An American Editor

March 18, 2019

Book Indexes: Multivolume Indexes

Ælfwine Mischler

Last year, I had the pleasure of indexing the third and final volume of a history of Egyptology while creating a combined index of volumes 1–3. (I confess that I have a bit of a soft spot for this book. Volume 1 was my first paid index — and a complicated text for a first-timer — and I was thrilled that the author included me in the acknowledgments.)

When I indexed volumes 1 and 2, the publisher had not thought of having a combined index in the last volume, so I did nothing out of the ordinary in indexing the first two books. When the publisher asked for a combined index, I asked colleagues for any tips or tricks, and they alerted me that it would be a lot more work than just merging the first two files into the third. They were not joking! (Fortunately, I was able to negotiate a higher per-page price.)

More Editing

The publisher gave me PDFs of the final indexes for volumes 1 and 2, and I compared these carefully with the indexes I had written. I wanted to see any changes the publisher had made and refresh my memory of both the subjects I had indexed and their organization.

In my indexing software (I use Sky Indexing), I made a copy of each volume’s index and entered the publisher’s edits, and then increased the locator numbers (a locator is a page or a range of pages) by 1000 in volume 1 and by 2000 in volume 2. Thus, for example, page 35 in volume 1 became 1035 and page 35 in volume 2 became 2035. I then merged these into a new file, in which I indexed volume 3. I changed the page numbers to the correct forms with volume numbers as a final step so I would not have to type 3: before every locator for the new items.

The real extra work came in creating and organizing subentries. Many entries in volumes 1 and 2 had only a few locators without subentries. When the indexes were combined, these entries had too many locators and I had to make subentries. This required going back into the PDFs for those volumes and rereading those pages.

Other entries in a single volume had subentries, but there were so many in the combined index that they became unwieldy. I reworded some subentries to combine them, but more often, I put the subentries into broad categories and split them into nested entries.

Two of the great names in Egyptology illustrate this editing process.

Howard Carter, who discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922, had only five locators in the index of volume 1 (covering from antiquity to 1881), with no subentries. In volume 2 (covering from 1881–1941), he had 14 subentries. In volume 3, the discovery of Tutankhamun covered 40 pages in two chapters, and in the combined index, Carter was in two nested entries:

Sir Flinders Petrie also appeared in all three volumes. In the volume 1 index, he had seven locators with no subentries. (In volume 1, which covered a much longer span of time, the managing editor and I agreed to use longer strings of locators to save space.) In volume 2, there were 26 subentries for Petrie. In volume 3, the Petrie entry was nested to break the subentries into broad categories:

I made some other changes in the combined index. Many of the big names had a subentry “career” or “early career” or “legacy.” These were all force-sorted as the first subentry under the name. Volume 1 discussed many books. I reviewed these entries and removed some from the index that were mentioned with little or no discussion. This was relatively easy to do in the indexing software because I could group all the records that had italics in the main entry. If a book had only one locator, I reread the page in the PDF. Sometimes there was sufficient discussion to keep the title in the index. In addition to these smaller edits, I reorganized some of the large entries.

When I was finished with the editing, I changed the locator numbers to volume and correct page number — an easy task in the software.

This long, complicated index needed a final check. For this, I generated a page proof in numbered order. (This option may not be available in all indexing software.) I went through the page proof line by line. This allowed me to check that double-posted items were correct; for example, that 2:17–20 appeared in both “Petrie, Sir William Flinders, methods and techniques of: excavation” and “methods and techniques of archaeologists: of Petrie.”

With a Heads-up

In this situation, I did not know that a combined index would be required in the last volume of the series when I worked on the first two volumes. What if I had a heads-up on another project? What would I do differently in indexing the early volumes?

I would create subentries for anything that was likely to appear in the following volumes, even if it did not require subentries in the current volume. When I was finished editing the index with the extraneous subentries, I would suppress them in the current index, saving them for the later combined index.

This could be done in one of two ways. I could save the index with a different name, and then in the new one, consume the extraneous subentries, that is, remove the subentries but retain the locators, which my software can easily do. When I made the combined index, I would merge the file with the subentries into the new file.

Or I could duplicate each of the entries with extraneous subentries in one file, label them with a color code and filter them out, and then consume the subentries in the unfiltered records. To make the combined index, I would unfilter the records with subentries.

Either way, the combined index would still be more work than a single-volume index, and I would charge a higher rate. A combined index is more than the sum of its parts. Be aware of this if you are either of the parties negotiating for such an index.

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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March 4, 2019

Lazy Writing, Part 2 — Something to Combat, but Sometimes Appreciate

By Carolyn Haley

For Part 1 of this article, go to https://americaneditor.wordpress.com/2019/02/15/thinking-fiction-lazy-writing-part-1-something-to-combat-but-sometimes-appreciate/

Extra padding

Sometimes lazy writing involves using more words than needed. Characters give a sigh or give a wink instead of just sighing or winking. They make their way somewhere instead of walking, driving, climbing, wending, etc. They have a feeling of dread about something instead of dreading it, or haven’t seen someone for a while instead of for hours, days, weeks, months, or years. Readers soon get tired of such lazy usage and yearn for some brevity and specificity.

The same effect occurs with over-creativity, by which I mean referring to a character in too many ways. Joe might be a short guy with black hair who is also a police officer in Chicago. As paragraphs about his action go by, he’s referred to as Joe, the short man, the black-haired fighter, the cop, and the Chicagoan. In trying to avoid repetition, the author ends up confusing the reader by introducing too many variables. This tends to happen in action novels, where a character is lightly sketched at first appearance and never developed to the point of being easily recognizable later. Such variability again makes the reader have to work hard to keep track of who’s who.

Loose ends

The most common lazy writing I encounter is false suspense, although this is a result less of laziness than ignorance. It usually occurs in a first novel, when the author doesn’t yet understand the difference between suspense that generates the “What happens next?” question and suspense that generates the “What’s going on?” question.

I recently challenged a client about why he kept starting new chapters in new places and times without telling us who was talking or where/when they were. That information came several paragraphs or even pages into the chapter. He said he liked dropping readers straight into the action. That’s fine if readers can follow the logic leap. If not, it’s a head-scratcher that is certain to leave readers impatient and confused.

Lazy writing occurs also in matters of verisimilitude. When writers get carried away with the excitement of their story and don’t later verify facts and logistics, it falls on the editor to burst their balloon by pointing out that a scene can’t happen the way it’s described.

Most such bloopers are easy fixes, such as adjusting the scene to account for moonlight (or lack of), or whether it’s possible to maneuver with bodies lying around underfoot, or how a specified gun type might behave, or accounting for vehicles left crashed in the middle of the road when the hero then zooms down said road unimpeded. Sometimes a technical blooper might require a major recast of scene or even storyline; but, thankfully for both writers and editors, bloopers usually are of the “duh” type, such as cigarettes lit but never put out (or smoked in 30 seconds or 30 minutes), or the consequences of a major wound (people who don’t bleed, or continue running around when they’ve had a lung shot out), and the like. Fixing those items doesn’t require revising the whole book.

The subjectivity factor

The laziest of lazy writing, in my passionate opinion, is the cliffhanger, be it the ending of a scene, a chapter, or an entire book. I acknowledge that this can be a matter of taste, and I struggle with determining whether that’s truly the case or if the story is hurting itself by using that device. How to respond to cliffhangers is, perhaps, the most difficult decision I must make as an editor. Do I let it go, or flag it as a criticism or item for discussion? As a recreational reader on my own time, cliffhangers inspire me to simply toss a book over my shoulder, but as a professional editor, I can’t do that.

Cliffhangers strike me as a cheap shot, as manipulative, as author intrusion into a story. They occur most often in series novels, used as an attempt to bribe readers into reading the next book. I consider cliffhanging a lazy technique because, as a reader, I want resolution. I am willing to keep turning pages if the author keeps the suspense and interest mounting, but I don’t need to be compelled to continue by force. I want closure of the individual volume’s story with promise of more to come, not major components left dangling to provoke me into reading the next book.

As with almost everything relating to writing and editing novels, subjectivity is a big factor. My job as an editor is to inform an author about any spot where other readers might bark their shins. It’s up to the author to decide whether those places are things they want to think about and change.

If the author chooses to let an issue stand, I’m fine with that. I care only that they make an informed choice. The marketplace will decide whether it’s the right choice. Most of us know that you can’t please everyone, and the author’s goal is to connect with the audience who wants to read their stuff. My job as an editor is to help them achieve that end.

The editor’s role

It’s a rare editor who doesn’t encounter lazy writing during their career. Those who work with indie authors, especially new ones, encounter it often. Tolerance for editing lazy writing should be considered when deciding what kind of editorial work to do for a living. That tolerance level also an important component of structuring contracts — defining exactly what the editor is going to do to the client’s manuscript is essential to a good working relationship.

If you have the heart and soul of a developmental editor, and you find clients willing to pay the cost, then you can dive into someone’s early work and help them avoid symptoms of lazy writing. This not only gives you job satisfaction, but also helps line and copy editors down the road, who might not be developmentally inclined and have a harder time sorting out the material, defining the boundaries of their work, and helping their clients.

Line and copy editors do sometimes have to deal with un-developmentally-edited texts, because their clients are unwilling or unable to pay for the higher level of edit that would catch and help the author fix instances of lazy writing. In all cases, no matter what level of editing is involved, editors have to define terms and expectations carefully in the work they propose to provide. Copy editors are generally limited to making comments and queries instead of rephrasing, and both editor and author might end up tearing their hair out if the “edited” manuscript is overloaded with changes and queries attacking the text when that’s not part of the agreed-upon scope of work. A client expecting the mechanical focus of copyediting might not be open to the heavy hits on their prose by an editor who recognizes lazy writing and tries to improve it, while a client expecting deep involvement in their prose might feel cheated if all they get are mechanical edits.

Appreciating the lazy …

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate lazy writing. It forces me to concentrate on a story and think hard about the details, get engrossed in the characters, take the author seriously. Addressing the questions that lazy writing triggers and talking with the author about them brings out the best of our relationship, letting us blend the artistic and analytical elements that bring out the best of the work. Ultimately, we all — author, editor, and the story itself — end up more muscular and vibrant. How can that not result in a better book?

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.

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