16 November 2005 by Published in: Civil War books and authors 3 comments

I have incredibly mixed feelings about indexes. On one hand, they’re absolutely critical to making a Civil War book useful. As a general rule, I won’t buy a book if it doesn’t include an index. At the same time, indexes are the bane of my existence.

As a general rule of thumb, authors are required to provide their own indexes to books. All but one of the publishing contracts that I have ever signed have said that the index is the author’s responsibility. This creates real problems for me. As someone who admittedly has a short attention span and who also has too much on his plate, the thought of being forced to do my own index turns me into a quivering pile of jelly. I simply don’t have the time, attention span, or inclination to do indexes myself. I tried once, and I almost went insane within a matter of hours of beginning. It was hideous, and I had so much stress and so much anxiety over it that I vowed I would never, ever do one again.

I know, for instance, that Ed Longacre does his own indexes. I know this because he has told me so, and I’ve actually seen the enormous collection of index cards that he uses to do it. To Ed and any other author that has the wherewithal to do their own indexes, my hat’s off to you. You’re a better man than I am, because this is something that I just cannot bring myself to do.

I realize that this is a bit of an oxymoron. I’m a lawyer, and I spend my days either drafting contracts, or evaluating and presenting evidence. It’s all about attention to detail. I’ve never had a problem with that, provided that I have sufficient time to take breaks and refocus myself. I can spend hours and hours poring over boxes of documents produced in discovery, but I just can’t do an index. Perhaps it’s that I have to be so focused at work all day that I can’t force myself to do this. Perhaps it’s that I use up my quota of concentration on minute details at the office and simply don’t have enough left at the end of the day to come home and force myself to do an index. I honestly don’t know. I just know that I can’t do it.

Most of my publishers have offered me the opportunity of having them prepare the index at my expense–typically $600 or so, which is deducted from royalties. I have eagerly and joyously leaped at those opportunities and have gladly said yes every time that it’s been offered to me. My new book is in final preparation and not far from being ready to go to the printer, and Ted Savas, my publisher, informed me the other day that his preparing the index is not an option, that Savas Beatie does not get involved, and that it’s my responsibility. This quite literally sent shivers of fear up my spine. This was my worst nightmare about to come true.

Fortunately, Ted put me in touch with Lee Merideth, who does lots of indexes for lots of authors. I’ve gladly and enthusiastically turned the project over to Lee to prepare the index for me, and I will happily write that check to avoid having to do it myself. Lee, my hat’s off to you. You’re a better man than I am to want to spend your evenings voluntarily plowing through this level of minutae. 🙂

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  1. Wed 16th Nov 2005 at 7:17 pm

    LOL…great stuff! What a nightmare. I’ve always wondered if there was some kind of powerful indexing software to help with the process, that you can then manually pick through.

    As a general point, one of my pet peeves about indexes are those that have single subject entries and 50 page numbers after them with no subheadings. But I can see how one would be tempted to do it that way if forced to self-index!

    Publishers… it is a bit surprising that even established authors would be forced to provide their own indexes. What’s next is you’ll probably have to do your own binding and shipping as well.

  2. Wed 16th Nov 2005 at 8:51 pm


    The answer is yes, such software exists, but it has to be used in conunction with Quark or PageMaker, or whatever desktop publishing software is being used. It’s a difficult thing to do if you’re not the one doing the typesetting.

    As for the level of index, I specifically commissioned Lee to do a second-level index that will go into full detail, rather than what you describe.

    As for publishers, it’s SOP. Unfortunately, I don’t sell enough books to command that sort of clout, so it’s my lot in life.


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