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.

Limits

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.)

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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.)


Which word processor?

29 January 2010

Is your choice of word-processing program an issue? Yes, it is, as you will see.

That said, arguably, this shouldn’t be an issue that only attracts attention now, at the start of typesetting. Normally, your editor (or her staff) should have had her fingers all over your text file(s), especially if it is the press undertaking the editorial work. Even if the deal is that you are supposed to deliver ‘clean’ text ready for typesetting, your production editor should have been on the ball and checked your files.

No? Oh well, at least in terms of word processor, it is likely that no harm has been done – because, let’s face it, the vast majority of authors use Microsoft Word (meaning there shouldn’t be a problem in this respect).

To some scholars, of course, Microsoft is the evil empire and they wouldn’t touch Word even if Bill Gates offered them a space suit and the use of an over-length barge pole. Nor is it necessary as such to write your text as Word documents; there are very good word-processing alternatives available (not least WordPerfect, Nisus Writer and – a fast-growing open-source rival – OpenOffice Writer).

Whichever software you use, it need not be Word but it must be compatible with Word – this is what your publisher’s editorial staff are likely to be using; they have to be able to open (and maybe change) your text files. In other words, your text files must be able to be opened in Word.

The same restriction is likely to apply for the typesetting. For instance, Adobe InDesign only imports text in .doc, .docx, .rtf and .txt formats. This means that if you have written your book in (say) WordPerfect, Nisus Writer or OpenOffice Writer, then – in order for it to be imported into the typesetter’s book file(s) – you will have to save your text as a Word or RTF file (not as plain text; you could lose any italics and other character formatting with a .txt conversion).

No, this may not be fair. But for now, like it or not, Word remains the 20-tonne gorilla in the playground.

(Post #10 of the Design & Typesetting section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)