The 14 Stages of Indexing

"index" by  J.E. Theriot  via Flickr is licensed under  CC BY 2.0 .

"index" by J.E. Theriot via Flickr is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

I recently attended the PubWest happy hour, and it was a great time catching up with long-time book friends and meeting new ones over a pint. I felt so grateful for the camaraderie as we shared the woes of book shipments missing their boats, relief for a break from high-velocity editing, and consternation about marketing survey design.

My dear friend Linda, who I partially blame for leading me down this ruinous path of gin and publishing, reminded me of something I had written and sent out to the rest of the Pomegranate editing team about four years ago. I had completely forgotten about it, but it had recently resurfaced and recirculated. During a particularly arduous art book editing project—the sordid details I won't go into here—I wrote "The 14 Stages of Indexing." I clearly needed to let off some steam.

Indexes are amazing. I love them. I love to read them, often opening a book to peruse the index first. The index, along with the table of contents, is the best way to speed-read a book and quickly assess its treatment of a subject. To quote the character Chiti Anagonye from the television show The Good Place,  "When I'm really upset, concentrating on a table of contents [or index!] helps me calm down. It's like a menu, but the food is words." Mmm ... words.

And there is nothing quite so sublime as a well-considered index—the interpretation of the text and the logic to determine what makes it in, nesting subentries, see vs. see also cross references, choosing the alphabetization system. Exquisite.

The act of indexing, however, is not really my thing. If it weren't for Indexing Books by Nancy C. Mulvany, I would have been completely sunk. Seriously, hug an indexer. I really felt like I was going through something akin to the five stages of grief on this particular project. Then and now, I find that in work and life, humor can be a real lifesaver.


The 14 Stages of Indexing

1. Terror
2. Over-preparation
3. Dread
4. Mistrust of sensory input
5. Confusion
6. Self-doubt
7. False confidence
8. Real confidence
9. Indecision
10. Malaise
11. More self-doubt
12. Feverish productivity
13. Regression to stages 4 through 12
14. Acceptance