Putting the life back in science fiction

Indexing is Vexing
September 26, 2015, 11:58 pm
Filed under: book, indexing, writing | Tags: , ,

I’ve been indexing the manuscript, and as with everything associated with this book, it’s more involved than I thought it would be. Fortunately, rather than lunging in to use Word’s indexing functions, I decided to read Nancy Mulvany’s very good Indexing Books, Second Edition (link to BigMuddy), so I learned that everything I was ready to do was, shall we say, suboptimal?  Yes, this is a textbook for people who create indices, and I do advise reading it before you launch into indexing.

It’s not that indexing is technically difficult, it’s that an index is a “paratext” (a parasitic separate text?) that reorganizes the book to enable someone looking for a particular bit of text to rapidly find it. Creating one can’t be done by machine, because the essential trick is getting inside the readers’ minds and anticipating how they will search for information and what they will search for. Yes, I could hire someone to do it for me, but that would cost hard money, and this is definitely a soft money project.  So I’m lumping it myself, and hoping that I can figure out how you’re going to go looking through the index.

One grumble about Mulvany’s book is that I decided to get the Kindle edition.  It has a beautiful index, of course, but all the Kindle converters did was to copy the index as if it was a table, so on my little Paperwhite, I can’t enlarge it.  All I have is page after page of two column index in flyspeck 3 font, too small to read without a magnifying glass, no links, page numbers noted and irrelevant in a Kindle edition.  In other words, in a textbook on indexing, the index on my version is totally useless.

Very few ebooks have functional, hyperlinked indices, but if I’m not being overly ambitious, I’m going to try to make a working index for the electronic version of my book.  Right now it looks like creating the electronic index involves radically reformatting the manuscript, feeding it into Caliber, and likely as not making various and unspeakable sacrifices to nameless deities.  Whether Amazon will carry the resulting file is another one of those interesting questions that hopefully I can answer in the next month or two.

While I could easily rant on about how ebooks are worse than paper books, I think this makes the case.  It’s beyond silly to have an electronic document with no hyperlinks and no way to resize images, but that’s what I’m supposed to create, unless I put in some extra effort.  Oh well. Good thing I’m stubborn.

The only take-home from this is that if you care about your readers having an index handy, put the requisite effort into it.  If you’re into DIY indexing, Mulvaney’s book is required reading, and if you’re planning on selling your manuscript (especially if it’s non-fiction), get the Chicago Manual of Style (preferably the dead tree version), because apparently it has warped brains in the American publishing industry more than other style manuals, and they will expect you to follow it, except when they don’t.

Back to the coal face.


4 Comments so far
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I see you are facing the same problem i had. Hyperlinked indexing. After some resarch i was able to find the tool PDF Index Generator that helped me organizing my index and writing it to my book with hyperlinked entries and pages numbers. That was very helpful.

Thanks for sharing this indexing book. I need to read such a book to be more proficient when creating my next book index.

Comment by Patricia Erickson

Thanks Patricia. I haven’t spent much time looking at PDF index generator (thanks for the link), but it looks like it generates what’s called a concordance, the list of words with links used in the index. This isn’t a bad start, but it will, for instance, put volcano, megavolcano, and Large Igneous Province into three separate entries. If you want to make an index where it says, “megavolcano, see under volcanoes, and Large Igneous Province (LIP), see under volcanoes, and then have subentries under volcanoes for megavolcanoes and LIPs, you can do this within Word, but you can’t automate the process. This is why I was so glad I got the book before I started, because a lot of online advice is seems to be about generating a concordance, rather than creating a useful index.

Of course, I’m still writing my first index, so I can’t honestly speak to the virtues of the process as anything other than a raw neophyte. Still, I’m glad this helps. Thanks again for the link.

Comment by Heteromeles

Oh, you’re right. I forgot to say that i use this tool only to help me to organize my indexing work only. I have collected the index entries myself from my book. I then googled for tools to help locating the pages numbers of my list of terms and write the index to my book. I found quite a good number of tools. I remember Cindex, PDF Index Generator, Sky Book Index, and Textract. After some comparison i have settled down with PDF Index Generator for a number of reasons.

Since this is your first time to write your index, i bet you will discover after some time that you will need assistance 🙂

Comment by Patricia Erickson

Well, the index is done, at least for the paper book version. Here’s what I learned:
–Word makes a perfectly adequate index by itself.
–Mulvany’s book was extremely both for figuring out what to index, how to index it, and how to edit the raw Word index to correct errors and make it more readable.

The challenge is that I’m correcting the text for the book. It’s going to be slightly different correcting the e-book version. That’s the next chore after I get the paper version finalized so I can print out a proof copy.

Comment by Heteromeles

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