Index length

12 March 2010

Winter this year in Copenhagen has been cold and snowy (and I’m sick and tired of shovelling all that white stuff; the searing heat of Bangkok tomorrow should be a shock). Overcoats are seen here far more than is usual, some looking more comfortable than others. An index is like an overcoat: too small and its squeezes its wearer in a wrestler’s clamp, too big and it lets the cold air seep in underneath.

Knowing beforehand

A year or so ago, we hired someone to index one of our books. He was very good, very thorough, and also flagged up a number of typos and inconsistencies in the text that had been missed. There was a problem, however. The index delivered was 64 pages in length (about 23 typeset pages), the maximum amount of space available 12 pages. Drastic cuts were made.

A key lesson we learnt from this experience was to be (even more) clear about how long we expect an index to be. In your case, your production editor should know how many book pages are available for the index. Make sure that you are informed about this before you start indexing.


Is there any real limit to how long your index should be? Yes. In fact, there are several factors at play here.

  • Perception. Indexes are like books: if too short, they may be treated with disdain (a 2-page index may be seen as pathetic and laughable) but, if too long, they may be regarded as unwieldy and ‘over the top’.
  • What is physically possible. Books tend to be sized in multiples of 16 pages because that is how they are printed (on big sheets of paper holding 8 book pages on each side; more about book length here). If (say) the total extent of your final proofs is 276 pages including prelims, then no more than 12 pages will be available for the index (or 28 pages if an extra 16-page signature is to be used).
  • Flow-on effects. In the above example, no publisher will agree to an index that when typeset fills 13 pages and causes there to be 15 blank pages at the end of the book.
  • What has been announced. A 12-page index is quite reasonable, even generous. In the above example, it would be unlikely that an index longer than this would be permitted if the book has been announced as being 288 pages in length.

Calculating size

Of course, there is a confusion and potential trap for you when I talk about ‘pages’ above. The number of typeset index pages is not the same as the number of ordinary (A4 or US Letter) pages on which you prepare your index in Word or another word processor.

Typeset indexes are generally set quite tight in a smaller font size and laid out in at least two columns whereas more than likely your index will be prepared in 12-point Times Roman with generous line spacing. As such, your typesetter should be able to fit a bit more than two of your word-processed pages onto one typeset page in the book.

As a rule of thumb, then, if told that you have (say) 8 pages available for the index, then you can count on having 17–18 pages in Word for your index (though obviously not single-spaced in a tiny font size).

If the amount of space is too little or (in some ways, worse) too much, then there may be an issue of what (how much) you are indexing, the subject of my next post. If so, re-evaluate your situation and – if not resolved – contact your production editor urgently.

(Post #7 of the Indexing section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

Indexing methods

11 March 2010

As intimated in my previous post, there are different ways of preparing an index. I have identified four main methods, none of them ideal. These are the:

  • traditional method,
  • mapping method,
  • mark-up method, and
  • quick and dirty method.

Traditional method

The traditional method is that you prepare a manual index at the same time that you proof-read the text. There are several ways of doing this, by:

  • recording the entries on the proofs (highlighting text and/or making notes in the margins),
  • writing them down on index cards or several sheets of paper, or
  • keying them immediately into a text document.

This method is simple. All that you need are the final proofs and a means to record the entries. The last way has the virtue of being an all-in-one method whereas, with the two earlier ways, there is a second step – to transcribe the entries – but they are visually much easier to work with.

If you have prepared the coloured mind map described in my previous post, then you can quickly ‘transcribe’ its text highlights over to the proofs and thus save a bit of time.

Arguably, the traditional method of indexing gives the best results because it allows a really thorough job to be done; everything is there before your eyes. It is, however, a painstaking (read: painfully slow) approach best suited to tortoise personalities.

Mapping method

A modern variation on the traditional method is to prepare a skeleton of the index (minus page numbers) beforehand and then fill in the page numbers by searching on a single PDF file of the book. (Obviously, this method requires that you receive the proofs as a PDF, not just in hard copy.) Acrobat’s search functions are very useful here and of course the text you are working with is the real paginated book (I find that psychologically useful).

This method can be done directly on computer (switching back and forth between Acrobat and your text file) but visually it is much easier to have the index skeleton printed out on paper (ideally with double line spacing), adding the page numbers to this and later transcribing them over to the text file.

As you can see, this uses the mind map to its fullest potential. The Acrobat search also allows you to find references that otherwise you might have overlooked. That said, this approach requires sophisticated and careful searching. For instance, in a study of nations and nationalism, if you only search for ‘nations’ then you won’t find ‘nation’ or ‘nationalism’ but doing a search on ‘nation’ might give you too many results to deal with. Better first to do a search on ‘nationali’ (to pick up ‘nationalism’, ‘nationalist’ ‘nationalistic’, etc.) then search for text often related to this term (like ‘ethno’) to find other entries.

In short, this can be a quick indexing method with the potential to give poor results but if used properly is a very powerful and fast tool. For this reason, it is the indexing method that I personally favour – also because its combination of broad-brush and nitty-gritty approach fits my temperament. This is the method best suited to impatient perfectionists.

Mark-up method

The mark-up method involves entering indexing tags in the book file itself.  It requires that you have a single text file generated from the typeset proofs (or, if you are brave, from the edited files delivered to the typesetter). Saved as a MS Word file, this must then be paginated to match the typeset proofs by playing with the font size and/or inserting hard page breaks. (The file need not be pretty; it simply needs to have the page breaks – every single one of them – at the same place as in the typeset proofs.)

The marking up process can be as slow a task as the traditional method (thought, again, much faster if you have prepared a coloured mind map in advance). However, when completed, the resulting index is instantly generated and with luck should not need a lot of adjustment. Index generation can even be re-run repeatedly in conjunction with adjusting the tagged entries until the index is perfect.

This indexing method has the virtue that you can regenerate the index as many times as you want until the results are perfect. Moreover, it is the best method to use if suddenly the pagination of your book is to be changed; this ‘merely’ needs to be reflected in the pagination of your base text file. Unfortunately, adjustments to index entries can be tedious. For instance, to divide a large number of single-level entries into groups of two-level entries requires that every single entry is manually updated to the new format. This is not something you want to do too much of. As such, this is the method best suited to organized, methodical people who already have the structure of the index perfectly clear in their mind beforehand (i.e. they have done some sort of mind map).

Quick and dirty method

My last method I call ‘quick and dirty’ but in reality it is not quick; perhaps ‘fast road to hell’ would be a better title. The version I know is done in MS Word but I know you can do the same in WordPerfect; quite possibly other word processors have the same feature.

Again, this requires that you have a single text file as your reference source (see above). What you then do is create a concordance file (a list of words to be indexed) then let Word automatically generate the index from your book file. Though quick to create, this is not something I’d recommend; the resulting ‘index’ will be full of junk entries that you can spend days (even weeks) weeding out and it may lack entries that later you realise are necessary. In the end, then, this method may save no time at all. Bluntly put, only serial losers would use this method a second time.

And there’s more

No doubt there are other ways of indexing a book but these four are the most common. Of course, an issue only touched on here is how your index is structured; this needs to be settled before you can start using one of these methods. Likewise, you must decide on exactly what you are going to index. These (and more) are topics for upcoming posts in this thread on indexing. (Just when I post these is uncertain as I’ll be travelling these next three weeks.)

(Post #6 of the Indexing section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here. This is a complete rewrite of an earlier post on the same subject.)

When to start on the index?

9 March 2010

The typical index is done at the time of the second (final) proofs and usually under a great time pressure. Not surprisingly, the indexes produced by first-time authors (and indeed many more experienced authors) are not always of a high quality.

Your index could be better.

Avoiding the last-minute rush

Let’s be honest, producing a great index is much more than a matter of timing. As important (if not more so) is that you successfully handle the issues raised in my previous post – issues like structure and format that my following posts will discuss in greater detail. Nonetheless, timing is important; indexing need not be a last-minute affair.

After all, what is an index? Superficially, it is an alphabetical list of cross-references to material in your text, each entry comprising a term and a page reference. (On a more sophisticated level, as described in an earlier post and in much greater detail in my next, an index is also a mind map.) So what is holding up your index, making its finalization a last-minute affair? Not the list of terms; theoretically, this could be devised before you even began writing your book. No, what’s holding everything up is having the correct page references – and there’s nothing you can do about that until your book is in its final, paginated form.

The secret to having a great index, then, is to ignore the lack of page numbers for now and to focus on all the other, more important issues. This means that you can start imagining the index much earlier than at the proofing stage, start even while writing your book.

Alternative approaches

There is a big advantage here if you do. It gives you time to create a mind map of your study and its index, if you so choose (more about mind maps in my next post).

Of course, you don’t have to create such a mind map. If you feel confident that the text sent for typesetting will change very little during the typesetting, you can instead simply start indexing your book straight after editing. To do so, all you need to do is create a single book file from the text in MS Word (or whichever word-processing program you use) and begin entering index tags. (This is indexing method 3, which I describe in much greater detail in my next post but one.)

That’s not all

Whichever approach you follow, you’ll need to bear in mind how much space you’ve got to play with, how the index is to be structured, etc., etc. – issues described in subsequent posts.

In the meantime, with a bit of breathing space before the index must be delivered, you actually may have time to enjoy its creation, time to unlock the intellectual puzzle of your study.

(Post #4 of the Indexing section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here. This is a complete reworking of an earlier post on the same subject.)

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.)

Letting go

11 February 2010

Letting go is not easy, whether you are a parent or an author (or both). This is quite understandable. While it is human to hold tight to (and be protective of) your children, the critical (and often treacherous) nature of the academic world teaches us to be equally guarded with our research results. Fear turns many a scholar into a serial polisher of his text, forever hesitating to expose it to possible ridicule or theft.

Ultimately, however, you have to let go. No child can grow and thrive if still clamped in their parent’s embrace, nor a scholarly work shine if hidden in a dark, lonely drawer.

Separation may be a lengthy business. And the angst begins early, already during the writing process. For many authors, the hardest stage here is to

  • actually finish the manuscript
  • place the last full stop
  • recognize that this is as good as it is going to get and that any more fiddling about with the text will add only time without contributing quality
  • let go and send your final words out into the world to stand or fall on their own merits.

That can be very difficult indeed.

The ripping feeling intensifies during editing. This, you are told, 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.

It is at typesetting, however, that the separation becomes irrevocable. As noted earlier, it is at this stage that your material is converted to other formats. Text and image files are placed in the typesetting ‘container’; essentially, there is no longer any live link between these files and the text and images found in the typeset book. As such, any changes to (say) your original Word files and JPEG images are pointless. All changes to the book’s text or illustrations can only be made by the typesetter.

And, as we shall see in a forthcoming post on proofing, chances are that the typesetter will be reluctant to make ‘unnecessary’ changes without an extra (penalty) payment.

Time to let go, indeed.

(Post #20 of the Design & Typesetting section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

Unrealized expectations

9 February 2010

You hoped that your editor would agree to the use of colour inside your book. Nah! Too expensive. (We’ve talked about this already.) And as for the cover, none of your ideas were even solicited let alone listened to (this also discussed here). But some of the other things you are expecting with your book – or just assume will be implemented (their merits are so obvious) – may not happen either.

Oh dear, time for a few disappointments (and a dash of incredulity).

Footnotes or endnotes?

Some authors hate endnotes with a passion while others naively expect to see the method they used in their manuscript replicated in the typeset book. Expect the worst. More than likely, your footnotes will be converted to endnotes and placed at the end of each chapter.

From a publisher’s viewpoint, this is quite reasonable. Technically, with modern DTP software, footnotes are relatively easy to work with (as easy as they are with a word processor like MS Word). That doesn’t mean that publishers are willing to retain an author’s footnotes, however.

Perhaps the main reason is conservatism but in many cases the problem is a question of avoiding layout hassles. This is especially the case when not only are there a whole lot of notes but also there are tables and illustrations to be placed in the text. Juggling the placement of text, notes, tables and illustrations while preserving an aesthetic balance can be a real headache, as can be seen in this example.

As such, it may be that you get little say in whether your book is typeset with footnotes or endnotes. Mind you, if you are a typical author, perhaps you haven’t given your publisher any idea of your wishes (let alone any incentive to take your wishes into consideration) until it is too late. As I’ve pointed out earlier, authors often show great interest in how their cover looks like but they rarely seem to concern themselves with the page design.

Other layout expectations

It is likely that other expectations you may have about the layout are less important to you. Some of the more common features found in an author’s ms that often are not retained by typesetters are:

  • Bold text (many typesetters regard bold as a ‘shouting’ style and prefer the use of italics, seeing this as a more subtle and elegant type style).
  • Capitals (another ‘shouting’ style, best replaced by text in title case, small caps or italics).
  • Headings (changing the alignment and replacing attributes like bold and/or capitals with small caps, italics, etc.).
  • Font (this may be predetermined in a house style for the press or this series, the need to save space may mandate use of a more compact font like Minion, or perhaps it’s Monday and the typesetter feels like using Garamond; certainly, it’s unlikely that the default font in Word – Times New Roman – will be at the first that the typesetter chooses).
  • Type size (determined in part by the font selected and in part by whether the typesetter needs to save space or pad out the text a bit).
  • Placement of special text (as discussed earlier, even in the age of Open Type, many publishers are averse to the use of non-Latin script, diacritics, etc.; such text may end up segregated in a separately typeset glossary, though if so this should have been discussed with your before now).
  • Placement of tables and illustrations (even if, as I recommended here,  you have indicated that this table should go here and that illustration there, the complexity of the layout – or typesetter laziness – may mean something different happens).

Disconcerted in other ways

The layout is not the only source of nasty surprises for authors. Even though authors generally get to see what is written when their book is first announced, it is amazing how often they act surprised when seeing the first proofs after the typesetting – specifically after looking at the title page and copyright page of their book. Common causes of authors expressing shock and horror are the:

  • Format/edition (do not assume there will be a paperback edition of your book; some publishers are especially unlikely to publish in paperback).
  • Pricing (if your publisher is aiming to sell to the academic library market only, then the price may be horrendous; forget about all your colleagues buying your book).
  • Subject (your book may be wrongly classified – labelled as politics instead of anthropology – but, just as bad, the classification may be too simplistic. This is no surprise; given the way bookshops function, your book may only be displayed in the China section – if at all – even though it offers a major breakthrough in sociological theory as well and thus deserves to be shelved under Sociology as well).
  • Series (unless you have approached the press proposing that your study be published in a specific series, it may be simply plonked in that series which your editor thinks is most appropriate; in fact, it may not be so).
  • Publisher (yes, some authors even get this wrong, thinking for instance that – because their book will be distributed in North America by Such-and-such University Press – the imprint of that press will appear on their title page; not so).

Of necessity, each of the points above deserve far greater explanation than there was room for here. I’ll do this in several posts another day. Meantime, let’s explore perhaps the greatest problem that you will face with your book: letting go, handing over your ‘baby’ to strangers.

(Post #19 of the Design & Typesetting section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

Placement of non-text elements

4 February 2010

Imagine this. A key passage in your book surveys the tourist icons of Paris. As your readers learn about the gargoyles of Notre Dame, on the opposite page they see the iron lacework of the Eiffel Tower. Turn the page and the story of the tower is told – illustrated with a picture of buses and tourists outside the Louvre.

These things happen. They shouldn’t.

Double vision

A key difference between modern typesetting programs and a word processor like Word is that the typesetter works with double-page spreads, the same view that readers have when moving through a physical book. (The single-page perspective of e-books is one of their major disadvantages, by the way, but this is rarely mentioned.) This double-page ‘workbench’ makes it easier for the typesetter to place tables, illustrations and other figures to their best advantage.

(Easier but not always easy. The layout of page after page of straight text is quite easy. But having to juggle the placement of text, footnotes, tables and illustrations all within a few pages – and ensure that the result is both aesthetically pleasing and meaningful – is decidedly not simple. This is one of the reasons why some publishers insist on endnotes – but more about that later this week.)

Insertion points need to be clear

Unfortunately, typesetters aren’t mind-readers. While some diligently read the text so they can lay it out in the best possible way (for this reason, often it is the typesetter who notices errors and omissions not discovered at editing), others do not have the time for such a hands-on approach. What you should count on, then, is that your typesetter won’t have the time to decipher from your text where precisely this table should go or where that illustration.

For this reason, you would be smart to indicate in the text where every non-text element should go. Something like ‘INSERT FIGURE 3.2 ABOUT HERE’ may not be pretty but it is necessary. (Indeed, your failure to specify an approximate insertion point may cause the typesetter to completely overlook that illustration and fail to place it.)

Colour sections

Placement of colour illustrations (as discussed in my previous post) is slightly more tricky. There is no problem if the book is completely in colour (simply indicate an insertion point as above). But if your colour illustrations are to be gathered into a colour section, then there is an issue. The point is that this colour section is a section; here, we are not talking about a scattering of colour illustrations placed wherever they are referred to. No, a colour section is a 16-page, full-colour signature that must be inserted between two monochrome signatures. Precisely where this will be inserted cannot easily be predicted in advance. All that may be possible is to indicate an insertion point as close as possible to this or that passage of text.

Certainly, however, you should not leave placement of any colour section to the whims of your typesetter. Be proactive, discuss things with your production editor and ensure that placement of this colour section is specified in the page design brief (discussed in greater detail here, while my argument for author activism is here).

One last thought

What is discussed in this post is placement of non-text elements, not if they are actually necessary. Pictures may say more than a thousand words but they also interrupt the narrative, as do tables, charts and graphs. In each case, ask yourself whether this interruption to the flow of text is necessary, appropriate and desirable.

(Post #16 of the Design & Typesetting section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)