Work in Publishing Week and the missing Michelle Obama index

Thu Q&A with Indexers

It’s been a good week for the indexers. As part of the Publishers Association’s Work in Publishing Week (19–23 November 2018), the Society of Indexers (SI) held a Twitter Q&A hour about freelance indexing on Thursday 22 November. My SI colleague Ruth Ellis and I, joined by other SI members, answered questions on various aspects of indexing, including how to train as an indexer, what qualities make a good indexer, how long it takes to index a book, and the best and worst things about being an indexer. (Spoiler: please pay your freelancers on time.) You can search the hashtag #WIPindex on Twitter to catch up on the discussions or you can see a summary of the main questions and answers on the Publishers Association website here: Q&A with the Society of Indexers.

I also wrote a blog post for the Publishers Association on my personal career path into indexing. The short version of this is: English and American Literature degree at UEA → in-house proofreader at magazine publisher → in-house proofreader at printers → editorial assistant at magazine publisher → full-time freelance proofreader and copy-editor → SI Training in Indexing course → full-time freelance indexer. The more detailed version can be read here: Indexing, a freelance career in.

Other members of the SI Executive Board wrote fine blog posts on different aspects of indexing for #workinpublishing week.

SI Chair Nicola King’s blog, a general overview of indexing, is at #WorkInPublishing Week.

SI Training Course Co-ordinator Jan Worrall’s blog, focusing more on training and embedded indexing for ebooks, is at ‘Work in Publishing week’.

The other main flurry of excitement and interest this week was caused by national newspapers bemoaning the fact that Michelle Obama’s new memoir Becoming has no index. SI Executive Board Director Ruth Ellis was contacted for a telephone interview with Sian Cain of The Guardian newspaper, and some of Ruth’s quotes were used in a short piece which promoted indexing and SI very well. You can read this article online here: Why doesn’t Michelle Obama’s memoir have an index?

Ann Treneman of The Times also queried the lack of index (‘What were the publishers thinking?’) in her column, which can be read here: First date with Obama was a real showstopper.

Another national newspaper mentioned the missing index in a most unhelpful way, stating that an intern could have done one for a ‘trifling sum’. Really? I’d like to see them try. I’m not linking to that newspaper on my blog but let’s just say it’s a tiresome example of its typical daily fail.

So why doesn’t Michelle Obama’s Becoming have an index? As Ruth speculates in the Guardian article, this could have been from time constraints and a publishing schedule that didn’t allow for an index to be created in the final weeks (or days). It might be political sensitivity and the potential need for a non-disclosure agreement. Sometimes indexes are missing because of budget constraints to pay for one (which seems pretty unlikely in this case). Some authors and publishers would rather not include an index to prevent the ‘Washington Read’, where certain readers check the index first for references to themselves and will only read those bits of the book. We may never know quite why there is no index. Sadly, some memoirs just don’t have ’em. Whatever the reason, it’s a shame for the readers.

Since I last blogged here, SI has also been involved with the CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) Catalogue & Index journal special issue on indexing in September 2018. I contributed an article on comedic indexes, featuring Ayoade, Brooker, Partridge, Toast, Wheen and more. Other articles included SI members Helen Bilton writing on the history of index creation, Rosemary Dear on the foundation of SI, current SI trainee Clare Playforth on subject indexing in a repository, and American Society for Indexing member Pilar Wyman on directions in indexing. This issue is available as a free, open-access PDF at Catalogue & Index, Issue 192.

It’s been a quiet year on this blog for various reasons but I sense that my blogging mojo is returning. My next blog should be on the index I did for Jem Roberts’ Soupy Twists! The Full, Official Story of the Sophisticated Silliness of Stephen Fry & Hugh Laurie. Jem and I had a little fun with some of the index entries, all of which made it into the final printed version, much to our delight, so I will share a few of these next time. Till then: ‘Please, Mr Music, will you play…?’



Paula Clarke Bain is a professional book indexer and editor. She likes comedy, books and indexes and really likes comedy book indexes. See more at her website at or on Twitter @PC_Bain.

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