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.

Thanks for visiting. Leave me a comment. Come back often.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Constructive Criticism on Indexing, Hitting Me Right at Home: UPDATE

Longtime readers of this blog know that I’ve been proofreading since adolescence. Copyediting and certainly indexing came much later.

My proofreading hasn’t changed much. Except for items that might appear in technical manuals, I’ve seen about everything a proofreader can see. Neither the marks nor my approach to the task has changed much over the years. Be aggressive, and be friendly about it.

Copyediting: I go back and forth. I used to put commas after short introductory phrases; now I’m as likely to delete them. I used to think style sheets were more trouble than they’re worth; I’ve changed my mind. Used to be that I’d want to strip out every “there is” in a manuscript. I’ve relaxed a little and figured (and been told) it’s not necessary. Even Chicago Manual of Style standards change over time, as has some of the technology (e.g., XML coding).

Indexing is the strangest bird, for many reasons. I’m embarrassed by my early indexes (almost 20 years ago now -- gulp), and I still mull over the best way to approach the task.

Presses are also different -- as are authors -- so the matter of managing expectations comes into play. I recently had an exchange with an author for whom I was writing an index, and we came to a mutual conclusion that I’m more of an author’s indexer than a publisher’s indexer. I tend to overindex, which delights the former and can frustrate the latter.

Consider two highly regarded scholarly presses:

Press 1 allows the indexer free reign. The managing editor’s attitude is not to restrict the indexer at all, page count be damned.

Press 2 sets strict guidelines for length of the index and allows me to exceed that number only reluctantly and with good reason from me. Some of the books they send . . . I swear that I could not deliver a useful or comprehensive index in the space allotted.

I have one of those books coming up from this press, although I’m working directly for the author. I wrote the press’s managing editor, groveling in advance for some extra lines and asking for any advice.

In response I received some wonderful thoughts that were really a pretty severe critique of my work. It’s one of the most helpful emails I’ve ever received. Now it’s just a matter of putting it into practice.

Thanks, AW, for these comments. Authors, editors, and fellow indexers, take note:

If I recall your earlier indexes correctly, the wording of entries and esp. subentries was very thorough, sometimes more so than was needed. The index just needs to guide the reader to relevant pages; it doesn't need to tell him exactly what he will find there. So, more economy in wording would help. Also, although you followed such a consistent pattern that I found it difficult to condense or eliminate subentries, there were times when you provided subentries when the number of page citations did not warrant them. In some cases, the subdivisions were repeated throughout, and so it was useful to keep the pattern of subentries, even though there may have been only one or two citations in each one. Perhaps [this book] will not lend itself to that kind of repeated pattern and you will be able to condense or skip more subentries. Sometimes a little wandering around in the book has benefit for the reader.

I’d love some feedback from the readership. I know you’re out there.


UPDATE: I sent the note above to one of my other managing editors, who responded,

Hmm.  To tell you the truth, I think your indexes generally include just the right amount of detail—but then, I come from an academic text background. We’ve had more problems in the past with indexers who include entries with 20 page refs, which indicates to me that it should be broken down further. We always review the indexes, and the editors invariably cut out a handful of the single-page-ref entries, but on the whole, I have absolutely no complaints about, or even suggestions for your indexes. The new indexer you recommended could definitely use these guidelines—good indexer, but MUCH too much detail. But not you.

However, in the interests of making your life easier, let’s call a 1000-line, 8-10-page index, with the amount of detail described below, the “standard.”  I don’t even think much of recommendations that the editors make on the Production Memo. I’m far more comfortable with you deciding whether a more, or less, detailed index is required.

I make MY life easier by surrounding myself with people who know what they are doing, and then NOT micro-managing. My job is half over when I FIND the right people. And people enjoy their work more when it’s THEIR work.

The only thing that would really help me is if I were able to tell you how many text pages I need for the index, but that’s a tough call, does not always jive with the kind of index the content demands, and my typesetters can generally play around and get it to fit anyway.  For example, I’m hoping for a 16-page index for [the current project] simply because that’s about how many pages I need to fill.  I could do a half signature and use an 8-page index, but then I worry that such a short one isn’t adequate for that book.

Man, I bet you’re sorry you brought this up.

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