Why Should Humans Index Books?

Computers are so much faster than people at processing information. They can list instances of terms that appear in a book in a flash, and have the capability to perform full-text searches on electronic documents. So why on earth would anyone pay a human to index a book?

Language is very complex, so indexes prepared by computer or text searches are seriously lacking when compared to those written by a professional human indexer. The rest of this article points out some of the differences you’ll see between automatic indexes or searches and human-prepared ones.

Automatic indexes can’t distinguish between homographs (words that are spelled the same way but have different meanings). An example given by the Society of Indexers is searching on the Internet for the pop stars Madonna and Prince. You’d find millions of unwanted references to religious art and royalty.

Also, text searches will not handle synonyms (words that have the same meaning) properly. For instance, a recent index we worked on used the words “bidding” and “pricing” interchangeably. An automatic search would have listings for each with only the pages where that specific word was used. We humans were able to see that these words were used in discussions about determining pricing for clients, so we listed them all under “pricing” but also made an entry for “bidding” with a “See pricing” reference so that someone looking up “bidding” could find all of the relevant information.

Computers also, unlike humans, can’t pick up concepts contained in the writing where your specific search term isn’t used. So you might look up “dog grooming” but miss a discussion called “Clipping Your Pet’s Nails.” They aren’t able to read the content of graphics, either, so you’d miss pictures that demonstrate brushing a dog’s hair but don’t have relevant captions.

Finally, the main problem with a search box or computer-generated index: they can’t tell whether a hit for a certain term gives you relevant information or just a passing mention. So they really give you concordances, lists of pages where a word appears in the text. There’s a big difference between a concordance and an index. Most of the terms we search for are not rare; they’re used very frequently. So they’d appear lots and lots of times in a concordance. To illustrate this, you might be interested in learning more about using Adobe Photoshop to edit images. So let’s say you look up “Photoshop” in a book on photography. You might find 100 places where that word was used, but many would lead you to sentences where the author says something like, “I like using Adobe Photoshop.” That’s all well and good, but is it really useful? Another example is in this article – in the third paragraph, I mention everyone’s favorite 80’s pop star, Madonna. But that paragraph isn’t really relevant to someone who wants to know more information about her, say, her first Top 40 single or her favorite brand of corset.

The point of an index is to help readers find the word they’re looking for and be taken to a useful discussion of it. So while a computer or search box can find that specific word really well, a human indexer can think from the reader’s point of view – what concept will they be searching for and what words would they use to find it? Writers put so much thought into carefully wording their books because they want to communicate the knowledge and experience they’ve worked so hard to obtain. The indexes for those books should be just as thoughtfully prepared so readers can get to that important information.

-by Danielle Easler, Indexer at BIM

photo credit: mrsdkrebs

Authors, get tips on writing your own index

Selling Non-Fiction eBooks: How to Compete

Now that it is easier than ever to create your own non-fiction ebook and sell it online, there is also more competition than ever. Even if you write a book about a niche topic like training Labradors, as opposed to a book about training dogs in general (idea found here), you still might find a good amount of competition out there. Do a search on Google and you’ll see what I mean.

So how can you compete?

One way is to tap markets that are not being pursued. Using the Labrador training book as an example, you could join forums like Just Labradors. I haven’t investigated their particular posting rules since this is just an example, but most forums and blogs allow links in participants’ signature lines. So after leaving a thoughtful post regarding how to train labradors, you would sign it with something like this:

John (or Jane) Doe, Author of “Training Labradors the Easy Way” (with a link to your Amazon page or another site where you are selling your book).

Of course the key is that your comment must be one that adds value to the site you are visiting. If you just try to advertise your book, that’s not going to work and it might even get you banned from using the site.

This method does not generate oodles of traffic, granted, but at least it is targeted traffic. Those who click on your link are practically guaranteed to be labrador-owners who are interested in training their dogs.

Print it!

Another way is to turn your ebook into a print book. Yes, I know that sounds like something you don’t want to get your hands into, but there are POD (print on demand) printers out there who only charge for each book that you print. Take a small box of those printed books and go to veterinary offices and ask if you can leave them a complimentary copy for their waiting room. Include sheets of paper with your website on it where readers can order their own copy for home.

Next, try attending a meetup like the Long Island Golden Retriever and Labrador Meetup, or a simliar group nearby you. Don’t just go to sell your book, though. That’s tacky! Instead, bring your own Lab (I expect you have one otherwise it would be strange that you wrote a book about how to train them), associate with other Labrador owners, get to know the people and the dogs. When should you bring up your book? You’ll know. Some dog-owners with rather desobedient dogs will express their frustation, at which point you could say “You know…” :-)

Now all of that might seem like a lot of work, and it is. But it also gives you more writing material for your blog. Try a post like “My Experience at the Long Island Golden Retriever and Labrador Meetup”. (Please tell me you do have a blog. If not, start one!) And it helps you to learn about other concerns and needs labrador owners have. It also expands your network of Lab-owners which could lead to book sales further down the line as you continue networking.

It’s not just about the book

Your first tendency might be to concentrate just on how many dollars of profit you make off each book. But there are other ways to create income off of your book besides the sales of the book itself. For example, if you are so into Labs that you wrote a book about how to train them, I bet you could give some classes on the topic, too. Or maybe you have the space and yard layout to board labradors while people are away. Why would a Lab-owner chose a generic dog-sitter when you have expertise handling the specific type of dog that they own? The idea is to find numerous alternative ways to create income off of your non-fiction book.

Obviously, these aren’t things that the big publishing houses are going to do. And they’re not things that most authors will do, either. So get out there! Meet people on the Web and in person who share your interests! And have fun selling your book and related services!

Photo credit: David Sifry