This week is #workinpublishing week. Hosted by the Publishers Association, this year it has taken the form of an invitation for publishing professionals to share their experiences of their careers. Most professionals work for various publishing concerns but the publishing fraternity also includes freelancers who provide vital input and services in the production of both printed and eBooks. As an indexer I am one of these. I started my working life as a librarian, them moved to indexing when I discovered that such a career existed as it not only tapped into skills I already had but also fitted well with a life built around schoolchildren.
Professional indexers have the skills to create well-constructed and useful indexes which will unlock the ideas captured in the text by the author and make them easily accessible to the reader. The index can enhance the user experience in other ways: pointing the path to an intricate network of related topics, identifying and highlighting themes running through but not always obvious in the surface of the text; signposting concepts not referred to explicitly. The index also has a more commercial value, as a marketing tool for the publisher or bookseller to give an overview of and insight into the book.
I've been indexing for nearly twenty years and I find extracting meaning from the text and developing a carefully crafted tool to help the book's future readers immensely satisfying. Writing an index is a very creative thing to do.
As well as indexing books myself, for the past fourteen years I have been involved in training new indexers. The Society of Indexers runs a course leading to accreditation of successful students as recognised professional indexers. Clients who use an indexer from the Society's Directory can be confident they will receive a competent user-friendly index on time and one which will lead readers to the information they need to find.
The course is delivered online and includes lots of practical exercises in indexing to help students develop the requisite mindset, knowledge of good practice and practical skills. Students are tested in indexing as they progress, and receive extensive feedback on their indexes to help with improvement and development. Friendly online group tutorials provide opportunities for groups of students to index the same text and discuss the challenges and problems under the guidance of a tutor.
As indexers we have embraced the advent of e-publishing. The course also includes an introduction to the theory and practice of embedded indexing which is an essential process for creating eBook indexes that really work, with book content analysed in the usual organised and insightfully constructed way but with entries taking the reader directly to the exact word or sentence in the text where the information is to be found - so much more effective than the search box function. eBook indexing methods are still developing but opportunities for even more enhanced index facilities are built into the EPUB3 index specification and just await the response of publishers.