Meet the ABIA Rising Stars: Cate Blake
In recognition of the Australian Book Industry Awards’ (ABIA) inaugural Rising Star of the Year Award, Books+Publishing spoke to each of the five shortlisted nominees ahead of the winner’s announcement at the ABIA ceremony on 3 May.
In this instalment, we speak to Cate Blake, commissioning editor at Penguin Random House (PRH). Ben Ball, publishing director at PRH, said that Blake’s publishing list is ‘a credit to her commissioning and publishing skills, as well as her editorial vision’. ‘Cate has discovered and nurtured some of our most exciting new voices, in literary and commercial areas, and has remarkable relations with the generation of writers and producers who are now stepping into the limelight,’ he said.
What are the top three things you wish you’d known when you were starting out?
I didn’t know anything when I was starting out, so I reckon I could fill a book with these (indeed, I’ve probably filled many books with things I didn’t know, albeit inadvertently). But here’s the top three things I’d tell someone else starting out now:
1. Get involved. I’ve always loved being a Penguin but I’ve also gained a huge amount of experience and insight from being part of the wider literary community: talking to writers’ festivals and creative writing classes, and helping with literary prizes and pitching workshops. I think it’s so important that emerging writers have access to development opportunities and information about the industry, and I’ve really enjoyed helping the fantastic organisations that are working to support them. I’ve particularly loved being on the board of the Emerging Writers’ Festival—the upcoming festival (19-29 June, golden tickets available now!) will be my third as a board member, and it’s been a real pleasure to see it go from strength to strength.
2. Keep an eye out for professional development opportunities. Editing is usually a solo task, and a lot of us learn by doing, but there are some fantastic opportunities out there to help develop skills and experience. In 2014, for example, I did a double-header of the Australian Publishers Association’s Residential Editorial Program (REP) and the Yale University Leadership Strategies in Book Publishing course, and it was extraordinary. The REP was a week of close editorial work with some wonderful Australian editors, and the Yale course brought together publishing professionals from all over the world. I learnt so much, about my job and the industry more broadly, and I realised anew that book people are the best people.
3. Things will change. We work in a dynamic, ever-changing industry, and it’s so important to be flexible and open in the face of that. I started in publishing about a year before REDgroup collapsed and it’s been a whirlwind of readjusting ever since. Learn to go with it, and keep your focus on the most important thing: producing excellent books.
What has been your biggest achievement/proudest professional moment?
I am proudest and most excited about the books I’ve published and the authors I’ve worked with. I’ve been commissioning since 2011. (I was a publishing assistant when I acquired my first book!) and I’ve had the huge privilege of publishing some of Australia’s best and brightest authors, including Antonia Hayes, Jamila Rizvi, Liam Pieper, and the dynamic Women of Letters (now writers’ festival!) duo of Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire. And we’ve just announced a forthcoming project that I’m really, really excited about: the long-awaited memoir of Olivia Newton-John, out in September this year.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned on the job?
To surround myself with good people. I’ve worked with some of the most talented and generous editors and publishers (and publicists, and sales people, and marketing folk, and production, design, rights … ) and I’ve learned so, so much from all of them. The people I work closely with are at once teachers and support crew and cheer squad for me and my books. And that’s to say nothing of my wonderful authors, who keep me excited—and on my toes—every day.
What do you think this industry could do better?
I think we all know that we’ve got work to do on diversity, both in terms of the stories we publish and the people behind the scenes helping to produce and champion them. I hope that we as an industry are looking closely at our publishing lists and the way we reach out to writers and readers, and also at hiring practices, literary awards and funding opportunities.
Where would you like to be in five (or 10, or 20) years’ time? And what do you hope the industry will look like then?
I would like to be publishing adventurous, engaging and beautifully written books! Given the speed at which our industry changes, it’s hard to picture clearly where things might go or how they might look, but I love what I’m doing and I hope to continue to be given the opportunity to do it.