Thursday, September 1, 2011


Late this summer, my co-author Clayton and I got the proofs of our manuscript (due to be published late this year) back for review.  It was my job to create an index of names and titles.  I have no one to blame but myself; I volunteered, thinking the task wouldn't be too difficult if we limited ourselves and didn't include concepts.

It wasn't too hard, as it turned out.  I got it done in about nine hours of total work.  What I didn't anticipate was that about three hours of that were spent working on the twenty pages of endnotes.  Every single note -- ten or fifteen to a page -- contained nothing but names and titles, by and large, and sometimes long lists of them.  I pushed through, despite the tedium, and turned in the index ahead of schedule.

Last week we heard from our editors with last-minute questions about hyphenation at line breaks and whether certain epigrams that would cost money to quote could be omitted.  Among the requests was a notation that the index needed two changes.  One, fictional characters' names need not be included. (Goodbye, Bickle, Travis.)  And two, index entries that referred to notes should contain not only a page number but also the note number on the page, e.g., 177n13.

I got this request just as I was getting ready to start fall classes, followed by a weekend of work travel.  So I responded that I would try to get them a revised index early this week.  It wasn't until today, though, that I got a bit of concentrated time to work on it -- and that only after having to warn my colleagues that some of what I'd promised to do for them would have to wait until this overdue task were completed.  I hope to knock this out this afternoon, I told them.

I should have remembered that three hours of original indexing.  The revision is taking, if anything, even longer.  In an hour and a half of steady, uninterrupted labor, I got to the end of the Gs today.  The procedure is this: Note every page number in the index that is 163 (where the notes begin) or higher; go to that page on the proof PDF and look for the name or title in question; add the note number to the page number; repeat.  I use Adobe Reader's jump-to-page and find functions to go to names quickly; titles are harder since they are often composed of common words and take so long to type in the search box that I might as well jump to the page and scan it.  Every index datum that gets revised takes a minimum of 20 keystrokes or so.  It's a slog, and I have no idea when I'm going to find another three hours or so to get it done.

If only I had known the proper formatting while doing it the first time; adding the note numbers would not have required much more effort or time than I was already putting in.  I should have asked for an index style guide, but I thought I had all the knowledge I needed.  Now here I am clicking, typing, reclicking, switching documents, searching, clicking, typing.  Is it too late to pay a student to do this?


Jeremy said...

Ouch! Hope you have a good soundtrack going -- that always helps me get through the tedious computer tasks.

On a related note: I was under the impression (from a little old lady that called in to an NPR show long ago) that indexes were usually written by third parties, contracted to do so by the publisher. I took an interest because of the wildly varying quality of indexes I find nestled against the back covers of my physics books. Some are gems -- ready to answer any question I might throw at them. Others are worthless (one is only two pages long, stuck to the back of a 500+ page book on Quantum Mechanics.)

Here's to helpful indexes -- no matter who writes them!


Donna B. said...

Yep, you're absolutely right. But authors take a couple of chances when they let publishers contract out the index. One is that the index won't be well done. Authors might like more control over it. And two is that sometimes the cost of the index (like the cost of permissions for images, for example) is charged back to the author against royalties.