The Joys of Index

I’m delighted to say that the lack of activity on this blog is inversely related to activity on the book front.  Indeed it’s been a while, but that’s what it’s like with a book, nothing happens for years (quite literally in my case) and then suddenly there aren’t enough hours in the day.

Anyone who is publishing in the non-fiction field will come across the ‘index issue’. To index or not to index? Of course, there must be an index, but do you do it yourself, or lose the rest of your precious and putative royalties, foregoing the framing of the first cheque from a publisher?

So bearing in mind that there will only be 400 hard copies published and I have also already paid for maps to be drawn, permissions to reproduce images, not to mention a long, long trip to take the photograph that now appears on the front cover, I decided that an index couldn’t be that difficult, could it?

Spurring me on was the experience of my other half, who let his publisher commission an indexer and subsequently spent days re-doing it. My editor told me I would have the proofs in good time before I went on holiday and all the omens appeared good. The proofs failed to arrive on time, as did an email from the editor, doing me the courtesy of letting me know. So weekend was lost, and a week remained with holiday packing to, well, pack in, and an index to compile.

As new experiences go, I wasn’t expecting to actually like the process. It appealed rather to my organizing nature and although it’s not the best index in the world, I did save myself the best part of £500 pounds. So here’s a few tips from a novice indexer that may well make your life easier.

  1. Download a pro trial version of a well-known .pdf reader that allows annotating and searching .pdf files. As long as you finish within 30 days, it will cost you nothing.
  2. Get yourself off to an old-fashioned stationery shop (I rarely need an excuse) and equip yourself with both an address book with individually lettered pages (not ABC for one entry) and one of those 4-colours-in-one biros. Yes – this is old school, we aren’t using a computer just yet.
  3. Choose a main colour (not green or red) and start circling terms you think should be in the index and then note them down in the correct alphabetical section in the address book (genius non?).
  4. After the first chapter, review the terms you have noted and if you can, look at the index in a book on a similar subject. At this point you can see whether you are over-inclusive (an early tendency) or under-inclusive.
  5. Don’t forget that you don’t need to, and indeed, ought not to include every mention of a term. You will also need to make sub-entries, ie.

Devil, the

sex with

appearance of

names for

  1. Your publisher ought to have provided you with an example index and with a guide.
  2. Allow at least 2-3 days.

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