When I first started indexing books, if someone asked me what I did, I would say, “I’m an indexer.” The conversations that came after that statement were often entertaining as I helped the other person understand what the heck I was talking about. The number of people who immediately assumed I wrote the tables of contents for books was surprisingly high. But once the person understood what an indexer was, then the conversation would get interesting. We would talk about how an index gets written, how a good index could never be done by a computer, how indexing decisions get made (both good and bad ones) and how yes, I do indeed read the whole book (probably more closely than anyone other than the author ever will). When I tell them that ten different indexers working on the same book will end up creating ten different indexes, they can’t believe it. Weaving an index is an art, a science, and a little bit of magic all rolled up together. Now when people ask me what I do, I usually say, “I’m an indexer. I write the indexes you see at the back of books.” Just that little extra detail usually saves at least a few minutes of “huh?!? What’s an indexer?” so we can jump right into the fun parts of the conversation. Because yes, indexing books does indeed make for interesting and lively conversation . . . once everyone knows what the heck we are talking about.
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