sentence level, and assure the writer their draft is now correct and ready for the world.

In traditional publishing, this isn’t an issue. Editors are paid a salary (not by hour or word count) and have the luxury of time. More importantly, the manuscripts they’re developing represent the top 0.05% of works submitted to the publisher. These stories have already undergone significant development by the writer (who is usually a seasoned professional) and evolved beyond the big, structural issues that condemn the remaining 99.5% of drafts to the slushpile.

In self-publishing, freelance editors apply the final polish to projects that in fact require a total overhaul. This is why you’ll find lots of grammatically correct books on Amazon that boast a few reviews from friends and family, but have failed to engage the general public.

The harder, more time-consuming route–for both a writer and editor–is to dig beneath the aesthetics and strengthen the ideas, rather than the words. I charge a premium for my work because I value good stories above expedient answers. It’s my job to tell you what your story needs to be a bestseller, regardless of the amount of time and effort required to get there. This tough-love approach won’t only result in a better book, but a better writer.

Share a specific time you encountered an obstacle and describe how you overcame it.

Before entering publishing, I worked in the film industry. Passion and dogged persistence landed me a fancy office in the middle of Sydney Harbor, and career most young filmmakers would die for. And it did, in fact, almost kill me. At the tender age of twenty-seven, I quit my job and found myself sitting on a beach in Bali, Indonesia.

I was spiritually, creatively, and physically wrecked, but it was the breakdown that would prove to be my breakthrough moment, giving me the courage to pursue my love of storytelling, but on my terms. Ultimately, I had to realize that no amount of external affirmation would give me what I really desired: creative freedom.

Share a short story about your best (or favorite) case study.

Like most editors, I’m a voracious reader and on a few occasions, I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with authors whose books fill my personal library. It’s surreal. I get to glimpse behind the veil at the creation of stories that will be translated into multiple languages and touch tens of thousands of lives–my own included.

They say you should never meet your idols, but in this case, it’s a privilege and blessing. But my favorite project of all would have to be one that was a lot closer to home. Over four years, I worked with my grandmother to delve into the key events and experiences and that had defined her life, and more importantly, identified the themes, patterns, and beliefs that guided her choices and actions.

When working as a developmental editor, you step into the role of a pseudo-therapist-come-journalist, always probing deeper, and in this instance, nothing was off the table. My grandmother is an incredibly strong, impressive person, and this project became the perfect opportunity for me to plumb depths we never could have reached in a regular grandchild/grandparent dynamic. It was one of the best things I’ve done.

What advice would you give the “20-Year-Old-You” who’s eager to start in life?

I would sit myself down, put the wine away, and tell Young Cate to not be so anxious about success. There was no room for playfulness and curiosity in the stew of that insecurity. My passion for storytelling was always there, guiding me, but I didn’t have the confidence to trust in it. Thankfully it came with time.

Please describe a monumental time in your life that you’ll never forget.

This very moment! As my grandmother has taken to saying, “Darling, we’re living through history”. If you’re privileged enough to be safe, healthy, and employed, these paradigm shifts are opportunities for introspection and reinvention.

Working remotely has allowed me to live in six different countries, on my own terms, with the freedom to pursue lots of experiences. But the pandemic was the pause I needed to get clear on my deepest values and dreams. It turns out the biggest truths tend to be the quietest ones.

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