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.

Time blocking

In my post on time tracking, I explain how recording and analysing how I was using my time brought up some questions.  Was I using my time productively and efficiently? To address this, I combined two well-known time management and planning techniques: time blocking and bullet journalling.

Time blocking, popularised by Cal Newport, has been quite successful for me.  The idea is to divide your day into blocks of time – half an hour is probably the shortest useful unit – and, at the start of the day allocate those blocks to the things you want or need to do.  You build in contingency time – because estimating how long tasks will take is a tricky business – and time for reactive work, so responding to queries, emails, dealing with problems that arise during the day.    You plan for every minute of your day, including breaks.  This works well, in my experience, because you’ve created a definitive schedule at the start of your day – you don’t need to keep deciding what to do next.  And because you’ve divided things up into blocks, you can swap them around if things change.

I combine this with my bullet journal. (Researching bullet journals is a remarkable time sink; here’s the original site that explains the method). Essentially, it’s a list-based paper diary where you track your tasks, goals and events and schedule them.  My daily plan includes my time blocking. My handwriting is barely legible so I’ve mocked up an example of a bullet journal page in Word:


On the right is the bulleted list of things I want or need to do that day.  On the left is a column setting out when I’m going to do them, with breaks built in.  I’ve got some contingency time there, and my reactive time is the hour allocated to emails – which is how all my work queries manifest. I check my emails more often than that, but I try to deal with responding to them in one go, usually in the afternoon. In this example, I’ve got an unexpected request to Skype with a client, and indexing Chapter 8 has taken longer than I thought, so I’ve had to move things around in my afternoon schedule. My contingency time has been used up, and dinner preparation will have to be a bit more cursory as a result.  At the end of the day, I check off anything I’ve managed to do from my list, and reschedule uncompleted tasks to the next day.

I like the analog aspect of this method; there are no pesky notifications annoying me, no crashing or data loss. The bullet journal principle of writing things down iteratively both helps me remember stuff, and also makes me think hard about my priorities.  There’s also a nice ritual quality to it. Currently, I take my bullet journal to one of Brighton’s many cafés on a Monday morning, and sort out my plans for the week, which is a pleasant way to be intentional about using my time.











Time tracking

In 2017, I moved from having a full-time job in higher education to working full-time as a freelance indexer.  Suddenly, my time was my own to dispose of.  There were no core hours or endless meetings; I could suit myself.  But I wanted to make sure I was using this new freedom effectively.

To that end, I’ve repeated a time tracking exercise a few times since I went freelance.  The point of this is to find out how you are actually spending your time.  You do this by recording, at fifteen-minute intervals, what you are doing – it’s easiest to do this by identifying a range of categories, and allocating each fifteen-minute segment to the right category.  I made myself a spreadsheet, because that is the sort of thing I like doing. The last time I did this was in early summer 2019, and my results looked like this:

Time tracker spreadsheet in full

Each coloured block represents fifteen minutes, and links to a particular activity or group activity.  I ran my working day from 8 to 6, the times when I’m up and about and ought to be making the most of my time.

The summary breakdown looked like this:

I was broadly happy with the amount of time I spent indexing that week.  Admin and time spent at the gym or walking were also quite good amounts, and I got a good bit of reading in.  I put writing on the list because I want to do more of it, and I did actually do some – the observer effect in operation.  The amount of time spent on domestic stuff and shopping was concerning – I did not go freelance so I could become a house elf.  Most of all, though, I needed to address the 11 hours that I couldn’t really account for and attributed to Other.  Some of this was mealtimes – I would probably categorise this separately if I repeated this exercise – but I suspect a lot of this was faffing about not doing very much and luxuriating in my new freedoms.

Having got my data, I then needed to work out how to address these problems – I discuss this in my post on time blocking.

If you’d like to try the time tracking experiment for yourself, here’s the link to a version of the spreadsheet on Google Drive.  You can download a copy to use in Excel.


You can set up your own categories for key activities.  Or you could just use a pencil and paper.

Using Trello to track your indexing work

I’ve experimented with various ways of keeping track of indexing projects since I went freelance, and my favourite so far is Trello.  Trello is a project management system that works, essentially, like the Kanban method, using cards and columns.  On Trello, you can set up a board for a project, or group of projects.  Tasks or sub-projects are tracked using cards, which you move across lists that you have defined, tracking your progress with your work as you go.  I like Trello because it provides a very visual overview of my work in progress and where all the projects currently are.  Trello is free to use, although there is a subscription model, Business Class, that gives you more apps and features.

Getting started with Trello

Go to trello.com and set up an account.  Trello encourages sharing among its members, and consequently your name, initials, username and avatar are always public, so you may want to be pseudonymous here.   Your email won’t be made public.  You can then set up your first board, choosing the background, colour scheme and columns.

You also need to decide whether your board should be public or not.  Given that some of us need to sign NDAs for indexing work, you’ll probably want to make it private.  You can share your boards with others even if they are private, and set appropriate permissions for what they can and can’t change.  I have mine shared with my partner as part of my disaster recovery plan.

You can control your board by clicking on the Menu button at the far right of the screen, which gives you options for modifying the board’s appearance, permission settings and so on.

My Trello indexing board





This is my current board, with upcoming and in progress book titles redacted. I have six lists on my indexing board:

  1. Upcoming projects: once I’ve agreed to do a new project, this is where I add its card.  The cards are roughly in the order in which I expect to do the work, and you can easily drag the cards around to re-order them.  At the top of this list are two template cards for embedded and standard indexing projects.  I’ll talk more about these below.
  2. Indexing: once I’ve received the proofs and am working on the index, I move the card to this column.
  3. With client for approval: the card is moved here once I’ve returned the index and am waiting for, or dealing with, any feedback or queries.
  4. Invoicing: once I’ve sent the invoice, I move the card here
  5. Social media: I try to tweet about most of the books I index and so once I’ve been paid, and I’m waiting for the book to be published, I move the card here.  This is also where the card sits while I’m updating my website and Society of Indexers profile with details of the project.  Once all the relevant tasks for the project have been done, I archive the card.
  6. Other: this is a column for cards that relate to other activities with a significant time commitment, like conferences and holidays.  I have this column to get these activities into my Gantt chart, of which more in a later post.

You can have as many lists as you like, if it’s helpful to break down your indexing workflow into more stages.

Using Trello cards

I make a single card for each index, which captures key information about the project and includes a checklist and key deadlines.  When I’ve committed to a new project, I copy one of the two template cards (embedded and standard) to make a new card for that project.  Here’s my the top part of my template card for a standard book index:


The title and description fields and the buttons on the right are default items.   The title is always the title of the book.  I use the description field for summary information about the project, the client, and the relevant deadlines.  The due date button I use in various ways at different stages of the project:

  • before the work arrives, for the date the proofs should reach me
  • once it has arrived, the deadline for the index to reach the client
  • once I have invoiced, the due date for payment
  • and finally, for the date of publication so I can tweet about the book.

You can use various Trello power-ups (see below) to synchronise deadlines with your online calendar and get reminders.  I’ll talk in a later post about using the TeamGantt power-up to create a Gantt chart from my Trello board.

The other Add to Card buttons work as follows:

  • Members – for allocation of tasks to team members, and not relevant for the solo indexer
  • Labels–  adds a coloured label to your card.  This might be useful if you want to flag up all projects for a particular client, for example.
  • Checklists – see below
  • Attachments – lets you attach files to the card.  I don’t use this, as it seems like extra effort for no particular benefit – my proofs, indexes, invoices and so on are stored securely elsewhere, and I don’t need to share them.  It’s also not helpful for data protection to have files with client information saved in multiple places.  However, for any shared projects, this would be very helpful.  You can also use this function to attach a link to your card, which seems more potentially useful.
Using checklists

Here is my current checklist for a standard indexing project:

To add a checklist, you need to click on the checklist button and add your items.  It’s easy to modify checklists for specific projects that might need some further items – you need to add new items at the bottom, and click and drag them to re-order.  Each card displays your progress against your checklist as a score, so you can easily see if you have uncompleted tasks on a particular project.

If a checklist item is getting complicated and unwieldy, you can convert it into a card, and give its own checklist and deadline.

Power-ups and action buttons

The power-up button allows you to add an additional app or function to your board – there are lots of different .  The free version of Trello only allows you to have one power-up at a time.  I currently use this for TeamGantt, of which more in a later post.

The action buttons work as follows:

  • Move – move the card to a different list.  You can also click and drag each card around the board.
  • Copy – creates a copy of the card in the list you choose, with a new title
  • Watch -this will alert you when anyone else changes the card.  Again, not useful for solo freelancers.
  • Archive – clicking on this will archive your card, so it’s not visible on the board.  It’s not deleted, and you can search for and see archived cards if you need to.
  • Share – will send a link to the individual card to another person.  Again, not really useful if you’re working on your own.
Comments and activity log

The Comment box allows you to make notes about your project.  I have used this for my project notes and queries, but currently I prefer the notetaking app Evernote for this.  Comments can be edited and deleted as necessary.   You can also share comments or add attachments and other cards to them, which is probably most useful in a team setting.

The activity log records everything you do to the card, with a timestamp.  This is most useful for shared projects, and for a lone freelancer it’s probably less irritating to simply hide this by clicking the Hide Details button.

Phone app

Trello probably works best as a website, but the phone/tablet app (Android and Apple) is useful for keeping track of what you’ve got going on – and especially useful when you get offers of work while you’re on holiday, which always seems to happen to me.  You can also get reminder notifications through the app.

I like Trello so much I use it for other, non-indexing projects, and it’s the best way I’ve found of keeping an accessible list of books I plan to read.  There are hundreds of public boards that you can look at for ideas of how to use Trello via https://blog.trello.com/.





Indexing: a guide for academic authors

Congratulations: your proposal has been accepted and you’ve done the hard work needed to write your book.  Before it’s published, however, your book is going to need an index.

Anyone who’s done a research degree knows how important a useful index can be – and how frustrating a poor one is.  A good index provides a map of your book, with multiple access points for readers with different needs and interests.  It will make your book – and your research – more accessible to readers, and can even increase sales, especially to libraries.

In this short guide I will explain when and how indexing takes place, discuss the advantages of working with a professional indexer, and provide some useful links to information that can help you through the indexing process.  You may also want to read fellow indexer Paula Clarke Bain’s excellent guide to the process for the general author.

1: Indexing in the publishing process

Indexing is carried out during the later stages of the publication schedule.  Your publisher should provide you with an indicative schedule to explain when indexing should take place.  The precise timing depends on the type of index required, and there are three main possibilities:

    • traditional back-of-book index, complied from the PDF proofs of your book: these indexes are normally created at the very end of the publishing process, at the same time as proofreading. Copy-editing and formatting, and any changes required during that process, will all have been completed; any figures or illustrations will be in place and the page numbers will be fixed.  A fast turnaround is often required, with indexing and proofreading to be completed within a month or less.
    • embedded index, compiled by adding codes to a Word document which can be used to generate the index. This is normally done after copy-editing but before typesetting; the codes in Word are used by the typesetter to generate the index once the final layout is confirmed.  Embedded indexing can save time in the publication process and is particularly useful for books that may need to be published in revised editions, or which will be simultaneously published as ebooks.  You may get a slightly longer period of time to complete an embedded index.
    • indexing to paragraph numbers for future embedding.  In this system, the index is compiled using paragraph numbers from early-stage proofs, rather than page numbers.  Again, this is done earlier in the publication process after copy-editing but before typesetting.  The index will be embedded into the text during typesetting, and the final index will show the page numbers automatically. In some subject areas, indexing to paragraph numbers is standard, but is done from final page proofs, and the paragraph numbers are given in the index rather than page numbers.

Some publishers will still fund the index themselves, or give you the option to have the cost deducted from royalties. In this case, your editor will arrange for an indexer to work on your book.  You are likely to be asked to review the index; this is covered in section 4 below.  However, increasingly, publishers ask the authors of monographs (and volume editors, for edited collections) to organise indexing themselves.  If you are asked to do this, you have the option of working with a professional indexer, or creating the index yourself.

Although there are automated systems that can help with the indexing process, automated indexes generated from document searches are not really indexes at all – they don’t include the vital component of human analysis that decides whether a topic should be in the index, and how to represent it.  Searching cannot identify implicit mentions – a book I indexed recently, for example, discussed various wars without using the standard historical name for each one, and I needed to check the correct names for use in the index.  Similarly, searching cannot easily identify synonyms or distinguish between homonyms.   Searching will also bring up all references, including repetitions and passing mentions which do not include any meaningful information about the term or concepts.

2: Working with a professional indexer

Professional indexers will read your book carefully, identify the indexable terms and concepts, and create an index that anticipates the needs of your readers so that they can access your ideas and research quickly and easily.  We use specialist software to organise the index, to ensure it is consistent and that it meets the presentation requirements of your publisher. We have a wide range of subject expertise and are often very highly qualified.

In the UK, the Society of Indexers has a directory of members that you can search by subject area and type of index: see https://www.indexers.org.uk/find-an-indexer/directory/.  If your book is being published by a US publisher, you may want to use a US indexer.  See the American Society for Indexing: https://www.asindexing.org/find-an-indexer/asi-indexer-locator/.  There are also professional indexing societies in Ireland  (https://www.afepi-ireland.com/), Canada (http://indexers.ca/),  Australia and New Zealand (https://www.anzsi.org/),  Germany (http://www.d-indexer.org/welcome.html),  Netherlands (https://www.indexers.nl/) and South Africa (https://www.asaib.org.za/)

As well as these sources, you could consult colleagues for recommendations, or find out who has recently indexed similar books in your subject area from the indexing societies’ professional directories.  If you need to submit an embedded index, make sure you approach indexers who have experience of this way of working – the Society of Indexers Directory allows you to search for this particular skill. Do get several quotes, and don’t be shy about asking for references from previous clients.

When you’ve found some likely candidates to work on your book, it’s best to contact them as soon as you have an indicative schedule.  We do get booked up with work and it can be hard to accommodate last-minute requests.  We are used to dealing with slipping schedules, however, so don’t worry if there are delays to your book beyond your control.  When you’ve chosen your indexer, let any others who quoted for the work know that you won’t be using them.

How much will it cost?  The UK Society of Indexers suggests recommended minimum rates: in 2022, these are £3.05 per page or £8.20 per 1,000 words.  A 60,000 word monograph, for example, would cost around £490 to index at these rates.  More advanced or experienced indexers may charge a higher fee, and you might be quoted a higher fee for a last-minute job, for a particularly complex text, or for an embedded index.  Indexing can seem expensive, but consider the time and stress you will save and the eventual quality of your index.

If you are working at a university, it’s worth checking whether there is any funding available to help with the cost of indexing.  I’ve indexed many books for academic authors, including early career researchers, where the cost has been covered by their institution.  Most indexers will invoice you after completion, although you may be asked to pay part of the fee in advance. If you are bidding for funding for a project that will result in a book, remember to include the cost of indexing in your bid – then you’ll have the funds to pay for it when your project is concluding.

Embedded indexing in Word is particularly fiddly and time-consuming.  Indexers use specialist add-ons to connect Word to our indexing software to do this work, which does make it easier.  As an indexer, I would obviously recommend using a professional for any index – but especially if you have to produce an embedded index.

3: Going it alone

If you decide to index your book yourself, there are a number of sources of help and guidance out there.  Give yourself plenty of time, especially towards the end of your schedule when you’ll need to check and edit your index.  Based on the UK recommended hourly rate, a professional indexer would take around 18 hours to index a 60,000 word monograph; I was a lot slower than that when I started out and would still be much slower without indexing software.  I’d expect a beginner, without the benefit of specialist software, to take about twice as long. Never index when you’re tired, and remember that most of us can only do about 4 hours of intense work a day – and indexing is definitely intense work.  Paula Clarke Bain has written an excellent account of the indexing process for CIEP, which gives helpful insight into how indexing is done.

It’s better and easier to start at the beginning and work through your book, rather than making a list of keywords and searching for them.  The keyword approach can seem quicker, but you may miss implicit discussion of key topics and be tempted to add passing mentions; it’s also a very boring task. A mind map of the book’s main topics is often helpful, though. You may find it useful to edit after each chapter, and remember that it’s easier to take something out than to go back and put it in. Follow your publisher’s guidelines to the letter, especially in relation to the number of pages available for the index.  If you send back an index that’s too long, they’ll probably just ask you to reduce it.

As well as your publisher’s guidelines, you might want to look at the following book and short courses (most of the online courses come at a cost, your library may well stock the book):

One of the risks of going it alone is that you may find that you really enjoy indexing and want to do more of it.  The indexing societies listed above can all provide advice on further training and accreditation, if you discover you’re an indexer at heart.

4: Reviewing the index

Whoever writes your index, as the author you will need to review it.  When you receive it, you should consider the following questions:

    • Are all the main concepts and topics represented in the index?
    • Are the words used for the index entries clear? Will they make sense to my readers?
    • Are there long strings of page references, or long page spans, that have not been broken up with appropriate subheadings?
    • Do the cross-references make sense?
    • Are the page numbers accurate? It’s worth spot-checking to make sure.

Further guidance on index reviewing is available:

If you are unsure about any aspect of your index, and you’ve used a professional, do contact them about it.  We’re best placed to resolve the problem quickly and will be happy to help.

However you decide to deal with your index, good luck with the indexing and with your book.

SfEP and Society of Indexers conferences, September 2018

This year the SfEP and SI conferences were co-located at the University of Lancaster, and organised so that it was possible to go to most of both, with a joint gala dinner in the middle. I’ve been to two previous SI conferences but this was my first SfEP event – it was good to be able to get the benefit of both in one trip.

The SfEP conference began on Sunday with Lynne Murphy’s keynote on the different attitudes to grammar rules in the US and UK. Lynne is Professor of Linguistics at Sussex, born in the US but living in the UK since 2000, so well placed to consider this. In a very entertaining talk, Lynne highlighted some of the key differences: what I took away was that the US approach to grammar is much more based on a codified set of rules, whereas in the UK our rules are unspoken, learned by osmosis and class-related – we learn to speak and write correctly by knowing the right people, rather than through education. In America, however, learning the rules of grammar and writing is a formal, explicit part of education at school and university. Inevitably, this leads to differences in editing styles. Anecdotal evidence from Lynne’s colleagues suggests that UK editors work more from the ‘feel’ of a text and change less than their US counterparts do. Lynne’s publisher would have been proud of the graceful way in which she plugged her new book, The Prodigal Tongue (Oneworld, 2018): I really want to read this, but in the meantime have been enjoying Lynne’s blog, Separated by a Common Language.

My next session was with Alison Hughes, a freelance translator whose workshop looked at building a freelance business through networking and generally engaging with people. Alison was very frank about how a sudden dip in incoming work had led her to re-evaluate her approaches to finding it; making small changes might not yield a direct quantifiable return but did help build her reputation and increase her clients’ trust in her. The first suggested activity – go alone to local events (preferably free ones) relevant to your specialism or subject area and participate – is an attractive one. Events where you might meet fellow industry professionals or potential clients are ideal, and these can be found through local universities, Eventbrite and Groupon – a place I would not have thought of looking – as well as through industry-specific bodies. It’s not necessary or desirable to market yourself aggressively, but you can mention what you do – and it’s useful to have an address book of colleagues you can recommend for work you can’t do, and to pass on your business card. Alison also talked about using social media to develop your business – Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter and your own blog all allow you to connect with potential clients and build relationships with them. I particularly noted her advice on LinkedIn: ensure your specialisms are included in your job title, and use your profile to tell a story rather than as your online CV. We also discussed doing work for no fee: Alison suggested trying to get something in exchange, like published credit, an invitation to a related event or promotion at it, and considering how long it would take – a freebie that takes an hour but would give you various marketing opportunities might be worth it; a six-month all-consuming project, probably not. Alison’s key message was, whatever approach you take to marketing, that you should engage – this will build your confidence along with your reputation.

Paul Beverley‘s short session on using macros in editing was fun and interesting and I’ll definitely be exploring his e-book and macro pack before my next editing job. Paul explained and demonstrated some key macros, and showed us you they fit into two groups: analytical macros, which give you information about how words are used and formed, and can help construct a stylesheet; and change macros which can correct repeated problems or errors with a few keystrokes. Paul’s overarching theme was that macros take the dull legwork out of editing and allow you to concentrate on the enjoyable bits – and they can also speed up your workflow. Paul has an extensive YouTube channel with lots of videos showing how to make best use of his macros.

After a short break, it was time for the SI conference to start. Professor Tony McElroy’s keynote on the Corpus Linguistics project at Lancaster was fascinating. This computer-assisted language analysis project shows trends and tendencies in normal language usage. Volunteers’ daily speech is recorded, transcribed and then evaluated and can reveal unexpected things that, as daily language users, we don’t notice. Tony’s example was the word “cause” which, as noun or verb, almost always has a negative connotation – we don’t say “that caused me to win a free holiday” – but definitions of the word do not necessarily reflect this. The project is computer-assisted because while computer data analysis is quicker and more reliable, human input is still necessary to understand language context. There is a free online course based on the project at https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/corpus-linguistics.

The gala dinner was a grand affair in Lancaster’s Great Hall. I was delighted to join the Linnets, the scratch choir, for a short performance before dinner, and slightly appalled to discover part-way through dinner that I’d be receiving my certificate of commendation for the Betty Moys award from Sam Leith during his after-dinner speech. I’d vaguely assumed this would be happening quietly at the SI AGM. I managed to get up and collect it without tripping over, however. Sam Leith gave an excellent speech and we were well looked after by the catering staff.

On Monday, I attended an excellent session run by Ruth Ellis on client relationship management. Ruth encouraged us to think systematically about how we communicate with our customers, to streamline our admin and save ourselves time, and how to ensure we get paid. Thinking about the needs of different types of clients, the information and advice they might need, and developing standard approaches to this can help secure clients and retain them. Ruth also discussed disaster recovery plans – not just ensuring you have good backup systems, but making sure you have a disaster buddy. This should be someone who knows what you’re working on and how to contact them if, for any reason, you’re suddenly unable to complete your work. Inevitably the discussion turned to generating more work, and we discussed up- and cross-selling of other services, searching for forthcoming publications on Amazon and contacting editors about the index, and asking satisfied clients – especially authors – to recommend you to their colleagues. Ruth mentioned that she scores her work and clients according to a number of factors that she particularly values, to help her decide between projects and whether to accept future work, which is an interesting idea. I came away from this workshop with a list of things to do to my email templates and a resolution not to be so coy about asking for recommendations and testimonials.

The joint SI/SfEP keynote was from Kathryn Munt, CEO of the Publishing Training Centre. Kathryn gave a rather sobering account of outsourcing in UK publishing and its impact on the availability of work, workflow and process, and payment rates. There was a sharp intake of breath in the room when she explained that a well-known UK publisher had outsourced all its activities apart from brand management – including commissioning and developmental editing – to a partner company, effectively making that company a publisher in all but name.. Kathryn’s slide on publishing industry expectations of freelancers – including flexibility, willingness to learn new skills, and to work in partnership with publishers and outsourcers – don’t, as Anna Nicholson (@axnicho) points out in her tweet, necessarily mesh well with the actual skills of editors, proofreaders or indexers.

The final SI event was a really clear and helpful talk on indexing in the context of digital publication and e-books by Jan Worrall and Paula Clarke Bain. I’ve had XML explained to me before but never so clearly, and the explanation of how various indexing tools like WordEmbed, IndexManager and  IndexLinker can (and sometimes don’t) work for digital texts was incredibly useful. Jan is working to make this talk into an online SI workshop, which will be an excellent development.

Lancaster was a good place for the conference – it’s a nice campus and the train from London was quick – although the drop in temperature was a bit of a shock to a soft Southerner. I enjoyed both conferences, although wasn’t really prepared for the sheer force of numbers at the SfEP conference; the main building for the SfEP got crowded quickly, especially at meals and breaks.  But it was good to meet other editors as I try to develop that aspect of my work, including some Sussex-based SfEP members who encouraged me to come along to the next local group meeting, and I always enjoy talking to other indexers. After such a stimulating couple of days, I was grateful that I’d planned a few days of solo walking in the Lakes where I could process and decompress – and refine my list of post-conference jobs to something a little more manageable.

The Conscientious Objector’s Wife edited by Kate Macdonald

About this book
The Conscientious Objector’s Wife (Handheld Press, 2018) is an edited collection of the letters between Frank and Lucy Sunderland, a working-class couple from Letchworth in Hertfordshire.  Frank was imprisoned in 1916 when conscription was extended to include men of his age.  As an ‘absolutist’ conscientious objector, he refused both to serve in the Army and to undertake alternative service – agricultural labour, hospital or clerical work, or in industry – on the grounds that it would commit another man to military service.  Frank remained in prison until 1919 and the letters between the couple give a remarkable insight into working-class lives during the First World War.
Frank and Lucy are socialists, keen self-improvers and autodidacts, attracted to self-sufficiency, feminism and vegetarianism.  In Letchworth, with its large population of Quakers, free-thinkers and left-wingers, they found a supportive community that would help Lucy hugely throughout Frank’s imprisonment. This support was vital, as she took over Frank’s work as an insurance agent to keep up the family’s income, as well as doing sewing work, running her home and caring for her three young children.  Lucy’s letters give a vivid picture of domestic life during wartime: the gradual increase of rationing and shortages; the impact of refugees and the war industry  – Letchworth accommodated many Belgian refugees and was also a centre for munitions work;  and of the struggle to maintain a happy home.  Frank’s letters, often mindful of the eyes of the censor, can be more abstract and say relatively little about the material conditions in prison, but are greatly revealing of the psychological costs of his long imprisonment.  Both Frank and Lucy are entirely committed to pacifist principles and their mutual commitment to this and to each other is a very moving theme of the book.  They are both good writers: Frank can be very funny although some of his jokes need work, and Lucy’s escape for a few months to rural Devon is captured in bursts of rather lyrical nature writing that express her relief at being away in the country and the restorative effect it has.  The final chapter, when the war has ended but Frank remains in prison (an additional, punitive government policy to ensure released COs did not get the pick of post-war jobs) was very tense: would he ever get home?
The letters have been published by Handheld Press, and edited by the Press’s Director, Kate Macdonald. Kate is a scholar of literature and history who has written extensively about the First World War, and provides an extremely useful introduction setting out the context of these letters and giving background information about Frank and Lucy.
Approaching the index
Collected letters can be challenging to index.  There is no particular structure – this book is arranged into chapters, but they are used to break the letters up chronologically.  Content and subjects can be highly diverse.  There is no particular organised narrative, and the letters themselves may well include obscure references or be highly allusive.  This problem is intensified because these particular letters were subject to censor scrutiny; Frank often includes in his letters a phrase like “You understand why I cannot write more about this”, indicating both his awareness of the censor and the elision of more explicit writing.
Having read the book and made a rather complicated mind-map, I also read Marian Aird’s very useful account of her work on the Britten-Pears correspondence (‘”Your letters have been life and breath to me’: the challenge of indexing My beloved man’, The Indexer 34:4, 2016 pp138-143, subscription/fee required), Douglas Matthews’s ‘Indexing Published Letters’ (The Indexer 22.3, 2001 pp135-141, free to access) and Hazel Bell’s Indexing Biographies (Society of Indexers, 2004)  which includes some guidance on letters.  Kate Macdonald’s introduction to the letters draws out key themes, and the marketing material for the book was very useful in terms of thinking of likely readers: local historians, family historians, historians of the First World War, people interested in Quakers and non-conformist religions, historians of working-class lives.  I also bore in mind histories of the emotions (like Clare Langhamer’s work on love) and the current cultural interest in accounts of the everyday; while Lucy’s circumstances are unusual, she still has the daily round of working, shopping, cooking and dealing with domestic irritants like a blocked drain.
Writing the index
The names and personal information were the principal challenges of this index.  Because of the likely users of the book, and mindful of Marian Aird’s advice on names, I decided that all full personal names would be indexed, and that all significant mentions of placenames would also be included.  Some names presented difficulty in terms of distinguishing who was being discussed.  I had rather an ordeal with the Palmer family, who appear frequently in the letters but are often described only as Mr Palmer.  Working out which Mr Palmer was meant required a careful reading of the text.  I included some people who were only mentioned by first name where they were significant players in the narrative, for example Lucy’s Belgian lodger Leonie, whose surname is never mentioned.  The footnotes were helpful in distinguishing identities when the letters, naturally, use only first names; I included locators for the notes to ensure the additional information here was accessible to the index user.
I wanted to make full, detailed entries for both Frank and Lucy, but these could not easily take the form of similar entries in a biography, because so much of the detail was missing.  For Lucy, for example, the letters contain lot of short but significant references to aspects of her life such as her work with the Letchworth Adult School.  I realised early on that I would need sub-subheadings to give enough detail and make the index useable, but there were, inevitably, still some long strings.  I wanted to make sure that all her visits to Frank were indexed, for example, so a long string of undifferentiated locators followed that particular subheading.  I could have broken these up a little with details of the locations of the prisons – Frank was held in a number of different places – but I wasn’t convinced that would add a lot of value.  The long string shows how often, throughout their separation, Lucy found time to visit Frank in prison. Emotions, ideas, religion and political opinions also found a place as subheadings for both Frank and Lucy’s index entries.
Health and illness were a frequent topic of discussion in the letters.  Frank, Lucy and all the children had a subheading for this topic, with sub-subheadings to collect locators on the nature of their illnesses.  I also included a main heading for health and illness, with specific illnesses included as subheadings.  A few specific illnesses – like the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918 – had such extensive discussion that I included them as main headings in their own right.
As an indexer I have to guard against my tendency to categorise and classify, rather than presenting headings in a more direct form.  Prisons and religions were categories occupying a lot of space in the index.  Each prison and religion mentioned had its own main heading, but I also had a main heading for “prison” that included subheadings for individual prisons as well as categories such as food, visiting and sentences.  After a lot of thought, I decided against this approach for religion, mainly for reasons of space; instead, I made use of see also references to connect various religious topics together.
Term selection for some concepts was a challenge.  For both Lucy and Frank, the beauty of the natural world was central to their sense of well-being, and both write about this a lot, most likely as a way to bring some joy and happiness to each other in their difficult circumstances;  Lucy’s letters from Barnstaple overflow with her pleasure at the lovely countryside and the sea.  This is a significant subject in the book, but I worked for a while on the best way to express this in index headings.  I ended up with main headings for birdsong, flowers, landscape, the sea and walking, which were then double-entered as subheadings under the main heading “nature and environment”.  I also used “nature and environment, importance of” as a subheading for each of Lucy and Frank’s main headings.
Lessons learned
I enjoyed working on this book immensely, despite its challenges – it’s extremely interesting, entertaining and moving, and indexing is such a good way to get under the skin of a book you really like.  It was also definitely useful in developing my indexing skills, particularly in constructing a useful index out of a text with such diverse contents, characters and themes, and without the usual overarching argument of a non-fiction book.  I also made use of the Sky acronyms function for the first time, to help me deal with all the various similar names, and the Megabit Macros were invaluable when dealing with the huge range of personal names in the text.

Tove Jansson at Dulwich Picture Gallery

Last month I was lucky enough to visit the Tove Jansson exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery.  Even on a cold Thursday afternoon in January, the Gallery was crowded, which gives some idea of the extraordinary popularity of this artist and writer.  Anyone who loved the Moomins in childhood would probably be drawn to an exhibition of her work; the current British fashion and fascination for all things Scandinavian is probably expanding her audience.  Ethnically and linguistically Swedish, but born and raised in Finland, Jansson is positioned interestingly on the borders of Scandanavia – but her work and writing definitely speaks to us of her origins in the far north.

Tove Jansson, Lynx Boa (Self-Portrait), 1974. From tovejansson.com, © Moomin Characters™

Tove Jansson was an extraordinarily wide-ranging artist, producing works in oils, illustrations, the vast world of Moomin in both book and comic-strip form,  novels and short stories.  The exhibition started with her early works in oils, including a number of self-portraits and the famous, uneasy portrait of her whole family together, Tove poised in black at the centre of the group.   A room of paintings from her later career followed, including some beautiful interiors which have affinities with the work of Vanessa Bell, also shown at Dulwich in 2017.  My favourite piece in this room was a semi-abstract seascape called “Westering”, haunting and beautiful.  Her  paintings strongly evoke dynamic motion and have a great deal of texture.   In a still life of vegetables (fennel and onions) the tension between straight lines and curves gives these everyday objects a considerable dramatic quality.  These paintings are quite large in scale, and the contrast with the next room was marked.

This  room was devoted to Jansson’s illustrations for the work of other authors, particularly Alice in Wonderland and Tolkein’s The Hobbit.  Her drawings for Alice, for those of us brought up on Tenniel’s upright black-and-white drawings, are revelatory, composed mainly of sinuous curves. The Mad Hatter is a relaxed, possibly slightly drunk figure, leaning companionably on the Dormouse; Alice swirls in spirals in the Pool of Tears.   These works are quite tiny and precise in their execution, the opposite of abstraction.

Tove Jansson, the Moomin family. © Moomin Characters™

Finally, the Moomins made their appearance. A room of sketches, showing how Jansson reworked little scenes again and again to get them right, made me think of the effort involved in this work.  Jansson has incredible economy in her drawings, with just a few lines deployed to set a scene, show character, or tell a story.  It was fascinating to see the notebook stage of the familiar drawings, and delightful to see the original set of Moomin figurines, developed in the sixties to satisfy the demands of Moomin-fans worldwide.  The final room was dedicated to the comic strip Moomins – again, requiring massive work (which was taken over by Tove’s brother, interestingly, when she could no longer keep up with demand) and their excursions into other cultural forms.  There were posters for Moomin plays, operas and exhibitions.

As well as her visual art, Tove Jansson wrote many books for an adult readership.  These have been issued in English translations by Sort Of Books over the last few years  in beautiful editions, and are hugely enjoyable to read.  Her writing is spare,  leaving space for the reader’s imagination; I always feel that she’s conveying, subtly and insinuatingly, a profound wisdom about what is worthwhile in life.  The Summer Book is probably her best-known work, but my favourite is Fair Play. This draws on her own life with her partner, graphic artist Tuulikki Pietilä; the couple in the novel mimic the real-life arrangement where they had flats next door to each other, connected by a neutral attic space, both together and apart.  Fair Play shows how two women can combine separate creative careers with a supportive and loving relationship.  Jansson’s marvellous portrait of Tuulikki working at her desk appeared in the exhibition but I can’t find it online in usable form. Instead, here’s a photograph of them together.

By Anonymous [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Tuulikki and Tove (on the right). Tove Jansson looks incredibly cheeky in nearly every photo of her.
The Dulwich exhibition is now over; there are some lovely reviews of it (with more pictures) at The Londonist and Plain.  If you are interested in finding out more about Jansson, there is an authorised biography by Boel Westin which I enjoyed, although it is not written as a traditional biographical narrative, and jumps about a lot between the phases of Jansson’s life.  There’s a good review of  Westin’s book by Kate Macdonald if you want to find out more before starting. This illustrated biography looks fascinating and has gone on my wish list. There are lots of pictures to enjoy at tovejansson.com and moomin.com – the latter has an online shop for all your Moomin needs.  Dulwich Picture Gallery is a delightful place and well worth a visit – they have excellent exhibitions and the main collection is also marvellous.

Mapping the Heavens by Peter Whitfield

About this book
Peter Whitfield’s Mapping the Heavens (British Library, 2018) is a heavily illustrated guide to the history of astronomical mapping.  It’s 183 pages long and around 50,000 words in total.  I was asked to produce a single name and subject index of around 600 lines in a three-column layout, with run-on subheadings.  The book covers astronomical mapping from its earliest notions in prehistory to present-day astrophysics, but from a historical rather than a technical viewpoint; it is intended to be accessible to the general reader.  Although the main subject of the book is very specific, this book has great breadth and depth, ranging from stone circles to photographs from interplanetary probes, and taking in most of western European art on the way.   The importance of astronomy to religious practice – particularly in respect of measuring time and establishing calendars – was also a key theme of the book, as was the interrelationship of astronomy and astrology until relatively recently in the history of the science.  I’m unreasonably fond of maps and quite fond of astronomy, so was very pleased to get this commission.
Approaching the index
In practical terms, I was glad to be able to get a printout of this book from the publisher – it’s a largish format book with lots of illustrations and it was really helpful to be able to read through and mark up the paper copy.  Doing this work on my lap, rather than a table, was a mistake though and generated various aches and pains.   I am not a scientist, so I did a bit of preliminary work on the internet brushing up my understanding of astronomical terms.  Having read through the book, I developed a mind-map of the key themes and sub-themes, and their relationship to each other – here’s a photo.  The colour-coding helped identify thematic links and overlaps.
Mindmap for the index of Mapping the Heavens.
Mindful of my experience with Captain Cook, I made use of Ann Hudson’s formula for calculating how many entries I’d need on a page, on average, to achieve an index of this length, hoping not to have to reduce the total number of entries hugely after I’d finished.
A key challenge was ensuring that I’d properly understood the relationship between certain technical terms, and using dictionaries and the internet to help understand these terms and how they should relate to each other in the index.  For example, the terms brightness, luminosity and magnitude were all used in relation to the light of stars.  Investigations showed that brightness can refer to stellar magnitude (ie how bright a star appears) and also to luminosity (how bright a star appears in a certain spectrum) I thought brightness might well be a sought term for the non-expert reader so included it with see references to luminosity and to magnitude, stellar.  Magnitude and luminosity were also included as subheadings under stars.
As well as technical terminology, I had some problems with synonymous terms.  Star maps and star charts were used fairly interchangeably in the book to refer to the same thing, although sometimes they were used to distinguish between the geometric, astronomical plotting of star positions in two dimensions, and the pictorial, astrological images of the starry sphere.  There was obviously no point in having two separate headings for star maps and star charts, especially as they would be so close to each other as index entries, so eventually I hedged my bets with the main heading star charts/maps.
The breadth of content, given the apparently focused main topic, meant that I had a lot of entries.   The book makes reference to religion and theology, mathematics and geometry, artistic methods and materials, and the history of publishing, as well as giving accounts of the development of astrology and astronomy.  Possibly inevitably, I had to cut down the length of the index during the editing phase.  I had entered more subheadings at the first entry stage than I had done for previous books;  for a number of headings, I was able to save space by removing the subheadings where the total number of locators allowed.
The interrelations of the sub-themes of the book lead to a lot of double entry to avoid too many see references.  This made the index longer but, I think, probably more usable.  Trying to balance including a greater range of sought terms against the improved usability of double entry was quite difficult for this book.
There were a lot of unfamiliar names in this book, and I made heavy use of cutting and pasting to enter them, and did a great deal of careful checking at the editing stage.
Mainly, this book was extremely lovely to look at and a clear, informative account of how and why we have attempted to model the stars and planets over the years.  I learned a lot about astronomy and cartography, and their interaction with the worlds of art, religion and commerce.
I made use of Sky’s labelling systems again and used them to flag illustrations, queries and headings that I thought might not be needed.  I also worked out how to use the filtering system to exclude that last group from the final index, without having to save a copy first and then delete them all, which made life much easier.
Lessons learned
I’m still making too many entries at the first stage, although this is probably better than too few, but at the edit stage there were quite a few headings that seemed very unlikely sought terms.  I also need to think at the term selection stage about how much of my index to devote to double entry of terms, rather than including a wider range of headings.  I also need to do more playing with Sky and see what else it can help me do.

James Cook: The Voyages by William Frame with Laura Walker

About this book

In 2018, it will be 250 years since James Cook set out for the South Pacific on the Endeavour.  To celebrate this anniversary, there will be an exhibition at the British Library from April to August next year, drawing on the Library’s remarkable collection of maps, diaries, paintings and drawings to tell the story of Cook’s voyages.  As well as maps and diaries prepared by the British sailors, scientists and artists, the exhibition will show works by the Tahitian navigiator Tupaia, who travelled with Cook to New Zealand and Australia.  A fascinating exhibition catalogue has been prepared, which foregrounds the work of Tupaia and considers the colonising impact of Cook’s voyages; ostensibly, the first voyage had a scientific purpose (to observe the transit of Venus), but private instructions from the Admiralty gave Cook the additional mission of acquiring new territories for the British Empire.  The catalogue discusses the colonising motives underpinning the voyages, and the impact of the British visitors on Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia and Hawai’i.  The catalogue has around 200 illustrated pages and is roughly 50,000 words long.  I was asked to provide a name index that included the illustrations and was 600-650 lines long.  The authors and publishers were keen that the careful research done on the names of the indigenous people of the countries Cook visited was reflected in the text.

Approaching the index

I didn’t ask for a printout of this book, and read the PDF on my laptop.  In retrospect, that was a mistake, as this is a larger format book and it wasn’t all that easy to read.  I marked up the PDF using a larger monitor, which was easier.  Again, I made a mind map of the categories of people, places and things with names, to help me select my terms.  I also did some thinking about how to deal with indigenous names, English transliterations, and places that had or still have two names commonly used.  After some email discussion with the publisher, I decided on the following approaches:

  • for indigenous names of people, I would use the correct spelling as specified in the text as the preferred term.  If  incorrect English versions or transcriptions appeared frequently in the book, I would include a ‘see’ reference to the correct version, rather than double entry.  This avoided effacing the correct spelling or transliteration with the English colonial versions.   I also added misspellings that occurred frequently in the text as qualifiers.
  • for placenames, where both English and indigenous names were used in the text and are currently in use,  I would use double entry under both forms, with the other name included as a qualifier at each entry
  • for placenames where the English name is no longer used, I would use a see reference

I also did some preparatory reading on Maori names, which was helpful – the Indexer Centrepieces on names were invaluable here.


Placenames probably gave me the most trouble in this index.  I ended up doing a lot of research to see if both local and English names were still in use, in order to make a decision about whether to use both names in the index.  I also spent a lot of time with an atlas open at the Pacific page, trying to get my head around the shape of Cook’s voyages.

The double entry approach gave me most difficulty in the entry on New Zealand.  There were Maori and English names for most of the places mentioned.    The general entry on New Zealand had a lot of locators, and needed subheadings.  Should I, for example, include both North Island and Te Ika a Maui, its Maori name, as subheadings, duplicating the locators each time?  In the end, this is what I did, to ensure the index user would find the information whichever name they used.

All names needed careful transcription and checking.  I cut and pasted the most challenging names, and checked them all thoroughly. There were some diacritical marks that Sky didn’t seem to want to handle, so I also needed to put those in manually at the end, once I had the index in .rtf form.

Some people – Cook himself, but also Joseph Banks and several of the artists who travelled on the voyages – had a lot of meaningful entries.  This led to long strings; in a name index, I wasn’t quite sure how to break them up.  In the end, for the majority of these, I used placenames as a subheading, reasoning that the entry for the artist Sydney Parkinson, for example, would be easier to use if locators about his travels and his work was linked to particular places.  For Cook himself, I cheated a bit and put in some biographical subject subheadings; there were lots of locators referring to his death, for example, so I included a subheading for that.

Clarifying what all these names were gave me pause for thought, too.  For ship names, Michael Forder’s Indexer Centerpiece on military indexing was very helpful.  I started off with placeholder text to distinguish people, places, and gods.  I swithered about keeping these in as qualifiers, but eventually removed them because they made the index look very cluttered.  Also, if you are looking for Purea in this index, you probably know she is a Tahitian chief and not a mountain or a lake.


The structure of the book made it very easy to point the user at significant mentions, which I highlighted with bold locators.  Key people and places had short chapters devoted to them which included useful summary information. There was very little repetition despite the complex narrative of journeys and so many characters moving in and out of the story.

I also enjoyed getting to grips with some of Sky’s useful features.  I’d used labels before, but for this book I used them to flag illustrations – very helpful for a final check on illustration locators at the end – and to label the different nationalities of each name.  I also discovered the marvellous Propagate Edits tool, which helped me get rid of lots of placeholder notes while editing.

Mainly, though, the pleasures of indexing this book were in its beauty – the illustrations really are wonderful – and its insightful examination of Cook’s journeys.  I learned a great deal.

Lessons learned

It was worth putting in the efforts to work out a strategy for dealing with the indexing of names at the start; this supported my decision-making later on, although I did have to think about whether and how to break my self-imposed rules.  I did slightly better at anticipating the long strings of locators for this book, but there was still a lot of reworking of this at the editing stage.  I also made too many entries, and had to cut down significantly to fit in with the line limit.  I need to think more about how to avoid this – I had a rough target per page, but pages with several illustrations invariably pushed me over that.