Judging a book by its cover is irrelevant if one doesn’t notice the book. This is where Natalie Olsen steps in.
Olsen is a book cover designer and was recently shortlisted by the Book Publishers Association of Alberta (BPAA) for book design for three of her covers. A Revision of Forward by Wendy McGrath (NeWest Press), The Swallows Uncaged by Elizabeth Mclean (Freehand Books) and Entropic by R.W. Gray (NeWest Press) fill the category in which her works are the only nominees.
While design is her thing, the University of Alberta grad is first and foremost a book nerd. While a good portion of high schoolers were concerned over who they were going to make out with, Olsen was more worried about what book she could jam against her face.
“You see, a career as a book designer is ultimately just a clever way to be paid to read,” Olsen says. “It’s a privilege to be among the first to see a manuscript as a writer hands it over to a publisher.”
Ultimately, Olsen feels indebted to the source material. No matter how successful her work is, she feels lucky to be able to work with writers of such a high calibre. It is this perspective that helps her in creating a book’s first impression.
“You can’t hijack a reader’s experience by assigning concrete imagery to characters, places, or things otherwise left to the imagination,” she explained. “The visual elements on the cover need to play off the title, subject matter, and genre in a way that is intriguing and unexpected. It’s an opportunity to offer something new, not define what’s already there.”
While being nominated is nice, Olsen believes that the recognition being from her home province holds a special weight. “[It] is where I learned to collaborate closely with authors, celebrate book releases with ample amounts of wine, and have animated arguments about fonts.
“Though I freelance for publishers across North America, the Alberta-grown projects are always closest to my heart. I made my first book in a tiny office in Garneau that usually smelled of coconut because of its location above the Upper Crust Cafe.”
Currently she’s working on the 2016 Short Story Advent Calendar which is curated by Edmonton Journal writer Michael Hingston. It is a collection of 24 unique stories that Olsen’s made to mimic the functionality of an Advent calendar, “except instead of cheap dusty chocolate, it’s good reads.”
Industry accolades, awards and nominations aside, Olsen prefers the respect of those she creates for. Also, a little bit of liquid courage doesn’t hurt.
“The most valued form of recognition for a book designer is feedback directly from an author who feels their words are in good hands,” Olsen says. “Well, once an author sent me a bottle of Scotch in thanks for his cover. That was pretty great, too.”
The winners of the 2016 BPAA awards will be announced at a gala dinner in Calgary on September 16.