Sunday, January 3, 2010

Indexing Bleg: Recommendations Welcome!

So, the page proofs for the book are scheduled to arrive in about a week. And one of the things that I will need to do is make an index. I'm determined to do this myself: I've heard horror stories from people in my field who hired out the job, and even if I wanted to, it's by now too late. So: do any of you humanities-types know of good guides for how to do this? I've written Esteemed Former Advisor, who indexed *all* his massive tomes, save one, and was hoping that he'd have some suggestions, but the man has had the temerity to slack off on e-mail correspondence in favor of enjoying the holidays with his family. The nerve!

Seriously, though: any pointers from those of you who have been there?

16 comments:

Sharon said...

Hey, Notorious. Congratulations on reaching this stage! Way back when I was in grad school, I indexed other people's books to earn big money. (Oddly, when it came time to index my own, I paid someone else--too short a deadline, landing when it did.) Here, briefly, is what I learned when I was indexing: The Chicago Manual of Style had really clear instructions and a good system (this was about the 12th edition), but they wanted you to use notecards. I adapted it to use with a computer program that sorted alphabetically (might have been WordPerfect, but any database or spreadsheet should work). I kept two versions of the file: one in alphabetical order, one in page order. This let me keep track of the terms I was choosing (for consistency), and to double-check against the original pages more readily. Indexing is an act of interpretation, and you are indexing concepts, not just words. Good luck! I always think authors *ought* to index their own books--even if it is not always practical.

The History Enthusiast said...

I second Sharon's suggestion about the Chicago Manual. When I worked as an editor (briefly) the manual had the clearest instructions.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Thanks, guys! Huh. I never figured out spreadsheets, though. I could whip something up in filemaker pro, I guess.

Anonymous said...

Word will alphabetize. This is also a good chance to catch some more mistakes like 'Pope' and 'pope'

Anonymous said...

My only other piece of advice is do NOT let your publishers change the font size or format of the work at the last minute, because it repaginates the whole manuscript and the index has to be redone! Make sure the style and format is locked! (I won't mention my pub, but I was shocked that they did that to me!)

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Thanks for the heads-up, Anon, but I don't think this will be a problem, as things will already be in the page proofs stage by the time I'm indexing. *I* just need to make sure that none of my last-minute edits shift the pagination at a critical point.

Susan said...

The other key (and I don't remember if this is in Chicago) is to try to think about what a reader will come to your book looking for. (As Sharon said, concepts, not words.) There is a terrific book in my field that is a local study. Every substantive reference in the index is under the F*ing place name. So I look up "illegitimacy" or "inheritance" or "assault" and then I remember that I have to go to Place Name, then look up whatever phenomenon I'm interested in.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

This is a great suggestion, Susan. So, avoid categories that are too general or pervasive within the MS to actually be useful. So if, say, I was writing a book on the nuns of Barking Abbey, I'd avoid "Barking Abbey" as a subject heading, and "nuns" as a subject heading in and of itself -- though perhaps use it as a heading with subheads: "Nuns ...as property owners, 34-47; noblewomen as, 52-54; literacy of, 116-25" -- like that?

Kendra said...

I've indexed both of my books, and neither was the horror story I'd been fed. Like Sharon and The History Enthusiast said, the CMS is a really good guide. I did my indices in a Word doc. I began by reading through the ms pdf file and creating a list of each concept, person, etc., I thought should be in the index. Then I went back through the list and combined entries into headings and subheadings. Next I had Word alphabetize the list for me, and searched for each term in the ms using the search function and put the page numbers into the word doc. I often found that some terms I thought I'd need a lot only had one or two entries, or that terms I'd h ad standing alone needed to have subheads and so on. It took some time, but it wasn't that onerous of a task. Good luck, and congrats on the book!

Sharon said...

I like Kendra's suggestion about using search in your MS files to double-check that you haven't missed any occurrences of a term. I was working back in the dark ages, so to speak, without a searchable text. I just had photocopies of page proofs (but at least I knew no one would change the pagination).

My other suggestion: before you start, look at a number of your favorite books and figure out if their indexes really work. Then decide why or why not. If you picked up the book in a bookstore, would the index tell you whether you wanted to read it?

New Kid on the Hallway said...

I'm not at all an expert, but I indexed one of the advisor's books (to her great satisfaction, oddly), and third/fourth/fifth? the recommendation for the Chicago Manual of Style instructions. Good luck!

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Sarah Palin didn't need no fucking index, and she's a great patriot. Therefore, I don't think you need an index; only french america-hating freaks need indices for their french-ass traitorious books.

Historiann said...

I second the suggestion to just make a Word file--no relational database necessary. Sharon's and Kendra's and Susan's ideas are all great.

When copy editing the page proofs, I read through them and jotted down concepts and proper nouns that seemed to play a large role in my analysis. Then I read through the book again with indexing at the top of my mind, making sure that list of major concepts/places/people/analytical cagegories was complete. Then used the ms. copy (as Kendra suggests) to catch all occurances of the terms. (It's very easy then to locate them in the page proofs, if you do these two read-throughs in close succession.)

I am a terrible editor and I HATE copy editing and related tasks. But I am happy with my index, and I haven't found any major copy editing errors or omissions (so far.)

tenthmedieval said...

My publishers (I have to out them with the link but as it's world-readable I think that's OK) have a guide for first-time indexers on the web which may be helpful, here in Word format; I don't know how it compares to the CMS, or how useful what I did on the basis of it will be, but I found it very helpful to get me started.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

You guys are all fantastic: from the big conceptual ideas to the step-by-step. Thanks so much!

LanglandinSydney said...

I'll just add that there's a big literature on indexing, far beyond Chicago --for instance in the journal The Indexer, some of whose contents are online for free (and I remember seeing a pretty harsh critique of Chicago's approach somewhere in there). Congrats on getting to that stage! Me too, soon.