From board books to retellings of classics, Starry Forest Books is a publisher that creates beautiful books for young readers — from infants all the way to middle-grade level. To coordinate release dates, author and book details, and social media announcements, Starry Forrest Books requires a system designed for managing a lot of interconnected data. With Spreadsheet.com, the company found the ideal data management system.
Originally from Ohio, Allison Hunter Hill is a Boston-based editor at Starry Forest Books. Following in the footsteps of her father, she began her career as a public librarian. However, as a fervent lover of books, she decided to make the switch to children’s publishing, where she could get her hands on new titles even sooner. She has worked at small and large publishing houses in the last decade, and started working at Starry Forest Books in 2019.
Creating and launching a new book involves a lot of connected data. “There’s just so much information,” Allison says. “Every book has an author and illustrator. Authors and illustrators have addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, websites, Instagram and Twitter accounts. They also have agents who have addresses, social media accounts, and websites. Each book has an ISBN. It also may have ebook and audiobook editions. There’s a marketing plan, shipping dates, printing dates, and design details. So much of creating a book is babysitting information. That was a particular burden for a growing company like ours because database programs are expensive.”
Allison previously managed this connected data using Google Sheets. While she did find Google Sheets useful, she realized that it lacked several critical capabilities that her team needed.
“Google Sheets just wasn’t doing what we needed,” she adds. “I couldn’t go beyond a one-to-many relationship. I needed many-to-many relationships between rows of data. I needed my spreadsheets to talk to each other. No matter how many LOOKUP formulas I tried, I couldn’t make that happen — not with the number of hours in the day.”
As the company continued to expand and add more titles, Allison realized that Starry Forest Books couldn’t continue working within the confines of Google Sheets. It wasn’t sustainable, especially as their team grew. Allison had to spend too much time training others on how to use the system, and it was too error-prone.
“There’s a huge risk when managing information that will eventually exist permanently, like on the cover of a book. Without the correct system, the team could make mistakes, almost like a game of telephone,” she says. “Additionally, we needed live data that everyone could access without multiple subscriptions, which ruled out Excel.”
Allison was determined to find a better solution. “There were some nights where I would just stay up Googling, trying to find the right tool for us,” she says. “That’s how I found Spreadsheet.com. I sent an email saying, ‘I know you are still in beta, but is there any way I could try it?’ Spreadsheet.com kindly agreed – that’s how I ended up using the platform, and it made all of my data management dreams come true.”
About half of the Starry Forest Books team uses Spreadsheet.com. Allison was able to set all of them up on the platform with ease.
“Switching to Spreadsheet.com saves me an hour or so a day,” she says. “It also saves me the several hours it would take me to train people on the elaborate sheets we used to have. I used to scare my team into not touching the formulas, so we could keep the errors to a minimum and not duplicate information across different sheets. It was a mental burden, as well as a time drain. But the onboarding with Spreadsheet.com is so easy, and I have peace of mind knowing that we’re all looking at the same data.”
“I really like the automations,” Ryan adds. “When I'm reading a message, I can insert data from the row instead of hard coding things. That's fantastic. That makes life way easier. The ability to assign to people, which is tied to their email address as well. That's great.”
While Ryan uses multiple features, it’s the automations that he particularly loves. “Spreadsheet.com saves me at least four or five hours a week just with automations,” he says. “It reduced the number of tasks I had do manually before.” In this project management spreadsheet, Ryan is using about 21 automations—from setting new dates and statuses to triaging escalations, depending on the severity, to sending out deadline reminders via email or Slack.
Pencil drawings or sketches on a whiteboard, or they can be produced by means of a broad array of free or commercial software applications. Wireframes are generally created by business analysts, user experience designers.
The automations play a pivotal role in the escalation system that Ryan built through Spreadsheet.com. “It tracks escalations, automates responses and timelines,” he says. “That’s the biggest thing I built through the platform.”
Communication and collaboration are key for the team at Gembah. Spreadsheet.com helps them relay messages and share information in easy and effective ways.
Being able to connect data across multiple spreadsheets is critical for Starry Forest Books, especially with projects that can take years from start to finish. This is accomplished through extensive use of the Spreadsheet.com related rows feature, which allows Allison and team to easily link rows together across workbooks like tables in a relational database.
“For each title, anyone on our team can pull data from across different workbooks without me having to do any manual work,” she says. “I know that the correct information is going to go into print. It’s all going to be just as it was when we approved the first version.”
There’s a lot of jargon in publishing, which can be challenging to navigate if you’re new to the field. With drop-down columns, the Starry Forest Books team has a list of specific naming conventions available, meaning someone can choose exactly what they need, something Allison describes as “life-changing.”
As a visual person, Allison also appreciates that you can add more than just text to the drop-downs. “My team is very visual,” she says. “That’s just how we’re wired. We’ve been able to utilize emojis and color-coding in our dropdowns. We use different emojis to signify what stage of the process we’re in. For example, a paintbrush means the illustrator is working on art, and a teapot tells us we’re waiting for a missing piece. That visual information can convey more to our managing editor than text.”
Team Starry Forest Books works long hours, but it also makes time to celebrate major milestones, like the release of a highly anticipated title. For that, the team leverages Spreadsheet.com’s Slack integration.
“Every book has a birthday — the day it’s published and released in stores,” Allison explains. “It’s easy to forget about because book files go to the printer months before a title is released, and you’re already working on a dozen other books as soon as one is out the door. We’ve set up Spreadsheet.com to notify us via Slack when our books are released. It’s easy to get caught up in the details, but Spreadsheet.com helps us remember to pause and celebrate.”
“Little bits of information are like a story’s plot, and how you rearrange them and look at them can tell you a different story. It’s not enough that your story has words and is legible. It should open the door to understanding other things, and seeing connections. That’s something we didn’t have before Spreadsheet.com. Now, our data can tell us the story behind the stories we make. We can see exactly how something went from being an idea or a piece of art to something that kids can hold and enjoy.”