2020 in indexing

During 2020 I indexed 20 books, a slight increase on my total in 2019.  That’s about 7,300 pages or 1.8 million words indexed – there were a few very long books on my schedule this year.  Of these, 12 were embedded indexing projects (10 in Word and 2 in InDesign) and the rest were standard indexes compiled from page proofs.  I received 42 offers of work over the year; I declined 12 of these, mostly because I was booked up with other work, but sometimes because the fee offered was too low.  4 potential clients went elsewhere for their indexing and 3 – rather rudely – never responded at all.
As in the last two years of indexing, most of my work (15 of my 20 projects) was done working directly with the author of the book as the client.  4 jobs came via a packager, and 2 directly from the publisher.  My author clients generally find me via the Society of Indexers Professional Directory, although I have also have – gratifyingly – been recommended to authors by previous clients now.  One client (who wrote a highly enjoyable book) was referred to me by a fellow Society of Indexers member.
Most of my work was, again, done on academic publications.  I enjoy working on these books – they always present some interesting challenges and teach me something new – and I also enjoy working with academic writers.  It was, however, good to shift perspective a little this year and do some indexing of textbooks and handbooks, which require a different approach as much more structured, more heavily illustrated texts.
Another interesting process was indexing my partner Catherine Pope’s book How to Finish Your PhD, which she published herself.  I’d read various drafts of the book during its development, and proofread it too, so was very familiar with the text when I came to index it.  I did the indexing in the Word version using Index-Manager, but reviewed it in InDesign once the print version had been typeset.  This let me put back in the things that InDesign takes out when you import a Word index, useful things like page spans and italicisation.  I was also able to review the eBook index in Jutoh, although there was much less I could do here as the Jutoh indexing function is very simple and cannot, for example, accommodate page spans.  I knew this when I started indexing the book, so did bear this in mind when deciding where to use spans in the index.  Having done this book, I now always make sure any spans are anchored at the start of the span.  It’s easier to then restore the span in InDesign, and in the eBook at least the index links to the very start of the section.
I started using Index-Manager in March, taking advantage of the two-week trial to experiment with it, and liked it so much I bought an annual subscription.  It’s a highly useful indexing package that takes a lot of the pain out of embedded indexing and has certainly made me much faster.  I doubt I’d have been able to index a 200,000 word academic text with a fairly short turnaround time without it.  I miss some of the functions from Sky, especially the labels and the error scan, although there are ways of replicating some of the label functions in Index-Manager.  I’ve been able to participate in some of the free webinars on Index-Manager, although there are still things it can do that I want to explore more fully.  Wendy Baskett’s SIdelights article (October 2020 pp13-15, SI members only) on managing cross-references in Index-Manager was invaluable.
Society of Indexers meetings were, of course, restricted to Zoom this year – both for my local group and for the Society as a whole.  It was lovely to see everyone’s faces at the Zoom AGM and the local Zoom meetings have been great too.
Other professional development this year included the Society of Indexers Active Indexing online workshop, a self-study workshop that gives an overview of eBook publishing and how eBook indexes work.  This filled in a lot of gaps in my knowledge in this area and gave me a very confident start when indexing Catherine’s book.  I also took an American Society of Indexers webinar on Business Strategies for Indexers by Sergey Lobachev which was helpful in focusing my mind on how I want my indexing practice to develop and how I can influence this.  I also learned a number of useful things as I went along:
    • it’s worth making a spreadsheet of chapters and their page or word count, and using these to estimate work time and track progress, particularly when working on very long projects
    • batching tasks, especially name checking and error reviews, can save quite a lot of time rather than doing it as you go, unless you have do to it for disambiguation reasons
    • it’s useful to get a sample of the work at the quotation stage, particularly for books that will need quite a lot of checking and research.  I’d stopped doing this routinely and had a couple of books that needed a lot of checking and verification to make sure I had the names right.  I’d still have taken the work, but the additional tasks might have affected my quote – and understanding this would have helped me plan each job better.
I felt the direct impact of the pandemic much less than other parts of the workforce.  Indexers already work from home, mostly alone, and deal with their clients over email, so there was no change there, and as discussed above, there was no decrease in work or enquiries.  There were some slippages in publication schedules that did affect my work but not much more than usual. However, like everyone else, I dealt with the indirect emotional impacts; anxiety, distraction, confusion, anger and grief.    The cognitive load of coping with a pandemic meant that sometimes sitting at my desk and getting through my indexing was a challenge.  And I’ve been very aware that most of the authors I’ve worked with this year have been finishing their books under the same circumstances.  Canadian editor and indexer Iva Cheung’s latest cartoon, Pandemic Brain, was particularly resonant.  Overall, I’m grateful to have had a healthy year, to have written indexes that satisfied me and my clients, and to have had interesting work that kept going even when the world seemed to come almost to a stop.
Goals for 2021 seem a bit hubristic at the moment, but one thing I’m definitely planning to do is to refer more indexing work to my SI colleagues who are just starting out.

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