by Ali McCart Shaw, Executive EditorOlivia Croom

Indigo is proud to announce that we’ve grown again, and we welcome the type-stylin’ Olivia M. Croom to the team!

When asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, Olivia replied, “Bookmaker.” That journey has taken her from her hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Portland, Oregon, and now to New York City. Olivia has worked with a number of literary organizations to produce high-quality marketing materials and, of course, books.

I took the opportunity to ask Olivia some questions about design, life, and NYC:

AMS: What led you to pursue a career in publishing?
OC: Like many book people, I grew up with a home full of books and parents who read in their free time. I was slow to show any interest in reading—I didn’t start doing it for fun until age ten when Nancy Drew entered my life—but once it began, I quickly dedicated every minute I could to reading and writing. I was the kid in class who had to edit papers down to the maximum page count. There might also be a 200+ page Lord of the Rings fanfiction buried on my hard drive.

Without any connection to the publishing world, I thought the only way to be involved with books was to be a writer. This led me to declaring a creative writing major as a freshman in college. Though I lost interest in the idea of being a “serious” writer by the beginning of my junior year, in retrospect I realize that I stuck with the major because I loved being around writers. The degree required internship hours, which was how I discovered literary journals. As an editorial intern for Willow Springs magazine and editor-in-chief of Eastern Washington University’s undergraduate literary journal, Northwest Boulevard, I learned that I enjoyed working with writing that had already been created, rather than creating it myself. As a senior, I also taught myself how to use Adobe InDesign, the industry standard software. Northwest Boulevard was the first full-length book I designed.

While earning my master’s degree in writing and book publishing from Portland State University, I took as many book design classes as I could and interned with literary organizations around Portland, including Hawthorne Books, Literary Arts, and Ooligan Press. Most included a mixture of marketing or publicity and graphic design. I also attended as many literary events as I could, perfecting my live-tweeting skills. By understanding the community producing the books I read and wanted to work on, in this case the Portland small-press scene, I grew as a book designer. In my experience, good book publishing is inextricably entwined with writers, not just their writing, but also the writers as people.

AMS: What is your favorite detail about designing books?
OC: I love typography. My favorite part of designing book covers is finding the best typeface to reflect the author’s story. My favorite part of interior book design is applying traditional craft techniques to maximize readability. Examples include understanding how wide margins should be, correcting widows and orphans (single lines at the top or bottom of a page), and knowing when to use small caps. I love making adjustments to the type that aid the reader in staying engaged with the author’s writing.

AMS: What are your other creative outlets, and where can people see your work?
OC: Book design is my main creative outlet. My portfolio is available on my website.

AMS: You’ve recently taken your talents to the Big Apple. What would be the three words you’d use to describe your experience there so far and why?

  • Categorization. You meet a lot people living here. As a result, people in this “work hard, play hard” city want to know what box you fit in right away. One of the first questions everyone asks is, “What do you do?”
  • Compromise. I can’t remember where I first heard it, but in NYC there are three considerations when looking for a place to live: space, price, location. You can choose two. So far, this applies to just about every aspect of life here.
  • Kindness. New Yorkers are critical, direct, and efficient. They’ll also go above and beyond for a stranger on the street. I saw a woman fall head over heels down a flight of stairs in the subway at rush hour, and no fewer than ten people stopped to help gather the contents of her purse and make sure she was okay.

Ali McCartAMS: What’s the book you read when you think no one is looking?
OC: I’ve read nearly all of Philippa Gregory’s historical fiction, especially anything related to the Tudors. I might also pick up one of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels every once in a great while.

When Ali McCart Shaw isn’t editing or hanging out with other Indigoers, she spends her time at many of Portland’s plethora of literary events and soaking up the Northwest rain. She regularly loses her breath for sunsets, doughnuts, and the light in her dogs’ eyes. Her story “Going Home” features one of her dogs in the recently released Celebrating Animal Rescue anthology.