What It Is (posts below left; rate sheet, client list, other stuff below right)

My name is Bob Land. I am a full-time freelance editor and proofreader, and occasional indexer. This blog is my website.

You'll find my rate sheet and client list here, as well as musings on the life of a freelancer; editing, proofreading, and indexing concerns and issues; my ongoing battles with books and production; and the occasional personal revelation.

Feel free to contact me directly with additional questions: landondemand@gmail.com.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What about electronic indexes? More inside baseball

The conversation continues:


You construct the most comprehensive index I've seen or paid for and I've paid for more than a few. On an aside, AAA asks me to put together text that is on par with the cheapy-quicky's. I can't do it! Because I don't know how. I mean I do--I can highlight every paragraph and fill in the blanks every time consistently. . . . no way! It's stupid! If someone knew the better way they'd do it. I need to see the construct. So I expect that to ask you to create a more simplistic index within the parameters of Word's features is not reasonable.


There would be a bit of a learning curve, and ultimately I'm not sure it would be worth it. I think it would be more time-consuming than doing it "the old-fashioned way," which is how I still do an index, albeit without the index cards. I've managed to figure out a few tricks that eventually help me alphabetize entries and more importantly subentries as I'm going along, but it's still read and key, read and key. Then sort, then alphabetize for letter-for-letter alphabetization, then edit and edit again. Even with a new-fangled approach, you'd still need to do those last few steps. Maybe there's a program out there that does letter-by-letter alphabetization as opposed to word-by-word, but I'd need to work with it a while before I trusted it.

The thing is, writing an index is context-intensive. It's not just a matter of assigning fields to words; there's a more human element, to the good indexes anyway. And I have authors at publishing houses who request me again and again -- and it's not because I can manipulate software.

The ONLY reasons I can see doing an index within a Word or InDesign or Quark document would be

1. The index would be automatically generated, although I'm not sure there'd be any less keying, because you still have to write the entries and subentries, and
2. If the pagination changed, so would the numbers.

Really, 2 way overrides 1, but why would pagination change after proofreading (which is when indexing should be done, in the old paradigm, anyway), unless the book needed a total redesign at the last minute, and how often does that happen?

Where a more simplistic index within the parameters of Word's features would actually be helpful would be a proper-name-only index, preferably without subentries. Here we are talking about a concordance, but of names. How many proper-name-only indexes have I been asked to compose in the last 10 years? Maybe one. No more than two. And even then, you gotta read the book, because not every mention of every name belongs in there.

Of the three functions I perform, indexing is the one that is most art and least science. Whether it's spell check or grammar check or find and replace or indexing, people are going to continue to try to say that electronic tools will eventually replace my job function. Ain't gonna happen. Just like with your work, the tools might get better, and they might not, but (1) you still gotta know what you're doing and (2) you gotta realize when the tools help and when they don't.

I was talking about this the other day. I think charts and graphs in printed material looked a hell of a lot better 20 years ago than they do know. Why is that? The tools have certainly improved (haven't they?), but there are more people without the requisite skills who think the tools make them better than they are. What we need are the old pros doing the work with whatever tools enable them to do the best work possible -- keeping in mind that just because something can be done with software doesn't mean it must be done with software.

Weren't all these devices supposed to make our lives easier and simpler and increase our leisure time? What am I doing at 12:30 in the morning? Working. And what will I be doing after about 4 hours of sleep? Working some more.


When it comes to indexing you are the master but here are my thoughts:
There should be no keyboarding, except for a tidy-up here and there. In Word go to Insert--References--Index--Mark Entry, highlight any indexable term. . . . Words index supports multiple levels of subentries and cross-referencing.

At the core of any of my methodologies is time (= money). Here's an example. I recently did a tome that had a detailed table of contents--there were 495 entries. The detailed toc was provided to me. It took me 4 hours to go through that text after pagination, handwrite the numbers on a print and then keyboard them into the text. I vowed "no more." The next book with a detailed toc I called the editor, explained that I was throwing away the existing toc. As part of my process I went through the text and assigned headings 1, 2, and 3 appropriately. I did in Quark what could just as easily been done in Word (Insert--References--Table of Contents) and presto-zappo--instant paginated toc without one typo or mistake in level structure. Time elapsed, maybe 5 seconds.

I don't think that you as a professional indexer will be replaced by a computer. Seven arguments for doing the index electronically:
1. Once those markers are in the text, links can be established, so the text multipurposes easily.
2. Repagination is a non- or minor issue.
3. The index can be done in advance of pagination during the copyediting phase.
4. The indexer never has to worry about double-checking the pagination accuracy.
5. If the document is to be repurposed to .html, there really is no pagination, just links.
6. If the document has index markers the webmaster can link to specific parts of a text, i.e., someone googles "ant farm--construction" Google finds it and takes the searcher to the top of an 80,000 word book on ants, then the searcher has to find the segment on ant farms and construction. With a tag or code in the text the searcher (if the webmaster has done their job properly) will be taken to the part of the book they were looking for.
7. WIth markers in the text it saves hours, if not days, for .pdf and .html links to be established by comp. These files are going to ebooks. The links have to be there. No one is going to want to scroll to page 68 from the index. They want to click the index or toc entry and go automatically.

Tables and charts, I keep it real close to APA, that is to say, clean, perfectly measured and proportioned but not a lot of decoration like one might find in a magazine. I get compliments--I'm good at measuring. I haven't seen too many bad charts, where are you seeing these at? I agree, owning Quickbooks pro does not make one an accountant, and there is still room for the old hands if they adapt to the technology. I think there is a small renaissance movement that is gleaning the pros from people who own software. The software is only a tool for a profession, like a saw to a carpenter.

Lesiure time. When I was an account exec at BBB they gave us the Word package, and twice the workload since we had the tools to work more efficiently. It was a customer service nightmare.


I'm on a crazy deadline, but just addressing the first: indexable terms do not always appear with the same wording; thus much more editing on the back end. And most terms in the types of books I work on need editing just to get them down to the point where they are a readable entry. So you absolutely cannot highlight a term and mark it. It Just Can't Be Done. Writing and editing are required on the fly just to get the main entry.

It comes down to this: indexes are written as much as if not moreso than compiled. They are a created work, just like the books they are based on. You are focused on the pagination, which is the least of the indexer's concerns. It's presumed that the pages will be correct. It's the entries and subentries that are important, and they are produced in a creative manner, not found and highlighted.

I've told publishers and authors this for years and will continue to do so: run, do not walk, away from any indexer who in the first 10 minutes of selling their services talks about their software. I've never had a publisher request that I do an index any other way than the way I do it. When they begin requesting something different, I'll have to change my ways. But I don't see it coming.

Tables of contents are a different story. No-brainer; should be done electronically.

PS: If you can show me a copyeditor who can simultaneously copyedit and index and return to you a QUALITY copyedit and a QUALITY index in the typically short time allotted, I owe you a hamburger next time I see you. How many quality copyedits or quality indexes do you see anyway when people are doing it separately? It would be like painting two different pictures simultaneously with each hand. I know you know better, but I think you're underestimating the X factor in these functions.

Coding text for design and layout? Of course. Totally agree it should be done. 100 percent.


moi said...

Sweet Jeebus, Bob, you could rule the world. Indexing was hands down the scariest thing I've ever done in my life. Other than suggest all squirrels should be turned into a tasty snack and fashionable neck scarf.

czar said...

Moi: If you only knew. I am in the grips of finishing an index of an 841-page book (8.5x11), completed in three days. Don't try this at home. Clients take note: if you want this type of performance from me, make sure you have your checkbook handy and ready to lighten significantly.