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10 Questions for Olga Grlic

A VP, Creative Director at St. Martin’s Press

10 Questions for Olga Grlic

A VP, Creative Director at St. Martin’s Press

This is 10 Questions, an interview series where we get to know designers from the directory a little better. Today, meet Olga Grlic, (currently a VP, Creative Director of St. Martin’s Griffin, Wednesday Books &  St. Martin’s Essentials, and an Executive Art Director for St. Martin’s Press). She has been with St. Martin’s Press since 2011. Olga is orginally from Yugoslavia but now lives in New York with her husband (a fellow cover designer!) and their two kids. You can visit her portfolio site here.

1. Visually take us through your professional journey. Create a diagram that summarizes your career to date.

2. If you HAD to devote one day per week to a side hustle or creative pursuit, describe how you would spend that day. 

Olga Grlic: I’d spend it researching recipes, cooking and baking which makes me insanely relaxed and happy! 

3. Do you ever go through periods where you feel completely creatively tapped out? 

Olga Grlic: I work on commercial books and feel like a waitress a lot of the time, hard to have a cover at the end that still feels like my own, but remind myself that we are problem solvers, spin it into a game (Homo Ludens), start from scratch, and remember designing books for a living is a fantastic job!

4. Do you show your designs to any non-coworkers before submitting them—a trusted husband or teenage daughter? Who and why?  

Olga Grlic: I have an in-house art director looking over all my covers, my husband Jimmy Iacobelli, whom I met at work, and now post covid, we get to work in the same office again (our guest bedroom) but for different publishers.

5. Tell me about someone from your past who played a role in you becoming the designer you are today. 

Olga Grlic: My sophomore year of SVA I interned at St. Martin’s Press mass market art department, basically scanning all day, and Henry Sene Yee, who was the CD of Picador at that time was on the same floor, and hired me to work with him on Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex, and later Rachel Cusk (one of my favorites) and Tom Wolfe novels, which was absolutely the most educational collaboration and trust I have ever been given, and also the only time I worked on literary covers, which ultimately made me want to stay in book design.

6. Will you buy a book that you’re dying to read even if you don’t fancy the cover? 

Olga Grlic: I would absolutely not buy a book if I do not fancy a cover, but most of the books I do buy, and authors I love are already so beautifully packaged this has not been a problem.

7. Spread good design! Introduce me to an artist or designer who makes great work.  

Olga Grlic: Madeline Donahue, an incredible painter, brilliantly portrays creative motherhood. 

8. We all know that great covers get killed. How often does something you submit get chosen in the very first round, and how often do you have to go through multiple rounds before you get an approval? 

Olga Grlic: I have only worked on a handful of covers that were chosen on the first round, but have worked on a million that have gone to 180 comps and then BACK to the 1st round, which is usually what happens when there are too many cooks in the kitchen. 

9. I loved it when Jamie Keenan said “It’s not an art director’s job to make your Instagram grid look nice.” How do you balance creating a cover that has mass market appeal with creating something truly unique? 

Olga Grlic: I think that creating something unique with mass market appeal is where book design is headed in general and while some publishing houses have a small approval board most of us have so many tiers of approvals before the end result, that the covers are a mix of publishers’, sales’, authors’ and usually authors’ neighbor’s opinions, so to say art directors have as much say in the end of the covers I personally think doesn’t exist in my world. 

Which publishing house/publisher you chose to work for, therefore their curation of books, shape your portfolio more than any specific art director. The good old literary VS. commercial battle no one tells you about when starting out!

10. The INABC Exit Question. You’re at a party and you just told a stranger that you’re a book cover designer. What’s the most common response you get from people when they hear this? 

Olga Grlic: Do you read all the books you design?

For more Q&As from our pool of talented designers, explore the 10 Questions series page.
Special thanks to Amanda Hudson for creating the series’ blog post cover design.
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