yhW || Why

            As a newbie there are many thoughts to think, plans to plot, and schemes to scratch out. When on my exercise walks among the lovely whispering trees and chatting birds I have often caught myself totally oblivious to my surroundings for a good twenty minutes or so (not a good idea in rattlesnake season) while I mentally work on my “To Do” lists or a niggling issue regarding starting up a business. Fortunately, as I have been able to cross off some items from those lists, I am drifting away from that regrettable habit. Once again I hear the birds sing. Unfortunately, I now have more mental room to worry about other things such as:  What was I thinking of when I decided to go into a whole new business by myself?? (Insert a slightly desperate, slightly incredulous mental voice to the above quote—and repeat often).

            For many of you indexers out there, deciding to go into this profession was a side step. That is, already working in a closely related job, you were able to easily step into indexing as a new one. For example:  librarian >>indexer, or editor>>indexer.  For others of us, deciding to become an indexer was a “leap of faith.” (Right now I’m having visions of Indiana Jones in the third movie where he is in the temple that holds the holy chalice, his dad has been shot, and he is standing at the edge of what appears to be a bottomless chasm where he must gather up the faith to take a step into it so that he can reach the cup on the other side). However logical a decision seems to be, it is sometimes difficult to “feel” that it is a correct one.

            The first thing (no, second really) I did to help myself towards my new goal was to take Sylvia Coats’ UCB indexing course (which was great). Although I mostly enjoyed the whole course there were three occasions I still sometimes reflect upon with fright..humor…fright….

            The first occasion was the first task:  think of index entries for the nursery rhyme “Jack and Jill.” What? (exclamatory voice here). What was I thinking of when I decided to go into a whole new business by myself?? (#1) Of course I worked through it and then found the exercise rather fun.

            The second occasion was the exercise where I had to index legal writings. What was I thinking of when I decided to go into a whole new business by myself?? (#2) Finally plowed through that as well, but only after asking a lawyer friend to clarify points of law to me. Never want to do that again. Kudos to those of you who specialize in legal indexing; I’m impressed.

            The third subtle but frightening challenge came when asked why I thought I would be a good indexer. What was I thinking of when I decided to go into a whole new business by myself?? (#3) For someone who decided to make that career leap, it was a difficult question to answer. But I think it was, and is, a good question to ask of oneself. And it is also good to keep reminding oneself of their answer.

            Then forge ahead.


nehW || When

            Another issue I’m currently struggling with is knowing when enough is enough. My husband who works in another consulting field told me that this dilemma is a common one. Which is somewhat comforting to be told. I’m the type of person who like to have all her ducks lined up in a row before embarking on an important adventure. Of course, that is never possible. Not really. There are always a couple ducks hiding in the grasses.

 So I keep on reading and studying and reading some more in the hopes that, when one of those tricky ducks reveals himself, I won’t get an embarrassing bite on the nose. After all, one does not want to appear grossly ignorant to a client and one really cares about providing a good service to them. So a person reads, well, everything. Or tries to.  Problem with that is:  it can’t be done. There are only a finite number of minutes a day in which to function. It is at this stage in the thought process that one must make a decision. Either be paralyzed by a sense of inadequacy or resign oneself to being “good enough” for now.

If you choose the first option perhaps it would be better to put your indexing career on “Pause” and come back to it later when circumstances seem more favorable for its success.

If you choose the second option then you have to develop a plan for:  filtering your information, prioritizing what you read/listen to, and scheduling when/how often to visit each source. Of course, your plans will change over time as your needs change so you will need to periodically revisit, and perhaps rewrite, them.

Start by asking yourself a series of questions—you choose. Examples may include: “Will attending that webinar help me to index better? Or land a client?” “Do I really need to read the whole article? Or would my time be better spent developing a marketing plan?” Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera….

With the current upheaval in the publishing industry it is difficult to keep track of the new trends. It feels rather like trying to focus on a fast moving train. Perhaps, instead of worrying about reading all the fine writing on the sides of that train, just knowing that the train exists and the direction it is heading in is enough for now.  


woH || How


            So how does one proceed when they actually land a job? Long before I got my first job I had actually written out a plan: request a chapter, index chapter, give quote, negotiate, send contract. (Ducks—line them up as best you can so in the flurry of your excitement you have something concrete to fall back on). After telling everyone around me “I’ve got a job!” I paused and reflected. OMG. I’ve got a job (said with a tremor of trepidation). But I can do this I told myself. Got the training. Got the software. Got the spiffy lawyer written contract form. Haven’t indexed a memoir before. Haven’t indexed any book before. “But I can do this.” Say it out loud—it helps.

            And I did. First I recognized that the task before me was a job so I assigned myself work hours and made out a work schedule. Then I started indexing. At the end of each day I checked my schedule to make sure that I was at least on track. When planning your own schedule don’t forget to give yourself some “wiggle room” because something always occurs to interfere with “best laid plans.” And so it did for me. But, luckily, I was far enough along to complete the index and fulfill my contract (I have not established a back-up indexer for myself yet but I definitely plan to).

While indexing also try to do the cleanest index possible and to stay true to your growing controlled vocabulary so that the editing can be minimized.

Then when you are done turn your beautiful work of art in to your client on time—or before. Then send your invoice. Hopefully, you won’t be asked to make too many “corrections” or additions. My inexperienced client kept changing his mind about what he wanted and telling me to make changes to the index which violated basic indexing practices so the editing phase took a lot longer than it should have but so things happen sometimes. If, like me, you offer an hour of free editing then, of course, do it but don’t forget to remind them that any additional editing will cost them extra. After all, this is your business and your time and expertise is worth getting paid for. Then go celebrate. You did it!

Now go find another job. Good luck.


This article is reproduced courtesy of the American Society for Indexing's Key Words publication.