July 2009

Kate Mertes

July 2009

I love catalogues. I really enjoy that part of checking the mail – flipping through a new Garnet Hill or BlueStocking offering, ripping out pages for further consideration. But I'm not sure the people who send me catalogues know that, because I actually tend to do my ordering online (and I never bother to fill in that catalogue number box when I'm doing so). I often fear that determining where one's clients get their information falls afoul of the same convoluted process. For instance, I asked a recent client where he got my name, and his immediate response was, "Oh, your website." But after we talked for a while it became clear that he had originally gotten my name from a colleague in publishing; he'd then looked me up on ASI's Indexer Locator, and gone to my website from there. My guess is that many client paths to indexers take the same multi-stepped form. Just like the catalogues in my shopping process, the Locator is a crucial step in my clients finding me. Locator statistics bear this out. I've recently – with the help of Locator guru Janyne Ste Marie, Webmaster Carolyn Weaver, and ASI HQ honcho Ruth Gleason – been trying to get a handle on how often Locator entries are accessed, and, using a number of statistical programs, we've reliably discovered that on average the Locator domain is accessed 1,666 times per month (in June 2009 there were in fact 1,882 hits on the Locator domain). Not all those hits involve everyone's listing, of course, and some of them do not involve clients (a colleague may be looking for someone's address, or comparing listings, for instance). But that's still got to be considered a significant number of people checking out the Locator. Next time you think about whether your listing is worth the investment, remember that number – and the roundabout ways that lead clients to your door. Janyne Ste Marie will be crunching the numbers further and presenting a more precise analysis of Locator access in a future issue of Key Words.


Writing About Indexing, the Perils of: In last month's president's letter I rather thoughtlessly mentioned the infamous Money Magazine article — thoughtless because, frankly, I've never read it, it being before my time, and having been unable to find it online, and having been unsuccessful in tracking down the name of the indexer who authored the article (or who provided the information on indexing to the article's author). Well, Dawney Spencer promptly reamed me a new one, and quite right, too. She was able to tell me that the indexer in question is Matthew Spence. Matthew is, or was, based in California and has, or had, an active indexing business specializing in technical materials. Unfortunately a prolonged web search has not revealed any up to date information about his current business or contact information, although he is quoted on another indexer's webpage. He is not a current member of ASI, but he did write a frequently quoted article for ASI's own Marketing Your Indexing Services (ed. Anne Leach, 1998). While some might think its projections for indexing success a trifle rosy, its essential marketing plan is still extremely sound, although I suspect he would now have a good deal to add about websites and other electronic fora. Dawney says it is by far the best advice she's ever had about starting up a business. As for the article itself, with his name, I did manage to find the introductory portion of it on the Money Magazine archive; here's what it says about indexing:

— BOOK INDEXER. In the first months of becoming an indexer, Matthew Spence, 44, of Middletown, Calif. couldn't stop categorizing: rooms of furniture, people, canned goods in the supermarket. Now, four years later, he's learned to turn off his mind after work. Still, to be a good indexer, he says, you must be meticulous. The nation's more than 1,000 indexers scan nonfiction manuscripts for key words and concepts, then input those into special software that sorts and arranges the information. You'll need to take an indexing course (see the following page) and spend $3,000 for a 486 PC, indexing software, a fax modem and a printer. Spence initially found his publishing clients through relentless cold calling and now averages $50,000 a year. His tip: Specialize in order to get steady work at premium rates.

Clearly, there was originally a good bit more to the article, but what it says here doesn't make the outrageous claims (such as, within a year of starting your business you can make $50,000 per annum) often attributed to it. Mea Culpa to Matthew Spence. If anyone out there knows him, I'd be happy to hear from him and what he thinks of indexing now.

Organizational Outreach: As part of our new efforts at organizational outreach, Caryl Wenzel and Mary Wendt attended the American Library Association (ALA) conference exhibits in July, distributing ASI brochures and discussing indexing with vendors there. June Sawyer also attended BookExpo America this May as a representative of ASI. BookExpo is a premiere event for publishers and authors, our main clients. Leoni McVey, our chair of organizational outreach, will be presenting a report about both the ALA and BookExpo experiences in a future issue of Key Words. By ensuring an ASI presence at such events we hope to raise the profile of indexing in ours and related industries, and encourage other ASI members to attend relevant conferences and take advantage of exhibit opportunities.

Exploring an Alliance with STC: As well as making overtures to organizations in which our clients are members, we are also keen to establish relationships with associated professional societies. One such group is The Society for Technical Communications (STC). Many ASI members are also members of STC, and many STC members are interested in learning about indexing; some of you may remember that not too long ago there was a flourishing joint ASI/STC SIG with a great newsletter, which folded due to leadership issues (as I have been given to understand it). Moreover, STC members are trending away from employment status and towards freelancing, which gives us more of a common professional life. To that end, Richard Shrout, our Treasurer and an STC member, and myself have been corresponding with an STC past officer and meeting with STC's professional staff to explore possible synergies between the two organizations. We hope this will lead to any number of added benefits for ASI members. I'll be keeping you posted.

ANZSI conference: John Simkin, president of the Australian and New Zealand Society of Indexers (ANZSI), writes: "I invite the members of the American Society for Indexing to attend our conference to be held in Sydney from 15-17 October this year. The conference is entitled 'The Practice of Indexing' and features a number of 'how to' presentations designed for experienced indexers as well as newcomers to indexing. There will be indexing clinics and roundtable discussions to complement the formal presentations. There will also be social events including a dinner at which awards will be presented. The program includes a session during which international representatives will give reports on the work of their societies. The blend of formal, informal and social events will create a range of opportunities to strengthen professional ties and to learn from each others' experience. Full details of the conference can be found on the ANZSI website." If you've never been down under, here's a good opportunity to go! Our Australian and New Zealand cousins in indexing are lots of fun, very lively, and extremely innovative when it comes to moving indexing as a skill into new formats and platforms; it's no coincidence that the most recent Web indexing award was presented for the index to their website. I urge you to consider attending.

Survey of Publisher Satisfaction? Recently an indexer on the Scholarly SIG listserve raised the issue of payscale problems with book packagers. The discussion pretty quickly morphed into a consideration of the effect of low pay rates on index quality. I wondered aloud about editorial satisfaction with the indexes they were getting, surely worth considering even if they have little control over the indexing process. Then I began to wonder, privately this time, about just how satisfied publishers are generally with the indexes they get. Because we really don't know, do we? For most of us, no news is good news, and if we get a repeat job we figure we've been a success. But maybe it's time for us to construct a survey that will give us a better idea of how publishers think about us (if they do at all). Interested? Got some potential questions you'd like to know the answer to? Let me know what you think.

Finally, I am very sorry to announce the death of Dorothy Thomas. Dorothy was one of ASI's founding members, multiple times past president, an early Hines Award winner, a lively presence in the New York City chapter, and well-known for the rubrics she composed for the Wilson Award and for the interviews of indexers she conducted at several conferences in the 1990s. I am in the process of collecting information for an obituary for Dorothy, to be published in Key Words and on our Website. Please send any reminiscences you have of her directly to me at president@asindexing.org.

Kate Mertes President, ASI