It’s the day when publishers launch books they want you to buy for Christmas, for yourself or as gifts. Over 500 titles this year according to The Guardian. Not all non-fiction, but a significant proportion of titles that need an index because they contain information that readers might want to look up; think cookery, gardening, self-help, history, biography, science etc. etc. etc.
Of course, a book isn’t just for Christmas and they are launched all round the year. If you’re writing or publishing non-fiction, make sure it includes a good index. Use a qualified, experienced, indexer, such as those listed in the Society of Indexers Directory. Good quality indexes help sell books. Readers do check them out before buying a book. Librarians and academics also check them before purchasing for their libraries. Don’t let your readers down by having poor quality indexes, they are just as bad as not having an index.
With a short gap in my schedule I thought I ought to have a quick revamp of some of this site. Back in May this year, publisher Bloomsbury acquired one of my clients, I. B. Tauris. While the small company is being assimilated into the larger it seems as though their website has gone the way of good things, and all the links I had to books I had worked on on my indexing experience pages were broken. So I’ve linked all those books to Amazon pages, and in due course if they appear on the Bloomsbury site I’ll be putting links to there. Although Amazon offers ‘look inside’ so you can sometimes see the work I’ve done, I think it is fairer to link through to the publisher, and then you can choose if you want to go to Amazon. Some publishers, such as Equinox, allow you to download the index for free. I have also made some more subject pages for my indexing experience, as a few titles seemed to clump together nicely.
For 2016 Author Robert McCrum has compiled a list of the 100 best non-fiction books. These are “key texts in English that have shaped our literary culture and made us who we are”, in the Anglo-American English language tradition, the list covers “essential works of philosophy, drama, history, science and popular culture”.
Number 11 is The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. Some things to look at in this index:
- The introductory note explains that the index can be used to look up references in the bibliography as well as in the book, the numbers in brackets refer to the bibliography. So – acquired characteristics 23 (139). That could be useful.
- The introductory note also says that common terms are not indexed every time they appear, and so they shouldn’t, but only in special places such as where they are defined. For example the term ‘allele’ has only one page number and a reference to the bibliography, but occurs in several other sections of the book. I’d have to read a bit to see if that means there are too few page numbers in the index.
- Most of the terms are not plurals. It can be tricky sometimes to consider if a term should be singular or plural nouns in an index. The rule of thumb is if it can be counted it should be plural, but if you say ‘how much’ then it is singular. The index should be consistent and the indexer should be aware of the context of the words to decide if a singular form is more appropriate than a plural. The index is consistent, so for example the types of animal mentioned in this index are singular.
The book has a relatively short index, only 7 pages for over 300 pages of text. The publisher may have decided that this was not to be a reference book and the lightness of the index reflects that.