Who should do the indexing?

8 March 2010

You. The big finger is pointing directly at you. Just as probably it was you who had to key the copy-editing changes, you who maybe got to help design the cover, and you who definitely had to do the proofing, so too is it you who’s now expected to index your book – and in double-quick time.


This need not be so. No one is forcing you, personally, to do the indexing. After all, this is skilled work and you may not feel up to the task.

You could instead hire Anthony, an indexer we’ve used on several occasions when the author was unwilling and had the cash to hire a professional. Anthony is reasonably priced (surely he cannot live off these earnings) and not only does he turn out good indexes but also – in effect and free of charge – he gives the book another proofing; tacked onto his indexes is a page or two of comments about errors and discrepancies that he’s found in the text. In short, a professional indexer like Anthony could be just what you need.

But maybe not.

People like Anthony cost money, you cannot be sure you are hiring a good indexer, and they may not be available when you need them. Moreover, an outside indexer has no hope of ever knowing your book as intimately as you do. And, if it is you to do the index, then you can make an early start and refine the index as editing and typesetting progress. It has the added advantage that you can work with the mind map described in my previous post.

Definitely, this issue is something to think about carefully and to fully investigate in good time.

Hiring a professional indexer

If indeed you engage a professional indexer directly, then book a time slot early, and keep your indexer informed as the actual start date firms up. Most important, prepare a clear indexing brief that specifies what you want – issues such as these that will be covered in my following posts:

  • When will you deliver the proofs for indexing?
  • What is the indexer’s deadline for finishing the job?
  • What is the agreed price?
  • How long should the index be?
  • What should be indexed?
  • Is it only one index required or several?
  • How many levels should it have?
  • How should the entries be formatted?
  • Are there any special considerations to note?

Doing the job yourself

If, however, you decide to do the job yourself, then prepare a clear indexing brief for yourself, too. You’ll also benefit from taking note of the other issues and advice found in my following posts.

And whatever else you do, do not skimp on the job. A poor index signals to the reader that this is an inferior book. Do not fail your book at this last hurdle, mere days before it goes to the printer.

(Post #3 of the Indexing section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

How much can you change at proofing?

4 March 2010

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the mental shift required of authors in the transition from editing their manuscript to typesetting their book, of the need to let go, give their book its freedom. However, sometimes this shift only truly comes at the proofing stage when the author suffers a rude awakening about what changes are actually allowed. Suddenly, there is heard the discordant sound of money being demanded with menaces.

How can this be?

Typesetters must be paid

Today, more likely than not, the typesetter of your book isn’t someone beavering away in a dungeon beneath your editor’s executive suite. Rather, he is a freelancer whose office looks out on cows and crops somewhere out in the countryside or an employee of one of the big Indian outsourcing firms in an industrial park on the outskirts of Chennai. Either way, the typesetter is paid for his work – and often on a per-page basis, not by the hour.

(See here for more about typesetters – and designers – and how they tick.)

In these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that typesetters try to avoid being saddled with extra, unpaid work by threatening publishers with penalty charges. In turn, to protect itself, the press will seek to pass responsibility for any such costs over to the author.

Contractual consequences

Has your contract a clause something like this?

If so, you are in good company. This sort of wording is pretty standard among publishers. Indeed, sometimes it can all get quite mathematical. The terms of a contract may well include a maximum amount of proof corrections that authors can make at the publisher’s expense. Anything over and above that level will be charged back to them. What of course the press is doing here is to protect itself against any extra charges levied by the typesetter for ‘unnecessary’ changes.

While most publishers would accept some changes, please bear in mind that alterations to proofs are time-consuming, costly and can introduce further errors. Many typesetters thus charge publishers for every single correction apart from those that relate to fixing typesetting errors, not least those arising from the file conversion, as we have seen. (Not even typos are exempt; after all, these should have been picked up during copy-editing.) Charges can escalate rapidly, and eventually (as seen above) your own pocket could be at risk.

Proofing on a short leash

Perhaps because she doesn’t feel comfortable with this situation, your production editor is likely to work hard to avoid any possibility of such charges raising their ugly heads. Pre-emptively, she will do this by clamping down hard on what changes you are allowed to make to the proofs.

Arguably, this is quite reasonable. The time for resolving ifs and maybes was in the writing phase. Clarifications, restructuring and polishing your text belonged to editing, likewise any last-minute content changes. Thereafter, it is only reasonable to expect that the text delivered for typesetting is final. Consequently, your job now is only to correct any typesetting errors but otherwise to make no changes.

That’s all very well and good but, out in the real (scholarly) world, something pertinent to your text may well have happened that absolutely must be mentioned in your book, or there could be typos and factual errors that (true) should have been but were not picked up in the editing process. As I said above, most publishers would accept many such changes but expect that the patience of your production editor will rapidly wear thin. Some leeway will be given with the first, unpaginated proofs but almost nothing with the final, paginated proofs.

As for feedback on (and suggested changes to) the page design, something that I raised as a possibility here during the first proofing and that I’ll elaborate on in my next post about the final proofs, expect that here especially you will encounter quite stiff resistance.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t still take a step back and look at your book with a critical eye. You can be sure that others after publication will be doing the same. You may not win the argument in every respect but you could still achieve a better look for your finished book.

(Post #8 of the Proofing section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

Why proof your book?

26 February 2010

OK, so the typesetter has delivered the first proofs of your book and the production editor has forwarded a copy on to you.

What to do with these proofs?
How about use them to proof your book.
Fine, you may think, a good idea to check that no photo is upside down, that sort of stuff.
Ah, but no photos are to be inserted until after this proof.
So you wonder perhaps, what more is there to be done?
Sorry, let me repeat myself. I suggest that you should use these proofs for what they are intended, to proof (as in P-R-O-O-F) your book, to check the entire volume, word by word.
Really, is that necessary?

The checking has already been done

It is not as if yours is a raw text received back from the typesetter. During the writing and editing phases, it has been subjected to quite a lot of scrutiny.

To be sure, at the beginning you might have been naive, thinking that – in these days of spell-checkers – it was no longer necessary to hire someone to check your spelling. Then you discovered that spell-checkers are not exactly intelligent; nothing was flagged when you wrote ‘though’ instead of ‘thought’.

But by now your text has been edited by real people, too – perhaps more than once (at times it seems to have been crawling with editors) – and frankly you are sick of the whole process. Even the typesetter has got into the act, pointing out that the dramatic reconstruction of events used to spice the beginning of your book is wrong; the historical character who is central to your study was actually left-handed (a minor blemish in your text that no-one else picked up but somewhat embarrassing).

So, why waste more time proofing the typeset text? Why indeed.

New errors

The problem is that there is a world of difference between a word processor like Microsoft Word (which it’s likely you have used) and a typesetting program like Adobe InDesign used to set your book. Much of this difference is positive; your text will look better as a result of the typesetting. The downside, however, is that the two types of software are different and that your text must be converted from one format to another. In this process there can occur conversion errors, as I have mentioned earlier.

At NIAS Press last year we were hit by a particularly tricky conversion error. This caused by a software glitch in InDesign that thankfully was soon fixed by Adobe. When imported into InDesign, certain character combinations in the text (say, ‘ts’ – I cannot remember the actual ones) were converted to a full stop. When setting a particular page, our typesetter noticed a sentence ending with two full stops. She deleted the second then noticed that the end word was misspelt.

This too she corrected but thankfully had the presence of mind to search for further instances of a double full stop. There were more, quite a few more. And when she discovered that each of these involved a misspelt word and, worse, she found a full stop in the middle of a misspelt word, she knew that we had a serious problem. The result was an extra careful proofing required of both press and author.

Ultimately, however, it is irrelevant if the errors in your text are old or new. The point is that they may be there and (if so) they need to be found; someone must proof-read your book. The big question is, who?

(Post #2 of the Proofing section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

Design matters

5 January 2010

The Biblical observation that men do not hide their light under a bushel but raise it high to light the whole house applies equally to the work that already has been done on your manuscript and the work still to come that will transform it into a book.

The purpose of the editing, and indeed of the author revisions preceding it, should be to polish the text and ensure that it communicates its meaning. But thereafter the book design and subsequent typesetting become hugely important – if content is king, it should be dressed accordingly; the book design should illuminate the contents, not obscure them.

Time and again, publishers fail to heed this imperative and the result can be that a major work fails to gain the recognition it deserved.

What should have been a prize-winning study

I still regret one such instance in my career when, due to my failure to keep the author in check, her opus magnum ballooned to an alarming number of words and illustrations. I also designed the book and at first glance it was beautiful. Even so, it weighed in at over 500 pages, a hundred more than it was first announced at. The book went on to almost win an important book prize; arguably it should have won. For me, however, the moment of truth was feedback from Winnie, a trusted Singapore colleague, who complained that she had tried several times to read the book but ‘got tired’.

Was it the design? I believe so. The font size was too small; the number of characters per line was way over the 65 that is the golden mean (more like 89). The result will have been eye strain for many readers. In a nutshell, there was a readability issue. Probably, the book should have been 600 pages long – or edited more assertively.

This is just one way in which a bad book design can get in the way of readers fully appreciating an author’s argument. A layout that is ugly or boring is just as bad, likewise one whose text uses fonts that are unsuitable for extended reading. Also problematic is a book size that is unhandy (too big or too small, awkward or tiresome to hold, etc.).

Enter the queen

Many readers will struggle with a bad book design (often unconscious of what is bothering them) if they consider the contents important enough. Here, however, the presumption is that the work is to hand. But what actually ensures that a reader buys or borrows a copy of your book? Is it the contents? The marketing? Actually, in many cases, what sells a book is its appearance, its initial impact, something that briefly attracts the reader’s eye to that book and guides her hand to take it off the shelf.

Once a copy has been sold, it’s quite different; what you say becomes more important than appearances. But – for a brief moment – the look and feel of your book is paramount. Content may be king, but design is the queen who by appearance attracts the most initial attention.

The cover matters

The internal book design can be important in the purchase decision-making, but only after the book has been picked up. Initially, then, the most important design element is the book cover (or jacket), something that some publishers don’t seem to care about. In a recent post on H-ASIA, Peter Matanle of the University of Sheffield complained that:

… the cover is really important for a book yet some publishers do not pay sufficient attention to this aspect of book design, preferring simply to make it conform to a series or even publisher style. Often there is no information about the book anywhere on the front or back cover beyond printing the main title and author’s name. Often there are no unique graphics on the cover and no endorsements or short summaries on the back cover to entice a reader in.

His explanation for this (bad) behaviour was that:

… the publisher may be more interested in creating its own brand image than in taking care over the content of the volume, and that the publisher is actually not that interested in post publication marketing either …

Actually, I rather suspect that the publisher’s behaviour is largely shaped by the expectation that nearly all copies sold will be to libraries, and they tend to buy on the strength of the book description, the price, etc., not on the book’s appearance. However, with the continued collapse in library market sales, such a policy seems rather short-sighted.

Like it or not, bookshops and individual book buyers matter, and that means that the cover matters, indeed design matters.

Sounds like it time that you meet the designers.

(Post #2 of the Design & Typesetting section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

After the editing

31 December 2009

Congratulations! You and your manuscript seem to have survived the editing process. Do not think, however, that now there is a moment to relax. This is highly unlikely.

All the while that you and your manuscript have been roiling through the intestines of editorial, other parts of the press have been at work on your behalf, not least marketing people getting your book announced. However, also busy is an area of the production department that you haven’t encountered before where more creative types of people may be found. It is, then, now time to look at the work of the book/cover designer and typesetter (though never forget that the role of the production editor remains crucial).

Over the next few posts, I shall explore this fascinating corner of book production (well, I think it is fascinating), looking at:

These posts will then culminate in a discussion on proofs and proofing, the next section in this series of posts.

(Post #1 of the Design & Typesetting section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

Your role in the editorial process

30 December 2009

Finally, the copy-edited manuscript is returned to you. If it’s on paper, you may notice the red ink oozing out between the pages.

Some authors are pathetically grateful for the editorial work done on their manuscript. Others react quite differently. Rage, offence, incredulity and humiliation: these are some of the emotions that can swamp an author when confronted with copy-editing changes for the first time.

Try to avoid an emotional response. Take a deep breath. Realize that no one is perfect (not even you), and accept that someone coming from the outside with a fresh eye will always find details to query in a text. Believe it or not, your copy editor is not out to get you – as Michael Corleone put it: ‘It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.’

That said, don’t take the copy-edit lying down. Copy editors know about language and grammar, and they have a sense of what works for the reader. But they are not specialists in your subject – and they are human. It is not uncommon for me to agree with an author that a copy-editing or proofing change is gratuitous, the result of the editor becoming irritated with something in the text, so irritated that she cannot stand the sight of it (say, with endless repetition of a word or phrase that in some instances is still the best to use). The irony here is that a typo or other real error can escape the editor’s notice while she slashes at the 99th occurrence of ‘inasmuch as’.

The best response may be to go over each proposed change and accept all those that you do not have strong feelings against, thus concentrating on the few changes that you do have issues with. On the other hand, the text has to feel right, and it must still feel to be yours. As such, be assertive, use your judgement, put your hard-won analytical skills to work.

Unfortunately, whatever your response, there won’t be much time for you to contemplate the edit (or launch into a protracted debate about each change). The publisher’s wheels of production grind inexorably on.

On receipt of the copy-edited manuscript, normally you will be given a tight deadline (often only a few weeks) to review the changes and indicate any disagreements. Your main jobs are to:

  • Check the copy-editing changes. Are they correct? Consistent? Appropriate to conventions/discourse in your field?
  • Answer any queries.
  • (If possible) check the marking-up of text elements for typesetting.

Remember, too, that this is your last chance to make sure that the text is just as you want it. From this point onwards, any changes to your text will be met with the greatest reluctance by your editor. Slowly but irrevocably, the book – your baby – is slipping beyond your grasp.

As such, if you want to make substantial changes at this late point, you will need to talk to your editor urgently, and certainly before making/requesting any wide-ranging changes.

There is another issue, however: if the editing has been done on paper, who is to key the changes? Some publishers expect their authors to carry out this task, thus saving on editorial/production costs; others are horrified at the risk of authors introducing new errors into the text. Your publisher should have made their position clear on this back when the contract was negotiated.

One last thing: if it is a paper copy of the edited manuscript that you’ve received and must return as corrected final pages to your production editor, then make a copy before doing so. That way, you can check these final pages against the page proofs that you’ll receive later.

Whether or not it is you who keys the text changes, after you have returned the edited text, your production editor will make a last check before signing off the final text file. Editing of your manuscript is finished (so too the active engagement of the editorial department).

Now, at last, design and typesetting of the book can begin.

(Post #5 of the Editorial section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)


28 December 2009

If substantive editing is the endangered aristocrat of academic publishing, then copy-editing is the ubiquitous cleaner, tidying up other people’s messes. Cleaners never get bouquets on opening night but without them the show soon stops. (Something to consider when the amount of red-inked text returned to you turns you scarlet with rage. More about that in my next post.)

Actually, I am being unfair. In a recent post I have recounted how some authors regard their copy editors as obsessive and anal-retentive. I neglected to add that many other authors have a warm relationship with their copy editor, singling her out for especial praise in the book’s acknowledgements. Perhaps this is because the author realizes that the only person actually to have closely read his text is the lowly copy editor. A key factor, too, is just how this copy-editing is carried out (see below).

Copy-editing concerns itself with language, formatting and presentation issues. The copy-editor will read your manuscript very carefully (perhaps obsessively) from beginning to end, checking that grammar, spelling and punctuation are correct. She will also correct any deviations from the publisher’s house style and normal scholarly conventions (deviations that have escaped the scrutiny of the Style Nazi), and check that your citations match your bibliography (missing references and redundant entries in the bibliography are common). In addition, unnecessary repetitions, unclear phrasing, faulty transitions and verbosity may be flagged for attention.

It is unlikely that your copy-editor will attempt an extensive rewriting of your text or a general alteration of your basic style – copy-editors are not paid enough to spend time on such major surgery – but you may be consulted on anything that is unclear or needs fine-tuning.

The copy-editor also functions as a bridge for the author between the editorial department (primarily concerned with meaning) and the typesetter (focused on ‘fit’ and appearance). Thus, the copy-editor not only inserts corrections and queries but also marks up the text with typesetting instructions. If you get your copy-edited text back on paper, then you may see a whole lot of weird notations in the margins (for instance, a circled ‘H1’ or ‘A’ used to mark a first-level heading).

Exactly how the copy-edit is carried out can vary a lot and can a big influence on the relationship between author and copy editor. For instance, one of our copy editors is Jonathan. He works at home in a country cottage in one of the remoter parts of Britain. Jonathan edits manuscripts in paper form only; he hates on-screen editing (I can imagine him spreading the different parts of the manuscript out on his kitchen table, flicking back and forth between the chapter under edit and the list of references). He insists on receiving the full manuscript (including any preliminary material) and works through this methodically, returning the edited manuscript to us by post about 4–6 weeks later. Someone then needs to key these changes, often the author. Jonathan is a warm, lovely person but all of his dealings are with the Press; he has no contact with the author. There is no chit-chat during the edit but – if not entered directly in the text – there may be a list of queries and comments to the author appended to the finished manuscript.

In contrast, another of our copy editors I shall call Diane. She too works at home but in her case this is in a walled villa on the outskirts of a bustling Asian metropolis. Diane works on screen and often engages with her authors during the edit. She, too, insists on having the full manuscript but there is a bit more give and take here since material can be exchanged electronically on the fly. The job takes a bit longer but the result is that we receive a manuscript blessed by the author and in electronic format ready to typeset.

Which approach is better? That is hard to say. Undeniably, Jonathan’s approach could be called that of the past, Diane’s that of the future. But that doesn’t mean anything in terms of quality.

In terms of reference checking, some editors say that working on paper is easier (and hence more likely to be carried out thoroughly). But in terms of global changes (say, removing excess spaces and changing every instance of ‘analyze’ to ‘analyse’, except those found in direct quotations), working with the electronic files is best (let’s just hope there are no font problems). Finally, in terms of author engagement, you would expect ongoing chit-chat to work better than the hands-off approach but the reality is mixed; human chemistry is a wonderful thing.

Anyway, whatever the form that the copy-edit takes (but depending on the size and complexity of the copy-editing job), you should receive your edited text back from the publisher within one or two months. As you can see from the examples of Jonathan and Diane above, the corrected text may be delivered to you in electronic form or on paper. If in electronic form, then there are quite a few choices including PDF proof documents ready for annotation and Word documents with tracked changes or showing the results of before–after file comparisons. If you receive the copy editor’s changes on paper, you may see the pages annotated with correction marks in the margins and inserted in the text (examples of these to be linked here once I’ve worked out how to do this).

So the copy-edit is finally done. The question now is, what are you going to do about it? Something to explore in my next post.

(Post #4 of the Editorial section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)