Monthly Archives: March 2017

National Indexing Day, Thursday 30 March

The Society of Indexers is celebrating its diamond anniversary in 2017 and has designated Thursday 30 March as the inaugural National Indexing Day. This date marks the 60th anniversary of our formal constitution at the premises of the National Book League in London on 30 March 1957 by G. Norman Knight and colleagues. Knight counted it as ‘one of the achievements of the Society to have removed the intense feeling of solitude in which the indexer (of books and journals, at any rate) used to work’.


To give due credit, we were inspired to set up National Indexing Day after seeing #NationalProofreadingDay trending on social media on 8 March 2017, shared by SfEP and others. I believe National Proofreading Day was originally founded in 2011 by American proofreader Judy Beaver in memory of her mother, Flo, who ‘loved to correct people, so her birthday is the ideal day to correct errors’ (from the National Proofreading Day website). One of our members, Ruth Ellis, wondered if we should set up our own National Indexing Day and I suggested 30 March after discovering that this was the original SI foundation date. We have since pulled this together in the intervening three weeks. Luckily we’re good at working to tight deadlines.

The Society of Indexers (SI), now based in Sheffield, is the only autonomous professional body for indexers in the United Kingdom and Ireland and is associated with other indexing organisations around the world. Its aims are to promote indexing, the quality of indexes and the profession of indexing. Membership includes around 400 specialist indexers across the UK, working for authors and publishers in more than a hundred different subjects, from accountancy to zoology.

SI and SfEP of course share a common heritage and continuing close ties. The Society of Freelance Editors and Proofreaders, as it was then, was founded by a small group of volunteers led by Norma Whitcombe after informal conversations at the SI conference in Cheltenham in July 1988. The two societies shared office premises and a joint administrator in London in the 1990s before SI moved to Sheffield. I myself was already a freelance proofreader, copy-editor and SfEP member before joining SI and training in indexing. I really enjoyed the first joint SI/SfEP conference in York in September 2015 and I hope there will be many more such collaborations. Having just renewed my subscriptions, I am also appreciating the current membership discount for being a member of both societies.

The art of indexing

Indexing is an ancient art. The oldest printed indexes are thought to be found in two editions of St Augustine’s De arte praedicandi (‘On the art of preaching’), published in the 1460s soon after the invention of the Gutenberg printing press. Handwritten indexes date back much further. Records from the papal court at Avignon show that by the early 1300s people were being paid to compose indexes. There is further evidence to suggest that the 3000-year-old ancient book of hexagrams I Ching (Book of Changes) from China contains the world’s oldest index.

We have come a long way from early handwritten indexes and the days of filing index cards in shoeboxes. Today’s indexers use sophisticated indexing software to create standalone back-of-the-book indexes or embedded/linked indexes within the main text itself. In the digital age, indexes are just as essential in ebooks; a full-text search or Ctrl-F cannot think like the reader. A good book index is made neither by magic nor machine; an index is not just an automated alphabetical list of keywords. Computers can’t read, so they can’t index. They don’t cope well with homographs, synonyms or judging between significant and passing mentions of a topic. Context is key; it all depends (which indeed applies just as much to editing and proofreading). Professional book indexers are trained to analyse each text, identify the important concepts and allow for alternative reader approaches. A good index is like a road map back into the main text. A bad index is at best laughable and at worst less than useless. And a non-fiction book with no index at all is a crying shame, as is regularly bemoaned in book reviews and on social media. As our past president John Sutherland says, ‘Using a book without an index is like trying to fish with your fingers’.

SI has an ‘Indexers Available’ online directory, similar to the SfEP Directory, which lists SI-approved and accredited indexers. The directory is searchable by subject specialism. Like SfEP, it too has local groups, workshops and an annual conference. It also publishes The Indexer, the quarterly international journal of indexing. If you are interested in becoming an indexer yourself, SI runs a ‘Training in Indexing’ distance-learning course leading to the qualification of Accredited Indexer. I completed this course and I can recommend it highly. Indexing is intellectually challenging and that’s part of what I love so much about it. It can be very hard work but it’s rarely dull. And, unlike with editing/proofreading, which arguably is invisible when at its best, the indexer gets to add a new visible part to the back of the book.

Unsung heroes unsung no more

There will be much ado about indexing in Oxford this June. As SI finishes celebrating its diamond anniversary conference and gala dinner at St Anne’s College on 21 June, index scholars and lovers will gather at the Bodleian Library for a two-day symposium on the Book Index (22–23 June) organised by Dr Dennis Duncan. We are pleased that there will be an SI panel on ‘Indexing Today’ at this symposium, including joint SI/SfEP members Ann Kingdom (current SI Chair) and myself.

We hope that the launch of National Indexing Day on Thursday 30 March will provide a useful opportunity to promote the profession of indexing. We will be encouraging people to share gems of best indexing practice on social media with our dedicated hashtag of #indexday. Please do join in with your own examples if you appreciate a good book index. As our Honorary President Sam Leith says in his associated forthcoming article in the Guardian, book indexers may just be some of ‘the unsung heroes of the publishing world’. It’s high time for the diamond indexers to shine.

Further information can be found on the Society of Indexers and Book Index symposium websites.

Paula Clarke Bain is a book indexer and editor and an Advanced Professional Member of both SI and SfEP. You can contact her by email on pcbain@baindex.org, see her website and indexing blog at baindex.org or find her on Twitter @PC_Bain.

 

It ain’t necessarily so

Some widely held beliefs about how copy-editors and proofreaders make their living may have shaky foundations. John Firth pulls a few snippets out of SfEP’s autumn 2016 Membership Survey.

We survey our members every autumn, and we like to tease out themes and explore them from one year to the next. This year we tested some ‘truths’ about editing and weren’t surprised to find that real life’s not like that.

Editors need to specialise

Well, actually… As the horizontal bars in this graph show, while quite high percentages of our members describe themselves as working in one of the four broad areas we asked about (fiction, the arts or humanities, the social sciences and STEM subjects – scientific, technical, engineering or medical), the vertical bars show that most don’t work only in those areas.

Just over a third specialise by subject (15% STEM, 4% social sciences, 13% humanities, 5% fiction). It is interesting, for example, that while 16 participants work only on social sciences subjects, and 51 only on arts/humanities subjects, 66 work in both areas.

Yes, but most editors work on books

Well yes, our survey found that nearly 80% of editors work on books, but again, as the next graph shows, only 14% work only on books: in fact, only 23% work exclusively on one type of publication. Moreover, since the ‘among others’ bars in the graph add up to 247%, most of our members work on three or more types of publication. In fact, nearly 20% work on types that we didn’t think to ask about (board-game rules and TV and film scripts, for example).

Okay, but most editors work for publishing companies

You’re right: just over two-thirds do, but our survey found that only 8% of editors work just for publishing companies and I’m going to bore you with another graph:

It’s the same pattern: just under 18% specialise, and more than 305% work for more than one type of client (so we can suggest that most work for two or three types of client, and many for more than four).

But surely they’ve all worked in publishing at some time?

Sorry to contradict: before coming to the profession, nearly 60% of the participants in our survey had never worked in publishing. Moreover, high percentages of participants who currently work in-house for publishing companies had previously worked outside publishing. This summarises these members’ backgrounds:

So, how representative is your survey?

We received surveys from 402 members, almost exactly 18% of our membership, in November 2016. In 2010 the Professional Associations Research Network concluded that ‘most organisations … receive an 11–15% response rate’ to membership surveys; so this is a good response. We found that Advanced Professional Members and members who had belonged for more than five years were over-represented in the results; and that the percentages of participants who were Intermediate Members, Professional Members, members who had recently joined and members who had belonged for between three and five years were about the same as those groups’ ‘share’ of the total membership. For all of these groups the balance between male and female participants was quite close or very close to the ‘mix’ among all members in that group. This suggests that the results are a good reflection of how established editors spend their time.

For his sins, John Firth is the membership director of the SfEP.

If you’d like a copy of the survey, a PDF can be downloaded from here: 2016 Membership Survey.

Navigating the freelance talent pool

BookMachine’s Laura Summers introduces their latest white paper, which talks about how editorial managers can tap into the vast pool of freelance editorial professionals.

Navigating the freelance talent pool

The SfEP directory is a great example of the scale and importance of freelancing and outsourcing work in the publishing industry today. Browsing through the listings gives such an insight into the scale and breadth of professionals all over the country. Everyone on the list is working in publishing; but aside from the moonlighters, most are editing away, far from the confines of a London- or Oxford-based publishing house.

Over the past six years, the BookMachine team have noticed a definite increase in the numbers of freelancers attending events. This might be due to the inclusivity of the community, and that those working outside a traditional publishing company have more company events to attend and aren’t looking to build their network in the same way that those running a small business are. However, we suspect that it is more than that. We think that the freelance talent pool is growing, due to increasing demands for publishers to work on more complex projects with tighter turnaround times and often increased volumes. The need for out-of-house support has never been greater.

With this in mind, working on behalf of Just Content, we produced a new white paper for the publishing industry with vital information and advice on tapping into the freelance talent pool.

It is aimed at editorial managers, though it caters to anyone involved in conducting team projects within publishing. Which is everyone really.

With evidence that the freelance market is expanding both within and outside of publishing, the white paper is a timely reminder of how we can all work together harmoniously.

You can download it free of charge today.

Laura Summers is co-founder of BookMachine – the community for people who make publishing happen. As well as organising events for the industry, BookMachine manage an online network of professionals sharing advice and knowledge. Laura and her team are also available to manage events, business development and marketing projects for small and mid-sized publishers.

Should I renew my SfEP membership? What does the SfEP have to offer?

What’s the point of the SfEP?

The SfEP is a community of like-minded people, fussy about their commas and always willing to share their knowledge and experience. The SfEP forums act as our water cooler, with 120,000 posts to date. SfEP local groups provide support and camaraderie for many members, and the yearly SfEP conference is an ideal opportunity to update your editorial knowledge, to put names to faces and to network. Then the SfEP offers a Directory of experienced professionals; professional training courses, with new ones being added all the time; and specialised professional development days. And much more.

Email us for updates to your entry

Who makes it happen?

Our wonderful team of dedicated and patient staff in the London offices deal with the complex admin required for it all to run smoothly for members. Scores of actively engaged members also work to support their colleagues: in local groups, in social media, before and during the conference, in Editing Matters, on the Directory and the admissions and upgrade panels, on our website, as trainers and mentors; among the many other active members, let’s not forget those who take time to answer questions on our forums. In the background, the twelve directors that make up the SfEP council try hard to address members’ feedback, to manage the show and to make things even better for all of us, while striving to stay abreast of recent developments and to adapt to a changing reality.

What else is the SfEP council planning to do?

Our members need – and deserve – recognition of their profession and qualifications that are meaningful to the world outside the SfEP. Foremost among our recent initiatives is the decision to go for chartership. To this end we have appointed a chartership adviser and have met with the Privy Council Office (which grants charters), the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (our sponsor), Creative Skillset, and some of our sister organisations: the Society for Indexers, the Chartered Institute of Linguists and the National Union of Journalists. All of them have been very supportive of our venture and provided useful insights.

We have drawn up a marketing plan aimed at helping us win and engage more members and letting the world, especially universities and publishers, know what we stand for. We have improved our social media presence, our blog and our website (now with over a million hits). Over the last year we were present at the London Book Fair and at several other events, and we are finalists in the 2017 UK Blog Awards.

There is strength in numbers and our objective is to see an increase in the number of our members. We have high standards and also want to encourage an increase in the proportion of members who opt to pursue their continuous professional development and to upgrade.

Getting in shape for the future

To ensure we are in the best possible financial condition, the council has appointed an external financial adviser and commissioned an audit, from which we emerged squeaky clean. Also in the drive towards a more professional society, we appointed a company secretary and are updating our rules and regulations.

These past few months, we also recruited a new member for our office team, did our best to support staff when one of the team was off ill for several months, conducted staff appraisals and moved some of the clutter from the office into storage.

The SfEP is your society!

None of the Society’s successes this year could have been achieved without you, our members. Without you, the society would not be; without your help, it could not function. And of course, we are always looking for more contributors, either to work in the background (for the introverts) or (for the extroverts) to explain what we stand for to wider audiences, as SfEP ambassadors. And we are likely to need new directors come the AGM in September. Think about it?

Sabine Citron is the chair of the SfEP. Some of her other labels are copy-editor, translator, mother, hillwalker and chocolate eater.

World Book Day 2017: favourite childhood fictional character


Unsurprisingly, SfEP members love books, and for many their love of reading began at an early age. To mark the 2017 World Book Day celebrations the blog team asked members to share their favourite fictional character from childhood, and, as expected from a society of bookworms, we had some wonderful replies. The team would like to thank Susan, Gillian and Jane for their contributions and we hope you enjoy reading their recollections as much as we did.

 

 

Susan Walton

My two favourite book characters when I was a child (a long time ago) were both cats, and contrary ones at that. One was Simpkin and the other was just called ‘the Cat’. As is the way with many children’s books, both characters were fixed in my imagination by the books’ illustrations, and their creators illustrated both.

So, who were they? The Cat is the animal who craftily negotiates his domestication but who still walks by himself ‘in the Wild Wet Woods waving his wild tail’ in Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Cat that Walked by Himself’ in the Just So Stories.

Simpkin is the tailor’s cat in The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter. One of my personal rituals is to re-read this book every Christmas Eve. It is set at Christmas, and I still love the part when Simpkin goes out into the snow at midnight, when ‘all the beasts can talk’, and ‘the air was quite full of little twittering tunes’.

I have strands in my personality that link straight back to Simpkin and the Cat. Simpkin is at first vexed when he has to run an errand for the tailor. To make matters worse, the tailor releases Simpkin’s captive live supper of mice while he’s out. But he’s later contrite when he realises that the tailor’s kindness has saved them from penury.

I spent a lot of my childhood being vexed (which, incidentally, is where I first learnt the word: I loved the ‘v’ and the ‘x’ in one word), and then contrite. I’m not often vexed these days, but I still sometimes go for walks by myself in the Wild Wet Woods waving my (metaphorical) wild tail.

Gillian Clarke

The character that springs to mind at the moment is Freddy the Pig – in a series of books by Walter R Brooks, with delightful illustrations by Kurt Wiese. Freddy is one of a number of animals that live on the farm owned by Mr Bean, in upstate New York. The animals talk to each other and to humans – which Mr Bean finds a bit embarrassing. Freddy, with his cat friend Jinx, has become an accomplished detective, and the books are usually about his exploits – often against the dastardly rat family headed by Simon.

Jane Hammett

One of my favourite childhood books is Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess.

The main character, Sara Crewe, is a rich British girl who returns to London from India when her mother dies. Her father enrols Sara in a boarding school run by the vile Miss Minchin. Sara is so rich that you might expect her to be arrogant or superior, but she is not. Instead she is kind and thoughtful – and she somehow achieves this without being annoying or smug. She befriends a scullery maid, Becky, and is caring to all the girls, but especially the misfits.

Then Sara’s father dies – and his fortune has been lost. Sara can no longer afford to stay on at the school. Miss Minchin agrees that Sara can stay on – but as a servant to the other girls. She treats Sara terribly – overworking her, starving her, banishing her to a miserable attic room.

However, this reversal of fortune doesn’t change Sara. She remains unselfish and generous, and uses her imagination to make life more bearable: ‘Of course the greatest power Sara possessed … was her power of telling stories and of making everything she talked about seem like a story, whether it was one or not.’

She asks Becky to imagine a warm bed, a cheerful fire, toasted crumpets for tea. They escape into their imagination, and Sara’s courage and strength encourages Becky too.

There’s a lot we can learn from Sara about resilience – and her story is as relevant and heart-warming today as it was when I was a child.

Collated and posted by Tracey Roberts, SfEP blog coordinator

Image credits:

Blackie’s Children’s Annual c.1919 by Plum Leaves CC2.0

Tailor of Gloucester Wikimedia Commons

A Little Princess Wikimedia Commons