Many people get given books at this time of year. A fair proportion will be non-fiction, perhaps an autobiography, a biography, a memoir, some prize-winning non-fiction, a celebrity cookery book, a TV tie-in general interest book, a travel book about somewhere you want to go, a craft book about your latest hobby. Perhaps you bought yourself a present as well, or you’re going out soon to spend a book token or other gift card carefully on something you’re interested in. I bought my husband a copy of Guy Martin’s autobiography, but I’m hoping to get to read it before he does!
Have you got to the point where you’ve checked the index yet? Do you use the index when you’re choosing a book? Was the index in your book any good? Did you find what you wanted? Did you have to wade through a long list of page numbers and then not find what you hoped for?
The best indexes are made by trained, professional indexers. A professionally trained indexer will:
- Connect all the terms used by the author and all those likely to be sought by the reader with a web of cross-references so nothing is missed, no matter where the reader begins to search.
- Use subheadings to add levels of detail, making retrieval faster and more specific, and preventing readers from having to wade through long strings of page numbers to find what they want.
- Use qualifying notes to resolve ambiguities.
- Distinguish between material in footnotes, illustrations and tables.
- Make sure the index is clear, comprehensive and internally consistent.
- Tailor the index to fit the available space and conform to your house style
I’m particularly interested in history and archaeology, cycling and fitness, but would be happy to take on books in other general interest subject areas. If you’re an author or an editor looking for an indexer, please don’t hesitate to get in touch via my contact page.
I usually wake up to Radio 4’s Today programme. All too often as with most news it is all doom, gloom and tragedy. However, yesterday morning I surfaced just before the brief item about the launch of the singer Morrissey’s autobiography and my ears pricked up when they mentioned it was published without an index. There are many other reasons that this book is newsworthy:
- Penguin has published it as a ‘Classic’ along with the ancient writers, Louisa May Alcott and the rest – so bold because while there are those fans who claim his music as having greatness the quality of his writing was less certain
- There are no chapters – so maybe it is more fiction than non-fiction?
- The opening paragraph goes on a bit over four and half pages
- There’s masses of name dropping and he says what he thinks about an awful lot of people
- He’s written about relationships which interested his fans for many years.
But as an indexer I have to say it was a brave choice on someone’s part to leave out the index altogether. Of course, it means people have to read the whole thing to pick out nuggets about other celebrities and whatever else he has written about so getting information out as ‘news’ took longer than it should, but really, is leaving it out serving the audience in the longer term? As with Mortimer Wheeler and his teachers and contemporaries in my previous blog, it is those very celebrities and people he has worked with, had relationships of any kind with, the songs he’s written, and the music industry players who have affected him, who will be sought after by readers in the future. Valuable information may be easily missed by people who don’t have the time or inclination to read the book to extract every scrap that could so easily have been done by an indexer.
[Edit May 2014] Here’s a fan’s index that can be searched online by keyword. It’s not an analytical index in the true sense, but a labour of love that might be useful. Unfortunately you can’t print it out either.