Creating quality control protocols is just as important for the book publisher as it is for the factory. At the end of the day, book publishers are producing a product that will be mass manufactured on an assembly line and, hopefully, consumed by many people. The implication here is that we need to take great care in producing the books we publish, from design and editing to marketing and distribution.
Learn from my mistakes
At one point I blindly expanded my catalog at lightning speed. I assumed that the workflow I had developed would maintain the high standard of design and editing to which I had become accustomed. However, as the number of projects that I was working on piled up, so too did the number of mistakes in the books that I was releasing.
I brought in more people to help manage the workload. But I still encountered the same problems because I had no system in place for tracking what work was getting done and what remained.
Cover descriptions were not getting updated before I sent the file to the printer. Prices were getting mixed between books. Annotations were missing or finding their way into the wrong place. And Table of Contents weren’t getting proofed.
This cost me time, money, and reputation.
To make the problem worse, because the catalog was growing, I was spending increasing amounts of time searching a disorganized array of files for information on specific titles.
One of the small, but common snags occurred when a wholesale customer would call and want prices on specific titles. Because I did not have all of this info in one place, I often had to visit the imprint’s website to find the retail price. And if the customer asked for the price in pounds sterling, then I had to search even harder.
What I needed was one place where I could track books for their entire life and deposit all the metadata that selling books requires.
When I think of databases, I think of expensive and cumbersome software bundles that create just as many headaches as they solve.
I tried to use FileMaker to create a custom database that could manage everything, from images to metadata, book descriptions to customers, invoices to royalties.
After a weak of stumbling around within FileMaker, I abandoned that path. It was too complicated and had too many bugs.
I knew that I needed something simple. Super simple. iPhone app simple.
So I searched the App Store and found exactly what I needed.
Tap Forms is $34.99 and has the simplicity of a well-designed iPhone app. It is available for Mac computers and phones. I use only the desktop version, but I can think of scenarios where the mobile version could come in handy.
It worked intuitively from the start and within a day I had hundreds of cross-linked entries.
What to do with the database?
Databases, even ones as simple as Tap Forms, can do tons of things. They can create and manage checklists, like an operating room checklist for a patient. They can be customer management tools that document each interaction with a customer. They can create and manage orders. They can track expenses. And they can hold an infinite number of lists.
They can also link all of this information together.
At the beginning, when building the database, the publisher must ask what the database needs to do.
Here is what I wanted my database to do:
- Contain all the metadata for each book. This includes prices across different currencies, descriptions, ISBNs for each version, links to websites that sell the book, display the cover image, etc.
- Link each book to a series of quality control checklists.
- Contain detailed quality control checklists that will help find more errors in books and prevent new errors from being introduced during the editing, design, printing, and marketing phases of each book.
- Contain ranked and detailed lists of books that I am considering for acquisition.
- Tell who distributes each book.
- Give the status of each book in every possible state of existence.
- Manage bulk mailing lists.
- Manage annotations across several languages.
- Manage the production of guidebooks and similar books.
I am happy to say that the database that I built using Tap Forms does all of this.
Do the quality control checklists really work?
Yes. They work really, really well.
I find that quality control actually speeds up the book creation process. Yes, there are more boxes to check, more forms to fill out. But these serve a clear and quantifiable purpose, to track what gets done, when, and by whom. Work no longer gets duplicated. Did we check for orphans and widows? Yes. Great, on to the next thing. Did we do our secondary check that the index page numbers go to the right place? Nope. Gotta do that.
Does this mean the books are error free? Most of the time, yes. But sometimes an error slips through all the layers of redundancy. After all, humans are creating this content, and we are prone to errors. But, the error occurrence rate becomes much smaller when I use these controls.
If you are not already using a database to manage content and content creation, please use one. Using a database takes a publishing company to the next level of professionalism and adds value to the business.