A sample index
So I was in class the other week when my professor mentioned the book she’d just finished. It was her first: to be published in the next year by a reputable academic publisher. I’m so happy I’ve finished the book. You’d never think that the worse part of the whole thing is writing the index – it took me over a month – I’m so glad I’m rid of it.
Academics have to write their own indexes? This caught my attention. Surely this is something publishers do. Apparently not. Once the final proofs are in, publishers issue authors with a set of guidelines and a tight timeframe with which to turn the index around. Everyone is waiting: typesetters, printers, binders and salesmen.
You might wonder why compiling an alphabetical list of a text’s proper nouns and page numbers is such a chore. But a good index is much more than this – in providing a summary of a text’s key concepts and their interrelations, a good index can have a great influence over how a book is discovered, used, and evaluated. In the publishing business, good indexes can drive sales.
My attempt to create an index using a professional software package
No wonder then that indexing is a serious business. There are indexing style guidelines, books on indexing best practice, journals dedicated to indexing, indexing courses and workshops, and an American Society for Indexing. Being a professional indexer requires considerable patience, dedication and skill – so much so there’s an annual award for it: H.W. Wilson Award.
My professor had three choices: hire a professional indexer; buy dedicated indexing software; or do it the old fashioned way. The first two were price inhibitive. According to one article on indexing, professional indexer fees can range from $3-6 per indexable page: If you have a 200 page monograph that’s $600-1200 of modest royalties lost. Alternatively, the two most popular index software packages, complete with 100+ page instruction booklets, start at $579.
Faced with such a decision, writing your own index using a word processor might look like a sensible option: but it cost my professor a month of hard labour. This got me thinking. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a free, accessible, online tool that my professor could use for her next book? My spring semester project was born. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.