Tag Archives: indexer

#SuperThursday – publishing’s big launch day

Today marks the start of the feeding frenzy that is the UK Christmas book market. According to BBC News, exactly 503 new titles will be launched today. Given that 30% of book sales are apparently related to Christmas giving and receiving (and buying for oneself I hope), the seasonal peak is important to publishers, authors, and, of course, indexers.

To give a physical presence to the sales campaigns you may see Books Are My Bag events in your high-street book shop, if you’re lucky enough to still have one. The cloth bags are becoming very collectable, and more useful since the 5p charge for plastic bags was introduced in England.

While e-books have taken a chunk out of the physical book market, the majority of e-book sales have been in fiction. Readers of non-fiction often prefer an actual book for many reasons, perhaps because the pictures are actually better in print than on-screen. But also because e-books are struggling with the ability to format and present an index in a sensible way for readers and free-text search doesn’t always get to what the reader wants to find.

Many indexers will have been busy over the summer months, getting indexes ready for the big launch day today. Often unsung and unmentioned in the books they have worked on, but an important part of the process that will end on Christmas day when the presents are finally unwrapped. Perhaps they’ll keep an eye on the book sale charts to see how their books are doing.

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Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year?

Many people get given books at this time of year. A fair proportion will be non-fiction, perhaps an autobiography, a biography, a memoir, some prize-winning non-fiction, a celebrity cookery book, a TV tie-in general interest book, a travel book about somewhere you want to go, a craft book about your latest hobby. Perhaps you bought yourself a present as well, or you’re going out soon to spend a book token or other gift card carefully on something you’re interested in. I bought my husband a copy of Guy Martin’s autobiography, but I’m hoping to get to read it before he does!

Have you got to the point where you’ve checked the index yet? Do you use the index when you’re choosing a book? Was the index in your book any good? Did you find what you wanted? Did you have to wade through a long list of page numbers and then not find what you hoped for?

The best indexes are made by trained, professional indexers. A professionally trained indexer will:

  • Connect all the terms used by the author and all those likely to be sought by the reader with a web of cross-references so nothing is missed, no matter where the reader begins to search.
  • Use subheadings to add levels of detail, making retrieval faster and more specific, and preventing readers from having to wade through long strings of page numbers to find what they want.
  • Use qualifying notes to resolve ambiguities.
  • Distinguish between material in footnotes, illustrations and tables.
  • Make sure the index is clear, comprehensive and internally consistent.
  • Tailor the index to fit the available space and conform to your house style

I’m particularly interested in history and archaeology, cycling and fitness, but would be happy to take on books in other general interest subject areas. If you’re an author or an editor looking for an indexer, please don’t hesitate to get in touch via my contact page.

Book awards season is about to start again

Last year I reviewed a number of books which had been nominated for prestigious book awards to see if the indexes were any good. Many were good, most were poor to awful. This year I’m trying again and taking on the long lists to check out the quality of the indexes.

Samuel Johnson Prize 2014 has announced its long list here. A quick look on Amazon showed that three of the books haven’t been published yet, so I can’t comment on those by Atul Gawande, Alison Light and Jenny Uglow. I have high hopes for Jenny’s book as I own a couple of her books and at least one is indexed by a member of the Society of Indexers . Some don’t have look inside available for the print version on Amazon, so I can’t comment yet on those by John Carey, Marion Coutts and Helen Macdonald.

Of those that do have look inside, I found three without indexes, those by Henry Marsh, Jonathan Meades and Ben Watts. The book by Jonathan Meades is a kind of encyclopaedia and appears in alphabetical order so maybe that’s the reason for not having one. The others don’t seem to have an excuse.

Of the others I found one with an index by a member of the Society of Indexers, Adam Nicholson’s The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters was indexed by Hilary Bird. Well done Hilary!

The rest were mostly disappointing, to the extent that if you bought them in electronic format the Ctrl+F function would be much more use than the index is in the print version.

Without reading the books and using the indexes it is difficult to see if they are accurate of course. However, indexers need to make indexes that readers can use easily to find things they want to know. Two points stand out from the indexes I’ve looked at that make them hard for users to find anything they want to know. They are:

  • Long undifferentiated strings of locators. No reader wants to plough though over 20 entries to find one they might be looking for. Take a look at the index to Roy Jenkins by John Campbell here, and the entry for James Callaghan, there are about 30 before you get to the subheadings.
  • Run on subheadings in biographical works are almost impossible to use to find anything useful, they just don’t stand out enough. It is space-saving but not a good deal for the reader. The index to God’s Traitors by Jessie Childs shows many examples and the indexer has fallen into the trap of trying to rewrite the book in the index, without trying to work out what the reader might be looking for in the index.

So if you want a decent index, please find someone to do it who is qualified, experienced in the area that you’re writing about and is a member of the Society of Indexers, or an equivalent society if from overseas. To find out more about what indexers do, look here.

Hello!

I am on the way to becoming an Accredited Indexer with the Society of Indexers and when I get to use my MSocInd letters, I’ll launch this blog as my website.

Watch this space for more in the coming weeks.

This book was written by the daddy of all indexers, Henry Wheatley and published in 1879. Indexing has a long history before that, but is not constrained to dusty shelves in academic libraries. It has a vibrant future helping readers find information in printed books, in e-books and online using the words and terms that readers want to find. Henry Wheatley could not have imagined the ‘information revolution’ we’ve been going through, but he might have hoped his ideas and approach would persist as an on-going legacy to his hard work.