On my desk

Indexing in parts

30 April 2024

The first two-thirds of the psychoanalysis textbook slid onto my desk and into my schedule a couple of weeks ago, followed by the final third this past Tuesday. This is not unusual, although not ideal, with large textbooks. In order to get the book to the indexer as quickly as possible, a large textbook is often sent in sections. Sometimes this is fine, especially with introductory textbooks at the high school or college level that cover a broad range of topics. For the most part, the sections of the book can stand on their own and indexing can commence immediately and proceed without needing the later chapters for reference.

With this book, I reviewed the first part on its own to see whether the indexing could begin immediately. No, it wasn’t possible. This book is different than other textbooks. In a sense, it tells a story—the organization follows the development of psychoanalysis, with schools of thought and names intermingled from chapter to chapter.

I realized that while I could use broad strokes to establish the index structure for the chapters in the first section, it would be best to wait for the final chapter to arrive before I began the detailed work, such as picking up names and concepts sprinkled within the chapter subheadings.

Why? Because this publisher’s style is to include names in the index for people and their theories that were substantially discussed—not simply names used as citations. Some people may be discussed in later chapters that are lightly discussed in the first section that I had in hand. Until I received those later chapters, I wouldn’t know whether to include these peoples’ names in the index or not. To adhere to the publisher’s style, I needed to  view the book as a whole.

When I was a less experienced indexer, I plowed ahead after receiving the first section, because it was on my desk and time was of the essence. With experience, I learned to survey the project and create some loosely defined rules for the book in front of me, to inform my indexing process. By waiting a beat, and thinking the project through, I was able to let the publisher know that I would need more time than expected, since I could not proceed fully with the indexing immediately. The editor graciously agreed to the additional days for indexing.

The lesson here is that the sooner the publisher knows these things about your process, the easier it is for everyone. As with any type of work, communication is a two-way street, and open communication allows a smoother project for everyone