3 Things book indexers wish you knew

Seth Maislin

Seth Maislin, freelance indexer

1. Indexing is an editorial function.

You own a spellchecker, so why do you continue to work with editors? That’s easy. You need an editor to correct all the stupid mistakes your spellchecker makes, along with the 20 other good things that spellcheckers never do. Indexing, like writing and editing, requires a human being. Search, automatic indexers, and even simple alphabetizing tools are inferior, able to build things that look okay but function terribly.

2. Authors can write their own indexes, but there’s no good reason for it.

Just because you’re capable doesn’t mean you do it. Most of us do not grow vegetables, fill potholes, produce movies, or whittle wood into pencils. We know to rely on people who are efficient and qualified, because we have more appropriate things to do instead. Indexers are highly educated people who have the right combination of experience, training, and subject knowledge to prepare the best product for your readers. Unless you’re a professional indexer yourself—and there are a multitude of opportunities for you to become one—leave the hard work to the experts. Even gardeners buy most of their groceries. [Read more…]

Punctuation, other stylistic rules: obstacle or opportunity?

Punctuation, and other stylistic rules, with all their exceptions and apparently arbitrary forms, can seem like a massive obstacle to writing. If you’re unsure of punctuation (which is reasonable, given all the conflicting opinions on punctuation), the rules are more than a nuisance; they conspire to break into the writerly flow with their demands for figuring out, for example, where to put a comma. Punctuation and other rules are enemies to many writers. Certainly most of us don’t enjoy reading Strunk and White or the massive style manuals that define proper writing style in many academic fields.

But if you think of writing differently—not from the perspective of getting it all down on paper, but from the perspective of reaching interested readers—then these take on a different appearance; punctuation affects meaning and interpretation; to a lesser extent other stylistic elements do, too. And the meaning that the reader can gather is one of a writer’s main concerns. [Read more…]