An American Editor

December 5, 2018

On the Basics — Giving back?

Filed under: Editorial Matters,On the Basics — americaneditor @ 12:30 pm

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

With Thanksgiving behind us and the commercial end-of-the-year holiday season well under way, it’s a good time to think about how, or if, we as editors might give something back in return for … something.

What might we have received that deserves a response of some sort? And what might be an appropriate response?

What we receive

When you stop to think about it, many of us receive a lot from various sources. As editors, and some of us as freelancers, we often receive answers to questions about our work, whether we have a confusing sentence to untangle, an unfamiliar phrase or usage to assess, a software or hardware headache to cure, or a business matter — sometimes even a crisis — to resolve. We might post those questions in online communities such as the Copyediting List, the e-mail discussion list or forums of the professional organizations we belong to, Facebook or LinkedIn groups, even Twitter conversations. We learn from blogs like this one and newsletters from various sources. Those of us who work in-house might ask for input from someone at the next desk or in another department. Many of us have vendors such as computer gurus to call on for help with technical or mechanical issues. We go to conferences, where we learn from colleagues in person. Some of us have gotten jobs or clients through recommendations and referrals from colleagues.

We can’t always give direct, concrete thanks to everyone who helps us do our work better. That’s one good reason to find ways to give back to the universe, if you’ll forgive a little psycho-babble, as is another: We don’t always even know who provides the answer to a knotty question or information we’ve absorbed without realizing it, and then used to solve problems — or perhaps just to feel better about life in general and our work, and selves, in particular. Finally, not everyone we interact with needs our information or insights, so we can’t always respond to someone who has been helpful with something of equal value.

How and why I give

There are so many ways to give, or give back.

In the professional realm, like many of us, I find myself giving back to colleagues through some of the outlets noted above: contributing to and answering questions through organizational memberships and their discussion venues, participating in online communities, speaking at conferences, editing the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) newsletter and presenting webinars for the organization, teaching classes at the Rochester, NY, Writers and Books literary center, hosting the annual Communication Central conference, etc. These activities have become as natural as breathing, and a regular part of every day. (And we might even benefit financially — the EFA, for instance, shares income with members who write booklets and teach classes or present webinars, and some organizations pay honoraria or expenses for conference speakers, or at least provide speakers with free access to the events.)

I might not be in a position to help someone who answered one of my questions, but I can provide perspectives to someone else that might be as valuable as what one of you gave me. And yes, I profit financially from some of these, but that isn’t my primary motive for doing them. It just feels good — and somehow right — to be of help to others when others have been helpful to me, whether they know it or not.

There are practical ways to give back — a commission, gift certificate, or box of chocolates to colleagues who provide referrals to new clients, for instance.

Another way I give back is by supporting organizations that have helped me in the past and/or promise to make life better for the larger world, especially women and young people. That means financial support, but also personal involvement whenever possible.

Two that stand out are the Encampment for Citizenship and the Minority Journalism Workshop of the Greater St. Louis Association of Black Journalists (GSLABJ).

  • The Encampment has nothing to do with editing or freelancing, but was a major influence on my life. (Now that I think of it, though, that experience did have a connection to what became my profession, since I put together a yearbook for my program — my first effort at self-publishing!) I was 17 when I spent a summer at an Encampment outside New York City, and I’m still friends with fellow Encampers now. The program gave me exposure to kids from a variety of backgrounds, which was a valuable learning experience in and of itself, and opportunities to do community service in several areas; my group was involved in a youth conference at the United Nations, but we all participated in the whole Encampment’s projects. It also gave me confidence about my voice and my principles; confidence that I’ve carried with me ever since.

I helped revive, and now give back to, the Encampment because I believe it’s a program that we all need in today’s confusing, divisive, difficult world. The connection to my professional life is that I use my professional skills to edit material for the organization, which contributes to making the organization look better in its presentations to potential Encampers, parents, donors and others.

  • The GSLABJ workshop was an eye-opener. It wasn’t something I benefited from as a participant; it was a program I helped with (primarily as a provider of food!) in its first year, back in 1976. The high school students in the program wanted to be journalists and were considered the best and brightest of their schools. When we asked them to take notes and write up a presentation by a community leader in the first session (the program meets for seven Saturdays at a local college), the results were incoherent and incomprehensible. I was appalled.

(For those who are wondering, I got involved in the GSLABJ because I was a reporter for the St. Louis Argus, a black weekly.)

After those seven Saturdays, thanks to the dedication of the professional journalists who gave up their weekends (and a lot of time between sessions as well), those kids were writing stories and producing TV and radio programs that were on a par with the work of people working in the profession. It was amazing. There’s something indescribably exciting about seeing a kid go from almost illiterate to highly functional and productive.

The workshop has continued in St. Louis ever since, and colleagues and former student participants have launched similar programs in DC, Memphis, Pittsburgh and elsewhere. I’ve given financial support to the GSLABJ workshop over the years, but now that I’m back in St. Louis (see …), I can — and will — provide hands-on involvement in the workshop again as well.

The tie-in to our profession as editors is, of course, that a program like this is giving young people communication skills they will need to work with or for us in the future.

Why give back?

One business-related aspect of holiday-season giving involves whether we with businesses of our own should give gifts to our clients. I do that every year; something small but personal (and purple!) to show appreciation for the fact that they sent/send me work and pay well and promptly. Client gifts don’t have to be extravagant — a promotional mug, pen, jump drive, etc., works just fine. The point is to let clients know that we appreciate their choosing us over other freelancers. Some of my clients even send me something at the holiday season!

Whether you call it giving back, paying forward or just plain giving, the rewards of helping colleagues and others are common knowledge. For those here who haven’t experienced the fulfillment of helping others on some level, whether in person or through your checkbook; whether in professional circles or personal ones; whether visibly or anonymously … I recommend ramping up your participation in the human race and finding ways to thank your colleagues and communities for what they do. You’ll feel better, and the world will be a better place.

Do you have a way to “give back”? Let us know how and to whom you give back, and why.

November 26, 2018

Book Indexes: Part 6 — “See also” Cross-references

Filed under: Editorial Matters — americaneditor @ 5:46 pm

Ælfwine Mischler

I recently completed an index for a heavily illustrated book. When the author “took a peek” before sitting down to a serious review of the index, she sent me a question (the book was about Egyptology, but I’m using fake names here):

The author is 10 time zones behind me, and I saw her message on my phone at 10 p.m., so I could not check the index until morning. I understood her to mean that the entry said only Ailurophobiopolis, 112 and replied, “Yes, it certainly should say ‘See also, Pickled Herring, Temple of’ and I thought I had it in there. I’ll have to check in the morning.” I went to bed wondering how on earth that See also cross-reference had been dropped.

The day before, when I was generating the final index, the cross-references were not appearing correctly — some of them even disappeared. At the suggestion of colleagues in a forum, I looked for and removed stray coding in the cross-references, and they then appeared correctly. But had some been dropped?

In the morning, I checked the document that I had sent to the author, and both Ailurophobiopolis, 112 and See also, Pickled Herring, Temple of were in the entry as they should have been. Then I saw another email from the author. She had “corrected” the index entry to this: Ailurophobiopolis, See also, Pickled Herring, Temple of.

“Aha!” I cried. “I have the topic of my next blog post! Cross-references!”

I briefly explained these in Part 1 of this series. I doubt that my author had seen that post, but in any case, readers and authors can benefit from more explanation.

In this index (I explained to the author), Ailurophobiopolis, 112 is referring to the New Kingdom mummy of Vizier Siliwauks found at that site. But Pickled Herring, Temple of has subheadings. It cannot go under Ailurophobiopolis because there is only one level of subheading. It has to have a main heading of its own. See also tells the reader to go to the Pickled Herring Temple to find out more about Ailurophobiopolis.

Let me give you an idea of the Temple of Pickled Herring entry (the page numbers in bold refer to illustrations):

A total of 18 subheads and 31 locators. Yes, I am going to send the reader who looks at Ailurophobiopolis to Pickled Herring, Temple of rather than repeating all of this under Ailurophobiopolis.

But if, in another case, there are only a few locators for each item, I can put all of them under the main entry. I do not need to use a cross-reference to send the reader elsewhere.

 

Another reason for a See also cross-reference is to take the reader from something specific to a more-general topic. For example, the index of a book about food might have entries for different types of cheese. Each of these should have a See also to cheese. This is also an example of double posting, in which main entries are posted again as subentries under a category.

A See also cross-reference can also direct the reader to one or more related entries.

The metatopic might appear as an entry with multiple see also cross-references. In a large history of Egyptology, I indexed the metatopic Egyptology with subentries such as definition of, disciplinary boundaries within, and other topics that would not stand on their own as main entries, and had a list of see also cross-references. Each of these was a long entry with many subentries.

One final remark: Some of you may find fault with the example entries Pickled Herring, Temple of and Cynophobiopolis, which are from a run-in index. By convention, the subentries in a run-in index should be grammatically linked to the main entry, and I do normally follow that convention. However, in this case, there were a lot of entries like these — a temple or tomb with a list of deities depicted in it. The index was going to be set in 8-point type, and space was limited. Adding “in” after each deity’s name for the sake of convention was only going to waste space and make the entry more cluttered and difficult to read. An index should serve the reader; hence, I ignored convention in such entries.

See also cross-references are an important indexing tool for linking concepts and guiding the reader to a book’s contents. If you have ever been bewildered by them, I hope their use is clearer now.

Ælfwine Mischler is an American copyeditor and indexer in Cairo, Egypt, who has been the head copyeditor at a large Islamic website and a senior editor for an EFL textbook publisher. She often edits and indexes books on Islamic studies, Middle East studies, and Egyptology.

November 21, 2018

On the Basics — Lessons from a Major Life Change

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

As some of you know, I recently decided to make a major life change and relocate from my hometown of Rochester, NY, to St. Louis, MO, where I lived many years ago. The process has been exciting, unpredictable and even a little scary, but well worth all the hassle involved with any move, especially one halfway across country rather than across town. Some aspects have offered insights connected to the idea of editing and being in business as an editor that I thought our subscribers might enjoy.

Own your life

This move was inspired by a combination of factors. I found that I couldn’t handle staying where my husband and I had been together — I kept expecting him to be there in our apartment, or around an aisle at the grocery store, and it was painful. The experience and impact of loss is different for everyone; some people prefer to stay where they were happy with a spouse or partner, but it wasn’t working for me.

Within a few months of losing Wayne-the-Wonderful, I fell and tore up my arm, and couldn’t drive for almost three months. Because I lived in a residential neighborhood with no amenities in walking distance, that meant having to ask friends or pay for transport for everything — groceries, doctors’ appointments, entertainment, meetings. It was beyond frustrating. A walkable neighborhood became a priority.

A change of ownership and management for our apartment building, of which the less said, the better, was the third strike. It was time.

A “field trip” back to St. Louis proved that old friendships and professional connections were still in good shape. Before I even started to look at rental places, I fell over an amazing opportunity to do something I’ve never done before — buy a place to live. All kinds of things seemed to line up as signs that this was meant to be, and here I am, back in the Gateway City, where things are both familiar and new.

Edit your life

The biggest lesson of this process has been that it’s time for any and all of us to edit our lives! That is, most — if not all — of us have too much stuff, whether it’s personal possessions or work-related items; probably both. In trying to pack for this big move, I found myself assessing what to keep, what to donate and what to pitch on a scale unlike any other time I’ve moved.

I probably kept a lot of personal belongings that I could dispense with (and I expect to do further clearing out once I’m more settled in), but those were harder to deal with than the work stuff. In that realm, it was surprisingly easy to decide that I really don’t need two or more paper copies of my published work, and that resulted in emptying out two entire four-drawer file cabinets! I have a portfolio for every year that I’ve been working in publishing or communications, so I have a copy of everything I’ve written, edited or proofread, and one should suffice for both my own desire to have a record of my professional life and any client’s need for back copies of projects.

It also occurred to me that I don’t have to keep 5¼” floppy disks, 3.5” diskettes, Zip disks or Syquest disk versions of work from 10, 20 or more years ago. Clients do occasionally ask for old projects, but rarely anything that old — and if someone asks now, I can recreate a version through photocopying or scanning. I pitched what seemed like a ton of old disks — not without some trepidation, but also with a feeling of relief, of being unchained from so much stuff.

I also cleared a two-drawer file cabinet of handwritten notes from probably a couple hundred interviews for articles that have been published without any requests to clarify or verify information. From now on, I’ll keep notes for no more than a year after a piece is published. Anyone with complaints or questions going back farther than that will have to trust my reputation for accuracy.

I went through several drawers-worth of old files and records, clearing out anything I thought was pointless to keep now. I did keep business records going farther back than required, but as minimally as felt comfortable. Several boxes of paper, off to the shredder (and the boxes made available for packing!).

As I continue unpacking and organizing in my new home, I strongly urge colleagues to pretend you have to move next week or at most next month, and use that scenario to start sorting and editing your belongings to see what you can do without. Clothes you haven’t worn in a year or longer; dry and canned goods, medications, hygiene products, etc., that are past their expiration dates or not being used — trash the expired ones and donate the ones that someone else could benefit from; anything in a storage closet, basement, attic or junk room; and old work files that no one is ever going to ask you about again or equipment that you aren’t ever going to use. (I’m not even sure why I keep all those old portfolios, much less albums of personal photos going back even farther; it’s not as if I’m famous enough for anyone to need them to write my definitive biography!)

Be prepared

Any move can mean disruption of some, if not all, business systems. A new location, even in town, can mean new phone numbers (not an issue if you rely solely on a cell- or smartphone, of course), Internet access, bank accounts, mailing information and related aspects of both daily and business life. If you can take a break from work to focus on the move, so much the better, but most of us don’t have that luxury.

As I’ve said in other contexts, having an e-mail address based on a domain name makes it easy to relocate without losing touch with clients and colleagues, because any change in your service provider is invisible to your contacts. It doesn’t matter what company I use for Ruth@writerruth.com; I never have to tell anyone a new e-ddress because it doesn’t change, even if my actual provider does. (The same is probably true for national servers like Gmail, Yahoo, etc., but those don’t relay your brand and business identity in the same way as a domain-based e-ddress.)

Then again, actual Internet access can still be problematic. As I write this, my ATT service is having serious personality issues, and the technician is finding it challenging to resolve them. That’s a function of being in an older building, and a unit whose previous owner apparently did not use the Internet. I’ve had to warn a couple of regular clients that my access to e-mail might be spotty for a few days, and to call me (yikes — actually talking clients on the phone!) for anything urgent.

Before the move, I made a point of looking for, and luckily found, alternatives to my home system. There’s a public library about three blocks from my new place, as well as a wealth of nearby coffee shops and other neighborhood joints with WiFi service. My goal of being in a walkable neighborhood is proving to be a definite plus.

Most of the other aspects of the move have been easy to manage — opening a new bank account and redirecting direct deposits or debits, updating website contact information, forwarding mail, etc. It helped to have a financial cushion for the myriad unexpected aspects of both the move and the change from renting to owning; it seems as if something new, and potentially costly, pops up every other day. (Ah, yes — the joys of homeownership! Everything you’ve heard is true.)

It also helped to be reasonably up to date, and even ahead of deadline, on current projects so changes in scheduling everything from the movers’ arrival date to delivery of remaining furnishings (my big pieces will have to come into the apartment by crane through a window, because the elevator and stairwell are too small to accommodate them!) to wonky Internet access don’t turn into major problems. I highly recommend working ahead of deadlines at any time, but especially before and the first few weeks after a move.

The benefits of editing your life

An “edited” life is likely to be a better-organized, more-manageable, less-stressful life. I’m not advocating dispensing with any and all elements that make your surroundings fun and personalized (yes, all the purple bears came with me to St. Louis); just assessing what you don’t need, don’t use and don’t want to deal with if you have to move — or someone has to manage a move for you.

Moving to a new place can be exciting, and doing so with as little excess baggage as possible is liberating. Like editing a thorny document, editing my belongings is a cathartic and freeing experience. Every emptied drawer, every donated item, every bag of trash — it was as if I was getting lighter and lighter. It felt great!

The process continues — I continue to find more things that I can do without and I’m not sure why I kept. We do reach a point, at least in editing a life for a move, where it’s easier to just bring or keep everything and worry about it later. The problem becomes, of course, that it’s also easier to keep all that stuff (assuming you have space for it) than to continue sorting and culling; editing out what we don’t use or need.

There may not be an exact parallel to editing a document, but there certainly is one to editing your business life. And every unsorted box, pile or file drawer is something to do in-between projects, during a snowstorm or at any other point of life when time hangs idle.

I’m sure that other lessons or advice will occur to me in the coming weeks, but for now, I’m going to take advantage of being offline for a while (I hope a short while) to unpack another box or two. Wish me luck!

What lessons have colleagues learned from needing or wanting to make a big life change like a move?

November 19, 2018

Literary Theft — Fact or Fiction?

Filed under: Contributor Article,Editorial Matters,Thinking Fiction — americaneditor @ 1:14 pm

Carolyn Haley

A common concern among new authors is that someone will steal their work. I encounter this worry in different arenas, from early contact with individuals about editing their manuscripts to collective expression in writers’ forums about the greed and untrustworthiness of the publishing industry as a whole.

The central concerns seem to be about copyright and piracy. These reflect, on one hand, a valid worry about vulnerability in the electronic age. It’s so easy now for anyone to copy and distribute anything!

On the other hand, the worry is needless, because creative works are protected better than most people think, and theft is usually driven by mercenary interest. Where’s the dollar value in an unknown, unpublished author’s first novel?

Thieves want something that will make them easy money. A good idea might have potential profit, but ideas themselves are not copyrightable, and passing off material as one’s own when it’s not can be tracked, and consequences imposed. Smart thieves don’t want to risk that, and stupid ones are easily caught.

Copyright basics

According to the United States government, for American authors, “Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.”

In simpler terms, this means that the minute you write a story, it is protected by copyright. The key phrase is “fixed in a tangible form.” Ideas, as mentioned above, cannot be copyrighted. Same is true for titles. Copyright applies to individual expression of ideas, which means your book versus anyone else’s.

Everything you need to know about copyright law is covered on the U.S. copyright website. The concise version appears on their Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page:

https://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-general.html#what

As that site specifies, you do not have to register your copyright to have it. The extra step of registration is for security; or, as explained by literary agent Janet Reid, “Copyright does not prevent theft, any more than car insurance prevents accidents. Copyright registration allows you to sue if someone does plagiarize your work.”

She elaborates on why registering copyright before acquiring an agent can be problematic. Details are in the full blog article at:

http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/2018/10/so-why-you-do-not-register-copyright.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+blogspot%2FLZQZA+%28Janet+Reid%2C+Literary+Agent%29

Indie authors who self-publish just need to declare their copyright in the front matter of their book (e.g., Copyright © 2018 by Carolyn Haley. All rights reserved.).

That’s all you need.

More can be added, about rights and publishing information. See here for an explanation, by Joel Friendlander at the Book Designer:

https://www.thebookdesigner.com/2010/01/copyright-page-samples-you-can-copy-and-paste-into-your-book/

Paying for copyright registration is a formality to embrace if you are acting as a publishing business, as well as to cover yourself for unknown problems that could occur in the future, but it isn’t required.

Who cares?

The person least likely to plagiarize an author’s work is their editor. There’s nothing for an editor to gain from stealing a client’s material. Sure, some editors are also writers, but as I once told a prospective client, “I’m a lot more interested in writing my book than yours.” A bit harsh, perhaps, but that relieved the author’s fears — and I received his deposit the next day.

Stealing a client’s material — and being caught at it — is about the worst thing that could happen to an editor’s career. Given the traceability of passing materials around electronically, I can’t imagine how I would hide the fact that I’d come into possession of an author’s work. Nor do I want to waste the time trying. I (and my peers) have better things to do.

Perhaps if I were indiscreet and shared some content from a client manuscript with a friend, or posted it undisguised in an editors’ forum, that text might get further passed around, and grabbed and used by an unknown party, creating a situation of plagiarism or piracy. That would be an error of stupid carelessness, not evil intent, but it would still have negative consequences.

Neither I nor all other publishing professionals I know would dream of shooting ourselves in the foot that way. This applies to both independent editors and staff editors at publishing houses, along with literary agents. That means an author can be reasonably assured that sending a manuscript to a publishing professional isn’t going to harm them.

Piracy

The greater risk of having your work stolen comes through sharing it on social media, or at online group feedback sites. In the “cloud,” anyone can copy material and do what they want with it. Some authors who don’t have the support of beta readers or writers’ groups use online sites for needed feedback. If they’re seriously worried about piracy and plagiarism, however, they are better off finding beta readers in their direct, physical world, or even just going it solo, which limits access to their work and thus reduces or eliminates the risk of having it swiped.

Stolen work is not necessarily a catastrophe. While yes, it’s offensive and infuriating, it also can be transformed into opportunity. Some authors recognize that having their material pirated gives them an advantage akin to self-promoting through giveaways.

Best-selling author Neil Gaiman discusses this in an interview. He acknowledges that pirated material was actually helping his sales! Many sales, he realized, are generated by word of mouth, or by people lending copies of a book to friends. During such exchanges, no sale is actually lost. Rather, sales are gained because greater exposure motivates readers to acquire more of an author’s work.

See Neil’s rationale and experience at:

https://www.britishcouncil.org/voices-magazine/neil-gaiman-radio-drama-online-piracy-social-media

Nevertheless, finding your text on somebody else’s site is a disturbing, angering experience that you have to respond to. Author Joanna Penn addresses this and offers practical solutions in her blog article “3 Reasons Why Author’s Shouldn’t Worry About Piracy But How to Protect Yourself Anyway” at:

https://jerryjenkins.com/3-reasons-authors-shouldnt-worry-piracy-protect-anyway/

The simple response to concern about having your material stolen is, Don’t sweat it. The chances of it happening are slim; if it does occur, you have recourse. Very few authors have to go to court to challenge their ownership of their creative work. Those who do are usually best-sellers. If you’re not there yet, you needn’t lose sleep over the possibility. Just write your book and follow established paths toward getting it to your audience. The publishing industry is on your side, and is no more interested in fielding a lawsuit than you are.

Approaching publishing with your eyes open, acting prudently, and trusting professionals to help both avoid and respond to any piracy or plagiarism are the most reliable acts authors can perform to securely control their rights to their work.

Carolyn Haley, an award-winning novelist, lives and breathes novels. Although specializing in fiction, she edits across the publishing spectrum — fiction and nonfiction, corporate and indie — and is the author of two novels and a nonfiction book. She has been editing professionally since 1977, and has had her own editorial services company, DocuMania, since 2005. She can be reached at dcma@vermontel.com or through her websites, DocuMania and New Ways to See the World. Carolyn also blogs at Adventures in Zone 3 and reviews at New York Journal of Books, and has presented on editing fiction at the Communication Central conference.

October 15, 2018

Indexes — Part 5: Names in Indexes

Ælfwine Mischler

A potential client recently asked me what an index is. Does it contain every name and event in a book? How is it different from a concordance?

A concordance maps every occurrence of words in a work or corpus, usually with the surrounding words to provide some context. A concordance might categorize the words by parts of speech (noun, verb, adjective, adverb) or by form (run, running, runny). There are, for example, concordances for the Bible, Shakespeare, Old English literature (which has a limited corpus), and the Qur’an (in Arabic). For most books, though, a concordance is not very useful.

Imagine a book about aardvarks — do you really want to know where every occurrence of the word aardvark is? Wouldn’t you rather want to know where to find information about the diet, habitats, mating habits, diseases, and natural enemies of aardvarks? That is what a well-written index provides. Indexers create entries for the topics discussed in a book and — if they do the job right — break long topics into subentries so readers can easily find what they want. Nobody wants to check all the pages in a long string of page numbers (or other locators) to find particular information.

What about names of people — should every instance of every name appear in an index?

Not usually. A computer-generated index might pick out all the words beginning with a capital letter and index them without differentiating between those that are passing mentions and those attached to substantial information. If a page says that Fay Canoes went with Bob Zurunkel, and that Fay did X, Y, and Z, and Fay said “yadda yadda” and “blah blah blah,” Fay is going to be indexed for that page, but not Bob. He is just a passing mention there. If Fay appears many times in the book, a human-produced index will usually have subentries for Fay, but a computer-generated index will not.

Often, a trade book or one that has limited space for the index will have longer strings of locators — and, thus, fewer subentries — and fewer details in the index.

As I said, usually not every occurrence of every name will appear in the index. There are exceptions, of course, and indexers should anticipate the needs of the reader. For example, in local histories, even passing mentions of every person or place (building, street, town, etc.) should be indexed because they might serve as clues for later researchers. In a handbook of literature, every author’s name might be indexed even if they are only mentioned in passing, but book titles might be indexed only if there is substantial discussion of them. What constitutes “substantial discussion” is sometimes a subjective decision.

Authors used as sources may or may not be indexed, and practice varies from one field to another. In the social sciences, it is common to have a separate name/author index that includes all sources, even if they are named only in parentheses, without subentries. The indexer has to refer to the bibliography to get the first name or initial(s) of authors, so bibliography pages should be counted in the page or word count used for pricing the index.

In other works, sources might be indexed only if there is substantial discussion of their material, or only if the source name appears in the text as opposed to only in a footnote or endnote. Authors and editors should make their expectations clear to the indexer before indexing begins.

Human indexers can decide which names to include in an index. They can also index people with nicknames properly (e.g., recognize that Frank and Buddy are the same person), people whose names have changed over time, and people who are referred to by a title or family relationship. A computer program will not index such people correctly, if at all.

So what goes into an index? That depends on the nature of the book, needs of the reader, practice in a given field, and space available for the index. If you have particular needs or questions, discuss them with your indexer before work begins. If you are the indexer, be sure to have this conversation before you begin the work.

Ælfwine Mischler is an American copyeditor and indexer in Cairo, Egypt, who has been the head copyeditor at a large Islamic website and a senior editor for an EFL textbook publisher. She often edits and indexes books on Islamic studies, Middle East studies, and Egyptology.

September 17, 2018

Book Indexes — Part 4: The Metatopic

Ælfwine Mischler

A few years ago, I was asked to index a book about a medieval ruler and the mosque and city he built. The book was primarily an architectural history, but it included substantial information about the city and about the ruler’s childhood in central Asia and its influence on the mosque’s architecture.

But I was told that the names of both the ruler and the mosque, and the name of the city, were not to appear in the index.

I interpreted this to mean that those names were not to be main entries. There were entries on the other cities in the country discussed, so I put the forbidden city as a subentry under “cities,” and I made entries for “education of X” and “rise to power of X” even though I knew that they ought to be subentries under the name of the not-to-be-named ruler.

Being very much a newbie at the time, I asked for a volunteer to peer review my index. My reviewer rightly asked why I had not put main entries for the ruler and the city. When I told her that that was what the editor and author had requested, she suggested that I make a second version of the index with those items properly indexed and give the editor the choice. I did that, but the editor replied that they had decided on the first option. I later saw that in the published version they had also removed the education and rise-to-power entries, as well as the cities main entry so that the “forbidden city” was nowhere to be found in the index, although the other two cities retained their main entries.

Why? I have never understood why the client did not want those items in the index when they were so obviously part of what the book was about.

Long-time indexers say that they were taught decades ago not to index the main topic of the book — what indexers now call the metatopic. Now, though, whenever we peer-review an index, the metatopic is the first thing we look for.

It has been found that when readers use an index, they usually look first for the metatopic that is apparent from the book title or subtitle. If the book is about aardvarks and readers do not find “aardvarks” in the index, they do not conclude that the index is bad; they conclude the book is bad, with nothing about aardvarks.

Obviously, you cannot put everything as subentries under the metatopic, or you would be indexing the whole book. A joke among indexers is of a graduate student who was asked to index his professor’s book. When it came to the metatopic, he started to add page numbers — 1, 2–3, 4, 5–7 — and then threw up his arms with “It’s on every page!”

But under the metatopic(s) — there can be more than one — an indexer can put subentries that cannot stand alone as main entries, such as a definition or other items that readers are unlikely to look for in the index, and then add See also cross-references to guide the reader to the entries for the main discussion. Every main entry in the book should relate to the metatopic(s) in some way.

Here are some of the subentries I put under the metatopic “Egyptology” and the See also cross-references in the index of a three-volume history of Egyptology. (This was a run-in index, which is reflected in the wording, but I am displaying it here as an indented index.)

Handling the metatopic(s) is not always easy, and indexers have different ways to approach the task. The metatopic(s) may be easy to identify from the title or subtitle, or by reading the introduction and conclusion — which indexers read before beginning the index. On the other hand, in a complex scholarly book, the metatopic may not be readily apparent. An indexer may formulate the metatopic as a sentence or short paragraph before deciding on a concise phrasing suitable for an index entry.

As a reader, do you look for the metatopic when you open an index for the first time? Are you disappointed if you do not find it? Have you noticed a difference in indexing styles between older and newer books?

Ælfwine Mischler is an American copyeditor and indexer in Cairo, Egypt, who has been the head copyeditor at a large Islamic website and a senior editor for an EFL textbook publisher. She often edits and indexes books on Islamic studies, Middle East studies, and Egyptology.

August 31, 2018

The Value (or Not) of Beta Readers

Carolyn Haley

Many novelists enlist the aid of beta readers after completing the first draft of a book. A beta reader, according to Wikipedia, is:

  • a test reader of an unreleased work of literature or other writing (similar to beta testing in software), giving feedback with the angle of an average reader to the author about remaining issues . . . . so that an uncolored opinion of an average reader can be obtained. Usually, a beta reader will be unpaid. The feedback is used by the writer to iron out remaining overall issues with plot, pacing and consistency. The beta read also serves as a target audience test to see whether the book has the intended emotional impact and feel.

Beta readers usually precede professional editors in a novel’s path to publication; sometimes they replace professional editors for self-publishing authors on low budgets. A few professional editors offer beta reading as one of their services. I don’t, preferring to offer manuscript evaluations or developmental edits for work in its early stages.

Beta reading, in my opinion, is more subjective and freestyle than professional editing should be. I engage in it only with my writers’ group, whose members return the favor. Through long-term, piecemeal, opinionated back-and-forthing, we help each other convert our messy first drafts into manuscripts coherent enough to be professionally edited.

While beta reading can be immensely helpful to authors, it can also throw them off course or even change their progress to regress. The old adage “Too many cooks spoil the broth” might come into play. The following two cases illustrate the possible effects of multiple contradictory responses to a person’s first novel.

Case #1: Counterproductive Overload

One of my clients, whom I’ll call Henry, has been working on his book for several years. It is the first volume of a science fiction adventure series aimed at young adults, set in an alternate world with lots of action wrapped around a social injustice theme.

Henry hired me for copyediting and paid his deposit. In the weeks between scheduling the job and its start date, however, he had an unknown number of adult friends beta-read the manuscript. Their feedback knocked him from self-assurance to quivering uncertainty. He decided to postpone sending the manuscript to me so he could recast sections in response to the beta reader commentary.

Good idea, in theory. Copyediting is supposed to come at the end of a book’s development, giving it the final polish needed before sending it out the door. Henry was discovering that his story needed more development than he’d thought. His initial two-month postponement stretched into two years.

Eventually Henry finished the book to his satisfaction and delivered the manuscript. Since he didn’t want to change our original scope of work, I copyedited the novel. I thought he was still a long way from his goal of being traditionally published, but you never know, so I gave him my best effort and wished him the best of luck.

Two years later, he came back for a second copyedit of the same novel. Not only had my editing inspired him to make significant revisions, but also, while I had been editing, he’d been having another crop of people beta read the book.

Because of that response overload, Henry spent months revising in different directions. The conflicting information caused him to lose sight of his original vision and eroded his confidence. He started to wonder why he had bothered trying to write the book in the first place, and despaired of ever succeeding.

Eventually he bounced back, reaching a point of satisfaction and deciding to self-publish. That’s when he hired me for the second copyedit. But history repeated itself: During the weeks of waiting between hiring me and the job start date, he took in yet more beta reader feedback, which thrust him back into indecision. This time, he postponed copyediting for six months. (And this time, I inserted a cutoff clause into his contract, so if he bailed out again, he would forfeit his deposit.)

Luckily, I was able to fill the holes in my calendar caused by both of his postponements. It distresses me, though, to see an author get undermined and derailed by an invisible crowd of others whose opinions outweigh my professional observations, explanations, and encouragement.

This author is willing to pay twice for a service he doesn’t seem to believe has greater value than unqualified people’s feelings. He’s also willing to possibly lose a substantial amount of money if he can’t set priorities and boundaries, and hold tight to his own vision, before the time limit on his deposit runs out.

I question whether he will ever be able to own his work and find the courage to expose it to the world through publication, never mind acquire the storycraft skills to convey it. As well, the money he has already laid out would have covered a professional developmental edit. Had we done that in the first place, perhaps by now his book would be several levels farther along and he’d still be excited by its prospects. Even if I’m not the ideal editor for him, he would be making progress rather than riding a merry-go-round, trying to satisfy all readers in all things.

Maybe his time on the merry-go-round will ultimately result in a finished novel. Sometimes that happens, as it did with a member of my writers’ group.

Case #2: Productive Overload

This author, whom I’ll call Henrietta, has also spent many years on crafting her first novel. Unlike Henry, her book is a stand-alone story, set on contemporary Earth. Instead of action and adventure, it presents a deep character study written in a literary style.

Henrietta is trained in the commercial graphic arts, which gives her a seemingly infinite capacity to reformulate a concept. Like Henry, she’s new to creating personal art through words and is insecure about its validity. Also like Henry, she can’t resist the temptation to gather opinions. Thus, she’s had beta reader after beta reader, and goes through much psychological hand-wringing in trying to decide whose opinion matters, seeking to accommodate all of them in her work.

My opinion holds extra weight for her because I’m a professional editor. I provide my services gratis in this case, because in this writers’ group, we all volunteer skills in mutual support. Our personal creative works exist on spec — no guarantee any of us will publish, or earn a dime if we do — versus professional services provided under contract, where performance and delivery are part of an economic exchange. In the writers’ group, we are friends exchanging favors.

Regardless of my professional status, Henrietta routinely ignores my opinion because it disagrees with her vision. In this regard, she differs from Henry, who struggles to hold his vision at all. Her professional training enables her to weigh and measure and ultimately assimilate diverse opinions, while my professional training lets me leave her free to do it (copyeditor’s mantra: “It’s not my book, not my book . . .”). I serve instead as sounding board and devil’s advocate, with my real contribution being copyediting and proofreading.

Henrietta’s willingness to consider options kept making her book stronger — until the day came when she had incorporated too many opinions, and both the story and her writing voice began to unravel. That not only added months to her writing time, but also burned her out on the project. I invested a lot of time in pushing her to embrace her work and believe in herself.

After many more revisions, some of which brought sections of the book back to where they’d started, her manuscript was ready for submission to agents and, in my opinion, worthy of being published by a Big Five house. (I also believe that if she wants to skip the agent and submit directly to smaller publishers, she could sell the book in five minutes. If she chooses to self-publish [an option she is rejecting because she understands the huge and long-term marketing work involved], she could probably make some serious money.) But she knows what she wants and is staying her course.

Problem is, she can’t stop collecting beta reader opinions. Even as I was mechanically editing the “final” version, she continued to run every little late idea past multiple people. It took coercion to get her to send out her first query letter, after which she immediately started second-guessing how an agent would react to dialogue and scene details, and sneaking her fingers back to the keyboard. I’m hoping her future agent and house editor can manage this tendency, so the book can make it to publication.

Positive Outcomes

Most of my clients claim to use beta readers, without providing details. Occasionally they also refer to a writing class or a previous editor. A recent author mentioned using all three resources. He, like Henry, had signed up with me and paid his deposit, then suddenly postponed for two years. But when he came back, both his book and his confidence were strong. Like Henry, he’s launching a science fiction adventure series. Unlike Henry, I expect him to be a self-publishing success.

Another self-publishing client revealed that his novel, volume two of a historical fantasy, had been through developmental editing with a high-end professional I recognized. The investment showed, in that the manuscript I received for copyediting needed nothing more than token spit-and-polish.

I do not know if this client ever used beta readers. Possibly not, because unlike many authors, he has the wherewithal to spring for pros at each stage. He went through the same developmental-editor-to-copyeditor sequence when self-publishing his first volume, which came out beautifully and has been well received. I expect volume two will build his audience.

Yet another client seems to have the complete writing skill set hardwired into him. He cranks out one or two novels a year without help, and all of them are exciting, well-crafted stories ready for copyediting. He’s another self-publisher, and his sales are growing.

In general, whichever publishing path my clients choose, the newer they are to writing and publishing, the more beta readers they’re inclined to use. I believe there has to be a limit, though. As Henry and Henrietta show (and I can confirm from my own creative-writing experience), beta readers can be helpful or harmful. It’s important to restrict their numbers, and select readers who can couch their personal opinions in writerly terms. Otherwise, the author is just getting consumer reviews too soon.

Reviewing only should occur after publication, just as copyediting should only be done on a manuscript ready for submission or production. It’s tough enough for an author to weather a storm of diverse opinions once the book is finished; being hammered by that storm while still writing can impair an author’s creativity and zeal — right when those attributes are most needed to give a book its voice and vision.

Voice and vision are what make a novel unique, and, ultimately, draw the audience that defines an author’s career. Beta readers, like editors, may not be the book’s target audience no matter what their relationship to the author. They can inhibit or confuse authors by pushing them to satisfy the readers’/editors’ personal tastes. Beta readers and editors alike need to remember whose book it is, and work within the author’s frame of reference. Their collective goal should be helping authors achieve their individual goals.

Carolyn Haley, an award-winning novelist, lives and breathes novels. Although specializing in fiction, she edits across the publishing spectrum — fiction and nonfiction, corporate and indie — and is the author of two novels and a nonfiction book. She has been editing professionally since 1977, and has had her own editorial services company, DocuMania, since 2005. She can be reached at dcma@vermontel.com or through her websites, DocuMania and New Ways to See the World. Carolyn also blogs at Adventures in Zone 3 and reviews at New York Journal of Books, and has presented on editing fiction at the Communication Central conference.

August 24, 2018

Helping Clients with Version Control

Ælfwine Mischler

I am interrupting my series on indexing (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) because a distressed client last week left me thinking about how to help authors with version control.

It is hot in Cairo. Daytime temperatures have been 100° F (38° C) for weeks and many of us, myself included, do not have A/C. It makes some of us fuzzy-brained and sometimes our computers overheat. That is what happened to a client (I will call her AB) when she called me repeatedly to help her with a file.

I Wanna Hold Your Hand

AB, an active woman in her mid-seventies with a PhD, was having problems for several reasons. First, she could not maintain version control. Second, she told me that as she is getting older, she is still good in her work field but gets more confused by technology. Third, her aging computer was acting up, probably as a result of overheating. (The next day, she wrote to say that it performed better after she turned it off for several hours.)

As a result of this confluence of problems, I spent two unpaid hours “hand holding” over the phone when I really wanted to work on another client’s book. AB had “lost” the file I edited and returned four months ago. I told her to find my email, redownload the file, and then save it as ED 2. She had problems doing that. I sent her a copy of the file with SECOND EDIT as a prefix to the name, but she had problems downloading it, finding the Downloads folder, and then finding the folder she wanted to put it in — because she had several folders with similar names.

I was starting to get impatient and I wanted to tell her that I was going to charge her for my time on the phone, but we had never agreed to such a thing. Did I have the right, then, to ask for it? Would I have actually been able to collect it? I could hear in her voice that she was getting more and more frustrated. She really needed someone to walk her through what should have been simple procedures. I found it difficult to believe that she really did not know how to do basic things like downloading a file and putting it into another folder. From what she was saying on the phone, it seemed that she was opening the file and copying the text of it rather than copying the file itself from its folder. Did she really not know how to do these things, or was the combination of age, heat, and computer problems overwhelming her?

I have had clients who did not understand some things, such as using Track Changes, but I can send them instructions or send them two versions of an edited file, one with tracking visible and the other with all changes accepted. This was the first time I had to attempt to walk someone through basics. Should I have done anything differently? What would you have done? I welcome your answers in the comment box.

A File by Any Other Name

AB’s biggest problem was version control. This was not the first time she had called me while looking through multiple folders or files with similar names. She had been working on translating a book for many years, and in the end, she sent me the manuscript for copyediting in two parts. Now she had multiple versions of each part and several different folders, and she could not figure out where she had put the one I had edited or which file it was.

When I edit for clients, this is my work pattern:

  • I open the original and use Save As to make a copy with “ED 1” prefixed to the filename.
  • I don’t make any changes in the original (though I might look at it) while I edit version ED 1.
  • When I return ED 1 to the client for review, I tell the client to use Save As to put “ED 2” as the prefix to the name, to work only in the ED 2 file, and to return it to me for checking.
  • I open ED 2 and use Save As to make a copy with “ED 3” added to the name instead of “ED 2.”

Another recent client (“CD”) keeps adding new material to his book — but he follows my early instructions to save the file with a higher version number. He knows that files to me should have an even-numbered version number, and I return an odd-numbered version to him. CD recently sent me ED 10, but before I could get to it, he wanted to add still more lines. I instructed him to call the newest one ED 10.2 so that we could maintain the pattern of even numbers from him and odd from me. We have not had a problem with version control with this work pattern.

AB, on the other hand, has multiple versions that she cannot distinguish from one another. When you have several files with names such as these, how do you know which is the latest?

ABnancybooktranslation_aardvarks

nancybooktranslation_aardvarks

nancy-book-translation_aardvarks_newer

nancy-aardvarksbook_most recent

Is Your Computer Drafty?

If you tend to retain older drafts of your work, you need to systemize your naming of different versions. Keep the basic filename the same — not with different names as AB did — and add a number and date to each version. (I once joked with a managing editor that she had kept the same spelling mistake in the filename of volume three of a book I was about to index, having indexed volumes one and two with the same misspelled file. She replied that the spelling mistake was the designer’s, but she retained the same filename rather than mess up the designer’s system.) You can, of course, put the version number at the end of the filename, but I find it easier if the number is at the beginning.

Once you have more than two or three drafts, ask yourself if you really need to keep the earlier versions. If you cannot bear to delete them just yet, put them into a folder marked “early drafts” or “older stuff” so you do not confuse them with more-recent versions. You can also use an option described below to hide files so you do not accidentally work in the wrong ones.

Get a Better View

I did not think to tell AB this on the day I was helping her stave off a total meltdown — with her computer problems and distress, she probably could not have absorbed it anyway — but did you know that you can change the view of the files so you can see information about them, including when they were created and/or last modified?

If you open a folder and click on the View tab, you will find options for showing the contents of the folder. Many of the people I have worked with like to use medium or large icons, which display across the screen in rows. The icon view is easier if you like to drag files into subfolders because your “target” is bigger. In this example, I have also turned on the Navigation pane on the left side, which allows you to scroll to quickly find other folders.

My own preference is usually for List — I have shown it here without the Navigation pane.

If version control is a problem for you, try the Details view, and play with the Sort by options until you find the one that is best for you.

It seems that Date Modified, Type, and Size are the default details, because these are the ones that have always appeared when I chose Details view without making any changes. I will talk about some of the options below. You can resize the columns by positioning the cursor on the barely visible line between the column names and dragging. You can also choose Size All Columns to Fit to show the most information.

If you go to the top of the folder under Current view, you will find many more options.

If you click on the triangle under Sort by, you can choose to sort your files by something other than name. Date created or Date last modified would be good choices for version control.

The Add columns menu lets you choose which details to show. Use this along with the Sort by options.

Another useful option is Show/Hide. You can select one or more items, then click on Hide selected items. The files will still be in the folder but will be invisible. This is useful for version control so you do not accidentally open and modify the wrong files. If you want to see hidden items, you can check the box next to Hidden items. Their icons will appear faded in the folder. If you no longer want to hide them, select them and click on Hide selected items, which is a toggle switch, to “unhide” them.

A Word to the Whys

If you have problems with your filenames as AB does, I hope you will now understand why it is important to maintain version control. Keep the basic filename the same and add date or version number to the filename of each new version. Delete older versions that you no longer need. If you really cannot bear to part with them, or if they contain ideas for later works, put them into another folder with a clear name or hide them from view. Play with the folder view options I have described here (and the ones I have not, such as panes) to find the options that work best for your working style.

And stay cool.

Ælfwine Mischler is an American copyeditor and indexer in Cairo, Egypt, who has been the head copyeditor at a large Islamic website and a senior editor for an EFL textbook publisher. She often edits and indexes books on Islamic studies, Middle East studies, and Egyptology.

August 13, 2018

On the Basics — All the Backups

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter 

A recent Facebook group post from someone whose computer conked out when she was on deadline for a project reminded me of the importance of different kinds of backup. We’ve talked about backing up files, but that’s different from backing up equipment — perhaps because equipment can be so expensive, while backup systems can be free, or at least less expensive than buying an additional computer.

Because our ability to meet deadlines and keep our commitments to clients is essential to a freelancer’s business survival, it’s worth assessing what kinds of backups we need to make that happen. These suggestions might seem obvious, but should be useful reminders of practical basics for a freelance business.

The Ephemeral

First, the easy — and inexpensive — stuff. To make sure files and documents don’t disappear mid-project, open an online backup account on Dropbox, Box.com, Google Drive, or something similar so you can stash items as you go along and once you’ve finished them.

If you believe in “belts and braces” (both a belt and suspenders to hold up a pair of pants, even if just one or the other would do the job) as I do, back up to Time Machine as well as an external hard drive, disks, or any other physical backup system that you find easy to use. Backups to your backups are essential, because you never know what will continue to work and which providers will stay in business.

Make sure your essential software programs are live and licensed on every computer you have, and that you have the original disks or downloads so you can reinstall them as needed. That way, if the software goes wonky on one machine, it should still work on another, or you should be able to reinstall it on a new one (or maybe even on a friend’s loaner, temporarily). Keep in mind that many, if not most, programs can be licensed for more than one computer. Know about those options before you need them.

Oh, and save-save-save! Remember to save as you work, the more often, (usually) the better. With lengthy and complex documents, consider doing a Save As with a different filename before Word gets cranky. You’ll have several versions of the document, but that’s better than losing even a few minutes’, much less several hours’, worth of work. The client only has to see the final version, and you can ditch the interim versions once you’ve turned it in.

The Physical

The reality is that computers are not infallible. Even the most-respected brands can develop problems, and my experience — as well as what I’ve observed among colleagues — is that they will break down when we have the fewest resources in terms of money, time, contacts, and material to deal with a crisis. In budgeting to launch or maintain a freelance business, the ideal is to save, set aside, or maintain enough funds and credit so you can have at least two computers with the same software on them, just in case one of them goes south or you can’t use one of them. If you have more than one computer, you can send current files to yourself so they’re accessible on both or all machines, and you can work on them no matter which machine is handy or which one goes rogue and stops working.

I have an iMac desktop computer and a MacBook Air laptop, with the same software programs on each, so I can switch between them as needed. I also have an iPad that my brothers gave me a few years ago that I can use for e-mail and some rudimentary other programs in a pinch. I even have an old MacBook Pro that doesn’t hold a charge on its own but still works when plugged in, just in case all of the other three give up the ghost at the same time. Not that I’m a pessimist, but you never know.

I’ve usually maintained two current computers because of needing to work in different locations, either within my apartment or on the road versus at home, but the old iMac conked out recently, making the laptop even more essential to keeping my work going than usual. I was lucky enough to have funds in hand to replace it right away, but if I couldn’t have done so, I could still get my work done and meet those deadlines.

The Collegial

There’s yet one other option to develop and maintain: offsite ways to work through colleagues. In case your electricity goes out, for instance, or something other event makes it difficult or impossible to work at home for a while, have alternatives already in place.

That can mean knowing where the nearest public library is with computers you can use, a cyber café, co-working spaces, etc. It also can mean having friends who might lend you a computer or let you come over and camp out at their place to get the urgent work done.

It also can be a lifesaver to belong to a local computer users’ group. Once you’re active in one, you can usually count on other members to help with troubleshooting, equipment loans, repairs at less than what retail vendors might charge, and similar hand-holding in a crisis.

If you’ve had a software or equipment crash in mid-project, how did you handle it?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is the editor-in-chief of An American Editor and an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, and companies worldwide. She also hosts the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues. She can be contacted at Ruth.Thaler-Carter@AnAmericanEditor.com or Ruth@writerruth.com.

July 16, 2018

Book Indexes — Part 3: The ABCs of Alphabetizing

Ælfwine Mischler

The alphabetizing I learned in school so many years ago — all before PCs and the Internet, of course — was easy. Go by the first letters — Bincoln, Fincoln, Lincoln, Mincoln — and if they’re all the same, look at the second, then the third, etc. — Lankin, Lanky, Lenkin, Lincoln, Linkin. I rarely had to alphabetize anything outside of school assignments (I did not organize my spices alphabetically), but I had to understand alphabetization to find a word in a dictionary, a name in a phone book, a card in a library catalog, or a folder in a file cabinet. Hunting for an organization or business whose name was just initials or began with initials was sometimes tricky, but I soon learned that if I did not find something interspersed with other entries, I could look at the beginning of that letter.

As an indexer, I have to know the conventions of alphabetizing so I can enter terms in the software program, and like so many other things in editorial work, there are different standards to follow. There are two main systems of alphabetizing — word-by-word and letter-by-letter — with some variations within each system. If you are writing an index or hiring an indexer, you have to know which system the publisher uses. Occasionally an indexer might find, in the midst of a project, that switching to the other system would be better, but this must be cleared with the publisher.

Word by Word

In the word-by-word system, generally used in indexes in Great Britain, alphabetizing proceeds up to the first space and then starts over. According to New Hart’s Rules, 2nd ed., hyphens are treated as spaces except where the first element is a prefix, not a word on its own (p. 384). However, the Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed., treats hyphenated compounds as one word (sec. 16.60).

Letter by Letter

Most US publishers prefer the letter-by-letter system, in which alphabetizing continues up to the first parenthesis or comma, ignoring spaces, hyphens, and other punctuation.

If you are writing your own index in a word processing program, it will use word-by-word sorting. Dedicated indexing software can use either system along with variations. The following table comparing these systems uses Microsoft Word and SKY Indexing Software with various settings. (The items in the table were chosen to demonstrate how the different systems handle spaces, hyphens, commas, and ampersands. Not all of them would appear in an index. The variations on Erie-Lackawanna, for example, would normally have another word, such as “Rail Road,” following them.)

 

Entries with Same First Word

In the first edition of New Hart’s Rules, names and terms beginning with the same word were ordered according to a hierarchy: people; places; subjects, concepts, and objects; titles of works. You may see this in older books, and it occasionally comes up in indexers’ discussions. However, the second edition of New Hart’s Rules recognizes that most people do not understand this hierarchy and that alphabetizing this way is more work for the indexer. The second edition (p. 385) recommends retaining the strict alphabetical order created by indexing software.

Numbers Following Names

Names and terms followed by numbers are not ordered strictly alphabetically. These could be rulers or popes, or numbered articles or laws, etc. An indexer with dedicated software can insert coding to force these to sort correctly. If you are writing your own index in a word processor, you will have to sort these manually.

When people of different statuses — saints, popes, rulers (perhaps of more than one country), nobles, commoners — share a name, these have to be sorted hierarchically. See New Hart’s Rules, 2nd ed., section 19.3.2, and Kate Mertes, “Classical and Medieval Names” in Indexing Names, edited by Noeline Bridge.

Numerals and Symbols at the Beginning of Entries

Entries that begin with numerals or symbols may be sorted at the top of the index, before the alphabetical sequence. This is preferred by the International and British Standard, and when there are many such entries in a work. Alternatively, they may be interspersed in alphabetical order as if the numeral or symbol were spelled out, and they may be also be double-posted if they appear at the top of the index.

However, in chemical compounds beginning with a prefix, Greek letter, or numeral, the prefix, Greek letter, or numeral is ignored in the sorting.

Greek letters prefixing chemical terms, star names, etc., are customarily spelled out, without a hyphen (New Hart’s Rules, 2nd ed., p. 389).

If you are writing your own index in a word processing program, you will have to manually sort entries with Greek letters or prefixes to be ignored, and entries beginning with numerals if you do not want them sorted at the top. Dedicated indexing programs can be coded to print but ignore items in sorting, or to sort numerals as if they were spelled out.

That’s Not All, Folks

This is just the beginning of alphabetizing issues that indexers face. While most of the actual alphabetizing is done by the software, indexers have to know many conventions regarding whether names are inverted; how particles in names are handled; how Saint, St., Ste. and Mc, Mac, Mc in surnames are alphabetized (styles vary on those); how to enter names of organizations, places, and geographical features. In addition to checking the books mentioned above, you can learn more about indexing best practices and indexing standards on the American Society for Indexing website and from the National Information Standards Organization.

Ælfwine Mischler is an American copyeditor and indexer in Cairo, Egypt, who has been the head copyeditor at a large Islamic website and a senior editor for an EFL textbook publisher. She often edits and indexes books on Islamic studies, Middle East studies, and Egyptology.

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