Thursday, July 21, 2022

out of the land of the dex

In addition to attending several Menlo festival events and writing two reviews for publication (I'll summarize that when the week's over), I've been busy with the same task that's been massively occupying me for most of the last four weeks, which is indexing an upcoming book for the Mythopoeic Press. It's a collection of essays which I'd describe as focusing on the aesthetic expression of Tolkien's moral principles in The Lord of the Rings. I'd already critiqued an earlier version, and as I'd indexed a book by the editor long ago, someone prevailed upon the authors to hire me for their index.

I see an indexing job as taking 5 steps.

1. Get familiar with the text. I'd already read this book twice, but I read through each essay again to grasp it as an individual whole before proceeding to:

2. Marking up the proofs. I need a printout of the final paginated copy for this, and I mark it with a felt-tip pen (not yellow: yellow is too light, but not a dark one either: pink is good) with occasional pencil annotations.

3. Transcribing the markups into an Excel spreadsheet. Four columns: heading, subheading if any, beginning page, ending page if different. Alphabetize it, and:

4. Rework the spreadsheet into index form.

5. Cleanup. Mostly done in conjunction with step 4. Look for inconsistencies and problems; word search of the PDFs of the proofs (need that too) for every entry to confirm I didn't miss anything important.

The major work of indexing comes in steps 2-3. An index is not a concordance: I only index names if there's enough material on them to make it worthwhile for the reader to look up the entry from the index, right? Index concepts, too, especially important ones described in consistent language. And always divide lengthy entries into subheadings. A long string of page references is useless to a reader. This time I placed a maximum of 5 references before requiring subheadings.

There's much consideration of phrasing and separation of entries in step 3, but throughout steps 4-5 also, I'm always reconsidering and editing and clarifying. Many indexes are terrible, but I'm determined to create a good one.

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