Tag Archives: Society of Indexers

A week in the life of a book indexer

By Paula Clarke Bain

I have been an editorial freelancer for two decades, originally as a proofreader and copyeditor, and now primarily as an indexer, after training with the Society of Indexers (SI). I like being an Advanced Professional Member of both the CIEP and SI. I also love the variety of the job, but here is a glimpse into a typical working week as a book indexer.

Monday

I’m at my desk for 9.30 as I try to keep a working routine of pretty normal office hours. I worked from home already, and luckily that hasn’t had to change much this year.

Today I’m starting a new index. This job is unusual in that I also did the proofread for it, so I have had one good read over it before I start the index. If I come to an index fresh, I tend to do an initial skim-read of the book to begin understanding its content and structure.

Another different aspect is that this job is in InDesign. For a normal back-of-the-book index, I would work from a PDF of the page proofs on the left of my screen, and SKY Index software on the right. However, this publisher prefers an embedded index in InDesign. This has its own indexing facility, but I prefer to work with the Index-Manager program, which imports the InDesign text and allows you to build and edit the index properly while embedding the entries in the text.

A good start is made, considering that the first day is always slowest. To index, I start at page 1, line 1, and read and input entries as I go along. (Yes, we do have to read the whole book.) I consider the readers’ needs as I do this and the ‘aboutness’ of the book. What is this chapter/page/paragraph about? I add possible subheadings to large entries that will need breaking down further. The software sorts all this into alphabetical order as I input. I do not add page numbers for an embedded index, as these are automatically generated by anchoring entries at the correct point in the text.

In the afternoon, I hear back from another indexing job. The typesetter had a few minor queries for the author, which they check with me. I soon resolve these and that index goes to print. I am often commissioned by authors and I think this can work better than the traditional publishing scenario where indexer and author have no contact.

I down tools at a reasonable hour and assess how much I’ve done so far, and how long it might take to finish. This book is a history of liberal thought. I’ve input entries for the introduction and first two chapters today and I’m only up to the end of the English Civil War. It’s going to be a long week.

Tuesday

An early start for a full day of inputting entries. I want to get another four chapters done today so I need to focus.

I make sure to take regular breaks. I use an online Pomodoro timer, so focus for 25 minutes, take a five-minute break, and repeat, with a longer break every two hours. In my breaks, I might go on Twitter, which is my preferred social network. There are many indexers, editors, authors and publishers on there, and I have sometimes got indexing work directly through Twitter contacts. I’ll either peruse some tweets or look at the CIEP or SI forums for some freelance chat.

I receive an email offer of a future indexing job, but it’s for a busy time and it pays a poor rate, so I don’t pursue this further. I stay on some of these freelance lists as a cushion if nothing else turns up, but something invariably does.

It’s a day of revolutions in the reading: Glorious, American and French. Lots of names for sorting out, and a couple of love stories too: between Benjamin Constant and Madame de Staël (quite an eye-opener), and between John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor. Some of these entries will need to be like mini-biographies in themselves, covering early life, relationships, theories, works, etc. I’ll reconsider these at editing stage.

I’ve done the four chapters as planned and I’m on track. Hoping for similar tomorrow.

Using Index-Manager

Wednesday

Onwards with more of the same. Having already proofread the book, I know that there is some difficult material coming up, though, including world wars and the Holocaust. It’s all written well, and so important to include, but the content is obviously horrific. I index this as professionally as I can, but I’m relieved to finish those chapters. I take a good break after this and head out for a walk.

On return, I am offered a job by a regular client to update a previous index I did for them. The author has written some additional chapters, so I will need to proofread this material, index the extra chapters and incorporate the new entries into the index (much easier with proper indexing software). I’m happy to do this, the publisher is pleased (as it’s less time and less money than a full index), and I agree to take it on.

The afternoon indexing is an easier session – on post-war rebuilding, including the theories of Hayek and Keynes; quite a lot on national identity, particularly seen through Isaiah Berlin and George Orwell; the Cold War, Thatcher and Reagan; and general post-war economics, up to the 2007/08 financial crisis. It’s a wide-ranging book, this.

Another four complete chapters done today: good. Ten down, four to go.

Thursday

I aim to reach the end of the inputting today and make a start on the editing. During the day, my reading covers, among other things, identity politics, cancel culture, migrant boats, Brexit and Trump. Quite a combination.

I do finish inputting early in the afternoon. The last indexable page occurs earlier than the last proofreadable page, as we don’t generally index the acknowledgements or references/bibliography sections, and endnotes are only indexed if they contain significant information.

And so the editing stage begins. I generate the index in a copy of the InDesign file and put it into the desired format (usually two columns in a smaller font than the main text). I can then see how long the ‘raw’ index is, and how much editing I have to do. The unedited index is 40 pages, and the publisher wants it to be 20 pages maximum. This should be fine. I go back into Index-Manager, as its editing facilities are superior.

I pick out some easy edits today – mainly removing unnecessary subheadings where the main entry only has about six page numbers. This starts saving a lot of space, as an entry with subentries over several lines can be quickly made into a main entry of one or two lines.

As I’m where I wanted to be, I decide to clock off and tackle the editing with fresh eyes and a rebooted brain in the morning.

Friday

Up with the lark and raring to go. The editing stage is when the index properly takes shape and where a lot of the thinking work is done. On this pass, I start from the ‘A’ section and look at each entry, considering whether it should stay in (if not, out it goes, or it’s marked as a potential deletion) and if it is correct or needs some work.

I made some notes to self while inputting – marking with tags such as ‘??’ when there’s something to look at again. At the end, I search for these to make sure I have resolved them all.

I see some unusual entries, which I try to retain, as it makes for a more interesting index. Here are entries such as ‘sans-culottes’ and ‘shit lists’. The former will stay. The latter could come out, but as this author is renowned for their colourful language, I feel it’s fair game. I’m also keeping ‘Cecil the lion’, because he’s worth it.

An entry with many subheadings will take the longest time to sort. Are all the subheadings needed? Can some be combined with others? The main characters in the book are in this category. The same goes for concepts (eg doubt, freedom, identity, liberty, truth, will) and ‘-isms’ – communism, fascism, individualism, nationalism, socialism, etc. This is the bulk of what the book is ‘about’, so it’s important that these work.

I often leave the ‘metatopic’ entry – the subject of the whole book – till the end. Some say that this should not have an entry at all, as everything relates to it, but I do tend to include one as a basic overview. The metatopic here is ‘liberalism’, so I deal with this entry last.

After working through the entries from A to Z, I regenerate the index in InDesign to check for length. It’s 18 pages, so I’m happy with that. I now print out the index for a final proofread (using proper proofreading marks). I spot different things on hard copy, and it gives me a better feel of the reader experience of the index.

I make any tweaks and generate the final index. One last check and I submit the whole proofread and indexed InDesign file to the publisher, with index entries embedded in the text and a generated index list at the end.

Then I await index approval before submitting my invoice. An author may request minor changes, which the indexer should amend, as they understand the index structure and how other entries might be affected. In this case, I’m glad to hear that author and publisher are happy with the index, and off the book goes to press.

So, there is a fairly typical week in the life of this book indexer. I love my job and I feel lucky that I can disappear into a good book every working day. I have seen the joy of indexing being compared to a word game or jigsaw. It is most satisfying to figure out the best index solution for each book. Next week will be a different puzzle again.

Paula Clarke Bain is an Advanced Professional Member of the Society of Indexers and the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading. She tweets as @PC_Bain and her website (with comedy book indexes blog) is www.baindex.org. Find the Society of Indexers on Twitter @indexers and www.indexers.org.uk.

 


Photo credit: calendar – Emma Matthews Digital Content Production on Unsplash

Proofread by Andrew Macdonald Powney, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

National Indexing Day, Thursday 30 March

The Society of Indexers is celebrating its diamond anniversary in 2017 and has designated Thursday 30 March as the inaugural National Indexing Day. This date marks the 60th anniversary of our formal constitution at the premises of the National Book League in London on 30 March 1957 by G. Norman Knight and colleagues. Knight counted it as ‘one of the achievements of the Society to have removed the intense feeling of solitude in which the indexer (of books and journals, at any rate) used to work’.


To give due credit, we were inspired to set up National Indexing Day after seeing #NationalProofreadingDay trending on social media on 8 March 2017, shared by SfEP and others. I believe National Proofreading Day was originally founded in 2011 by American proofreader Judy Beaver in memory of her mother, Flo, who ‘loved to correct people, so her birthday is the ideal day to correct errors’ (from the National Proofreading Day website). One of our members, Ruth Ellis, wondered if we should set up our own National Indexing Day and I suggested 30 March after discovering that this was the original SI foundation date. We have since pulled this together in the intervening three weeks. Luckily we’re good at working to tight deadlines.

The Society of Indexers (SI), now based in Sheffield, is the only autonomous professional body for indexers in the United Kingdom and Ireland and is associated with other indexing organisations around the world. Its aims are to promote indexing, the quality of indexes and the profession of indexing. Membership includes around 400 specialist indexers across the UK, working for authors and publishers in more than a hundred different subjects, from accountancy to zoology.

SI and SfEP of course share a common heritage and continuing close ties. The Society of Freelance Editors and Proofreaders, as it was then, was founded by a small group of volunteers led by Norma Whitcombe after informal conversations at the SI conference in Cheltenham in July 1988. The two societies shared office premises and a joint administrator in London in the 1990s before SI moved to Sheffield. I myself was already a freelance proofreader, copy-editor and SfEP member before joining SI and training in indexing. I really enjoyed the first joint SI/SfEP conference in York in September 2015 and I hope there will be many more such collaborations. Having just renewed my subscriptions, I am also appreciating the current membership discount for being a member of both societies.

The art of indexing

Indexing is an ancient art. The oldest printed indexes are thought to be found in two editions of St Augustine’s De arte praedicandi (‘On the art of preaching’), published in the 1460s soon after the invention of the Gutenberg printing press. Handwritten indexes date back much further. Records from the papal court at Avignon show that by the early 1300s people were being paid to compose indexes. There is further evidence to suggest that the 3000-year-old ancient book of hexagrams I Ching (Book of Changes) from China contains the world’s oldest index.

We have come a long way from early handwritten indexes and the days of filing index cards in shoeboxes. Today’s indexers use sophisticated indexing software to create standalone back-of-the-book indexes or embedded/linked indexes within the main text itself. In the digital age, indexes are just as essential in ebooks; a full-text search or Ctrl-F cannot think like the reader. A good book index is made neither by magic nor machine; an index is not just an automated alphabetical list of keywords. Computers can’t read, so they can’t index. They don’t cope well with homographs, synonyms or judging between significant and passing mentions of a topic. Context is key; it all depends (which indeed applies just as much to editing and proofreading). Professional book indexers are trained to analyse each text, identify the important concepts and allow for alternative reader approaches. A good index is like a road map back into the main text. A bad index is at best laughable and at worst less than useless. And a non-fiction book with no index at all is a crying shame, as is regularly bemoaned in book reviews and on social media. As our past president John Sutherland says, ‘Using a book without an index is like trying to fish with your fingers’.

SI has an ‘Indexers Available’ online directory, similar to the SfEP Directory, which lists SI-approved and accredited indexers. The directory is searchable by subject specialism. Like SfEP, it too has local groups, workshops and an annual conference. It also publishes The Indexer, the quarterly international journal of indexing. If you are interested in becoming an indexer yourself, SI runs a ‘Training in Indexing’ distance-learning course leading to the qualification of Accredited Indexer. I completed this course and I can recommend it highly. Indexing is intellectually challenging and that’s part of what I love so much about it. It can be very hard work but it’s rarely dull. And, unlike with editing/proofreading, which arguably is invisible when at its best, the indexer gets to add a new visible part to the back of the book.

Unsung heroes unsung no more

There will be much ado about indexing in Oxford this June. As SI finishes celebrating its diamond anniversary conference and gala dinner at St Anne’s College on 21 June, index scholars and lovers will gather at the Bodleian Library for a two-day symposium on the Book Index (22–23 June) organised by Dr Dennis Duncan. We are pleased that there will be an SI panel on ‘Indexing Today’ at this symposium, including joint SI/SfEP members Ann Kingdom (current SI Chair) and myself.

We hope that the launch of National Indexing Day on Thursday 30 March will provide a useful opportunity to promote the profession of indexing. We will be encouraging people to share gems of best indexing practice on social media with our dedicated hashtag of #indexday. Please do join in with your own examples if you appreciate a good book index. As our Honorary President Sam Leith says in his associated forthcoming article in the Guardian, book indexers may just be some of ‘the unsung heroes of the publishing world’. It’s high time for the diamond indexers to shine.

Further information can be found on the Society of Indexers and Book Index symposium websites.

Paula Clarke Bain is a book indexer and editor and an Advanced Professional Member of both SI and SfEP. You can contact her by email on pcbain@baindex.org, see her website and indexing blog at baindex.org or find her on Twitter @PC_Bain.

 

Full circle? Why the SfEP and the SI are uniting to hold their first joint conference

Derwent College University of YorkBookings for the Society for Editors and Proofreaders’ (SfEP) first joint conference with the Society of Indexers (SI) are now open. So why have we joined forces with the SI? And what can delegates expect from this year’s event?

Although this is the first SfEP and SI joint conference, the two organisations share historical links thanks to an SI conference back in 1988. It was at this event that Norma Whitcombe, the SfEP’s founder, asked for help in setting up an organisation similar to the SI, but aimed at freelance editors and proofreaders. This led to the establishment of the Society of Freelance Editors and Proofreaders (renamed in 2001 as the Society for Editors and Proofreaders to reflect the fact that it is also open to in-house members) later that year.

Since then, the SfEP and the SI have maintained close ties. The two organisations even shared offices and an administrator in the 1990s, and some members who belong to both societies.

So it is apt that the theme of the first joint SfEP and SI conference, which takes place from 5–7 September at Derwent College at the University of York, is ‘Collaborate and innovate’.

Joining forces enables both organisations to offer a rich and varied conference programme including plenty of opportunities to network with other editors, proofreaders and indexers. There will be a wide range of workshops and seminars on a range of topics, including an introduction to Word, book art and its role in developing literacy, indexing for editors, and the challenges and ethics of editing students’ theses and dissertations.

Highlights include the Whitcombe lecture by John Thompson, a founder of Polity Press, Professor of Sociology at the University of Cambridge and author of Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century, and an after dinner speech by linguist, editor and indexer (and honorary vice-president of the SfEP) David Crystal.

Previous SfEP conference delegates have always commented on the friendliness of colleagues attending the conference and have mentioned that the events offer something for everyone ‘whether seasoned veteran or someone just starting out on a freelance editing career’. Others have even gained new clients!

So, if you’ve not yet booked your conference place, what are you waiting for? There’s an early bird discount if you book your tickets before 17 April 2015.

What are you most looking forward to at this year’s conference?

Joanna BoweryJoanna Bowery is the SfEP social media manager. As well as looking after the SfEP’s Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts and the SfEP blog, she offers freelance marketing, PR, writing and proofreading services as Cosmic Frog. Jo is an entry-level member of the SfEP and a Chartered Marketer. She is active on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+.

Proofread by SfEP entry-level member Patric Toms.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.