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Saturday, August 30, 2008

What is it about an index?

Is it just me? I never seem to be very happy with the indexes in my books. I guess it's the control freak in me that balks at the requirement that the publisher hire an index specialist. The only book I did the complete index on was the original Exploring Color, before the requirement was put in the boiler-plate contract. Indexing was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I completely redid the next two indexes after publication, they were so unsatisfactory. With the fourth and fifth books I had the opportunity to review the index before the books went to the printer. One of them was dreadful, the other not so bad. This time I didn't review the index, and while it isn't awful, I just don't get what causes indexers to note a word in one place and ignore it in another. I'm honestly trying not to be too picky, because I hate bloated indexes more than over-simplified ones. I do think an index is useful and essential in the kinds of books I write. Proofing an index is almost as hard as making one, I think, but I imagine indexers wouldn't agree with me on that.

The new book is fantastic. I'm astonished at the color. It's hard to match printed color to original art, but when I showed one artist his painting in the book, we compared it to the original and the color was dead-on. That pleased me no end.

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Blogger Gwendolyn said...

Could part of the problem arise from professional indexers (is that what they are called) who are NOT Subject Matter Experts?

This is an issue in computer systems development, also. Subject matter experts quickly identify key concepts, issues and requirements. When an analyst has to learn the subject matter in order to make these assessments, it takes a long time!

I see a lot of similarities to generating computer requirements specifications: to do good indexing, the indexer needs to know which words are related to each other, for example, and not simply use ONLY the words found in the text.

I wonder whether you, as the author, could supply a list of important terms and likely synonyms? Not that that would be EASY for you, but if it worked, it might be more satisfying!

6:25 PM  
Blogger Nita said...

You make a good point. I'm fairly certain my publisher uses people who know art or are artists. This indexer included all of the contributors' names and pages of their artwork, even though there is a two-page index to contributors in the book. Those entries clutter the index, in my opinion, which is otherwise pretty good. I doubt that the publisher will go to the expense of changing it, but I will ask, just the same.

As for the author supplying a list of terms, one might as well just do the index. And although that sounds like a good idea, it really is time-consuming. What works for me is being able to see the index before it's printed, so I can offer suggestions before it's final on the page.

Thanks for your interesting comment.

10:46 AM  

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