25th Trillium Award

Behind the Books, with Allison Napier

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Allison Napier

When we think of the people behind the books we love, we generally think of writers. But many people work in a variety of professions to get those books onto your shelves. In our new series, Behind the Books, Open Book speaks with the printers, publicists, book sellers, book bloggers, event programmers and many others who work in the publishing industry.

In our first Behind the Books interview on Open Book: Ontario, we speak with Allison Napier, a freelance photo researcher who works for publishers such as Crabtree Publishing, Scholastic and Digital Discovery Publishing. Allison is proficient in finding the right image, procuring, licensing and tracking images for projects in the publishing industry. When she is not working she is trying her own hand at photography, creating something from garbage, or relaxing at her cabin. She is married and has a teenage daughter — both continue to keep her amused and forever on her toes.

Open Book:

How long have you been at your current job?

Allison Napier:

I have been a freelance photo researcher for eight years.


What does an average workday look like for you?


An average workday consists of researching photos from a manuscript. Sometimes I am searching for a random image that is needed for a mock-up spread or website. I spend time contacting photo agencies, libraries, museums or private photographers to get permission to use their images for the project.


What's the best thing about your job?


The best thing about my job is that I learn something new everyday. I learn about the subject of the book I am working on, and I learn from the photos or reproductions of art that I get to look at. Looking at thousands of images also gives you a good sense of what a good photo looks like. I am always eager to know what I will learn from each job.


Tell us about a memorable work experience.


A memorable work experience is when the book you have been working on for months comes back from the printers. Everyone from the authors, editors, production to design — everyone who works on the book, we would all gather to look through a copy and smell the fresh print, hear the spine open for the first time and compliment each other on a wonderful book we all made together. I love that.


When you were a kid, what was your dream job?


If I couldn?t ride horses all day, I wanted to work in a stationary store. My grandmother volunteered as a secretary for a woman's shelter organization in downtown St. Catharines. When they moved/closed the organization, my grandmother brought all the office supplies home with her including some shelving and a desk. In her old house she had a landing at the top of her second floor that was open to the hallway and you could look over the railing down onto the stairs. It had a window and the sun came in the lace drapes so beautifully anytime of the day. I dreamt of putting a couch there and setting up an area just for me until the supplies and desk came to rest there. My sister and I played there for years it seems, although I am sure it was not for very long. The old drawers to the desk made a wonderful sound when you opened them and smelt like wood and paper, making the desk the best spot to get to first. On the floor and on the shelves and in the desk were supplies. Metal thumbtacks of any colour, paper tags, round tags with metal around them, chalk, tracing paper, those metal wing things you use to make clock hands turn on a paper plate. There were envelopes, papers, cards, carbon paper, binder rings, typewriters and folders. You name it. We took so much home with us that I still have a few wingy things and tons of carbon paper. I wonder if she knew how that time affected me? This of course led to my obsession of playing secretary in my room organizing and reorganizing my desk but also the sub game where I would rob the "office" looking for a file and mess the desk up so I could come back to work and clean it up. As the robber I always pretended he needed his fix and I would down a box of orange TicTacs as my pills. Too funny. 

The other place I dreamed of working is a hardware store. My father had a wood working shop in the basement when I was a kid. I used to grab paper bags from the kitchen and go down and pretend to sell things to people and but their purchase in the bags like they did when I went with my dad to the hardware store. I liked stocking the ?store,? making displays, building something. I dusted things off with old paintbrushes and organized his tools, screws, nails, paint, glue, and wood. I mean I did this for hours. It was my favourite thing to play. My dad has never mentioned if he had to go in after I had been there and change things back. Even now when I go to a hardware/lumber store I feel at home with the familiar smells of varsol, oil and fresh-cut wood.

Check back for more Behind the Books interviews with Ontario's publishing professionals.

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