Or, technically speaking, we were that happy Tuesday as we could finally say at our weekly department meeting that all the books for TSTC Waco bookstore had been printed, invoiced, and delivered. Currently, the Waco campus bookstore is by far our largest account so having their work done means a huge chunk of our work for this semester is done.
Since 2005 when we published our first two books we’ve always done three print runs a year—one each in the fall, spring, and summer—based on the book orders for an upcoming semester. That allowed us to update materials relatively easily while our inventory (and storage costs) stayed reasonably low. That, however, is all going to change this summer due to some workflow and production issues that have reared their ugly heads as our book list has grown.
First of all, back when we just had a handful of titles in print—3-5—it was easy enough for us to update books as often as each semester without too much of a problem. And, for sure, the first couple of semesters you’re going to have to be doing this as you pick up odds and ends of corrections that come to light when a book is actually being field-tested in the classroom for the first time. But, as our title list has grown, over the past couple of semesters we’ve found ourselves—“ourselves” being that kind of royal “we” usage that really mean Grace, our graphics specialist—updating the same books over and over again. It’s not that we don’t want the most current and relevant books to be available but, on the other hand, if you spend half of your semester updating a book for the second or third time in the past 6-9 months, you’re losing a lot of time that could be spent getting new books out.
Second, as I said above, we would also wait until we had the book orders in hand so that we kept our printing costs as close to the bone as possible and had no excess inventory. (Anyone who has ever been to our office knows how tight space is over here.) Plus, when you’re updating too-regularly, you want as few older versions of a book in stock because you’ve just reduced their monetary value to zero. But, the flip side of having virtually no inventory is that if somebody orders even 5-10 extra books that requires another round of trips to the print shop and book store and so on which eats up everybody’s time. And, while the bookstores were getting their orders as quickly as they could to us each semester, as we began having more titles it was hard to get all them done in the time frame that they needed them by.
But, you know, you begin doing things one way and that becomes the way you always do things until one day you look around and say, My gosh, what on earth could be the rationale for doing that like that!?!?! For us, that moment came a couple of months ago when we realized that even for our summer book orders—the smallest we have quantity-wise over the course of the year—we were going to need 6-8 weeks to print, proof, and then finalize the print runs for those orders. Then I started thinking: If it’s now taking that long for the summer book orders alone, that means we’re spending like 6 months a year just printing book and/or sending books to print. Which, of course, means we have really reduced the amount of time we have available for more mundane tasks . . . you know, like publishing new books!
So, there are a couple of things we’re going to do differently beginning this sumer. First, we’re getting all of our authors/departments who we publish books for to be on a once-a-year schedule for updates/corrections. (This excludes, of course, the initial semester or two of field testing right after initial publication to shake out any last issues to deal with.) Second, we’re going to look at our book orders from last fall, do some moderately unscientific calculations, and begin printing books in June without waiting for the official book orders from our various accounts.
Yes, we will have more inventory sitting in our office on a regular basis. Yes (redux), we will probably end up eating the cost of more of the inventory than we are now. But, the savings in time from not updating books so often combined with having more inventory on hand to fill orders without wearing tire tracks in the street from constantly going to the print shop to drop off or pick up orders should more than make up for that.
(And, if none of this works as it should, then next year we’ll figure out something else to do.)