An approach to indexing

A prospective client e-mailed me recently, asking that I describe my expertise indexing books of a certain discipline. It turns out I have none, but the author hired me to index the book anyway. Here is my reply, edited for anonymity:

My process when indexing does not depend so much on the discipline in which the book is written as on its subject matter. I try to approach each book with the needs of the person who will use the index in mind: as a reader who needs to find an anecdote that she recalls, as someone who picks up the book and flips through the index to see if it includes a topic of interest, or as a researcher who needs to find a certain statistic. I index people discussed in the book, as opposed to those whose research is cited (though sometimes the two overlap).

Anything that surprises or delights me also finds its way into the index—or at least into the draft that I send to the author for approval, which I try to make overly inclusive so that edits to it are mostly deletions (although one recent author convinced the press to keep my index exactly as I sent it rather than delete anything for the sake of saving space).

I provide that draft in Word with Track Changes locked on so that I can see what you would like to change and apply it in my indexing software, which ensures that alphabetization and page numbering remain correct even after any reorganization.

The formatting rules required by the publisher and Chicago style are my guidelines for providing subentries for any entry that shows up more than five or six times, as space allows. I also try to double post rather than use “see” references for important topics; if we think of something as “Voodoo economics,” we might be a little irritated to be sent over to “economics, Voodoo” instead of to the pages where it’s discussed. I try to use “see also” references to draw out threads for those who use the index as a research tool, and I also try to use them to create an impression of the narrative.

I use Sky indexing software with a macro that copies directly from the book’s pdf, and I have found that this combination, along with the close reading required for indexing, often reveals minor errors (a nickname spelled in two different ways, say, or a date whose digits are transposed but a hundred pages apart) that are otherwise very hard to catch.

I charge per indexable page, which excludes the frontmatter, any blank pages or pages that have zero entries, and bibliography.

The developmental editing process

This is a brief description of how I approach a nonfiction developmental editing project. The author has completed a dissertation and needs to revise it for publication. It has already been submitted to a university press, so there are concrete tasks suggested by the press’s manuscript reviewers.

Step 1: Keeping in mind the readers’ comments, your proposal, and the notes from our meeting, I will read the entire manuscript and make notes. From those notes, I will rework the table of contents in a detailed manner.

Back to you: I’ll seek your input and approval for the reworked table of contents. All documents returned to you will be in MS Word with Track Changes locked on so that I can see your changes and comments.

Step 2: Using the revised table of contents and any further information you provide, I’ll cut and move your words to fit, noting any gaps that appear and suggesting transitions between paragraphs, chapters, and ideas. I won’t track such changes as “dissertation” to “book” and standard formatting, but I will query more substantive changes. The first pass will strive to strengthen the content and sharpen the focus in accord with your vision and the readers’ suggestions. I’ll look at the big picture, see what’s missing, and rearrange sections to find the best organization of material—making sure the structure and flow are effective and checking for gaps in logic.

Back to you: I’ll seek your input and approval on the revised manuscript. All documents returned to you will be in MS Word with Track Changes locked on so that I can see your changes and comments.

Step 3: After you review the changes and revise as necessary, I will clean up the manuscript in preparation for submission to the press. I’ll accept or reject all changes in accordance with your wishes and apply style decisions consistently throughout the manuscript. I’ll also run spell-checking and consistency software so that the manuscript is as clean as possible before resubmission. It will still go through copyediting and proofreading by the publisher, so I will not be actively seeking to make copyediting-level decisions, but if something jumps out at me I’ll fix it.

Back to you: You’ll receive your manuscript in MS Word with all changes accepted, ready to submit to your publisher.

Proposed schedule: I will begin upon receipt of deposit and should be able to provide a draft table of contents by Month XX, 20XX. I suggest you take three or four weeks to review and provide revisions of the table of contents back to me by Month XX. I will work on revising your manuscript according to that document and provide the first edit back to you around Month XX. You should take another month (or longer) to review and revise the first edit. Once you return it to me, it should take about two weeks for me to clean up the manuscript and ready it for resubmission, probably sometime in Month.

Rate and payment: My rate for developmental editing on this manuscript is $XX per hour. I will keep close track of my hours and provide monthly invoices that are payable upon receipt. I also require a deposit of $X,XXX before I begin. If you wish to continue working on your own without my editing services at any point, I will provide you with the password to unlock Track Changes upon payment of any outstanding balance.

Why aren’t my sources indexed?

An author, upon reading my approach to indexing, expressed concern that sources would not appear in the index. Here is my reply:

Sources are usually not included in the index—they are already in the notes and bibliography, and sometimes in the text as well. If you write two paragraphs about the theories of Author X or mention Author X throughout the book, the indexer will most likely include Author X in the index (I would). But if you mention in passing that “According to Author Z, aardvarks prefer termites to ants,” and the only other time Author Z shows up is in the notes and bibliography, then Author Z would not appear in the draft index that I would send to you. Once you have that draft, if you have strong feelings about including Author Z, there would be no problem with adding one or two entries. You don’t want the index to repeat the bibliography and notes, nor do you want the index to be inundated with names of other researchers whose work might only be tangential to your book.

Aside: your indexer will certainly index any substantive notes—just not the ones that are nothing but a citation.