We’re launching a series of interviews to introduce you all to our wonderfully talented group of independent indexers and taxonomists who enable us to say “yes” to the variety of project types and turnaround times our clients are looking for. Today, we’d like you to get to know a very experienced book indexer, Janet Perlman.
PI: How long have you been an associate at Potomac Indexing?
I’ve been with PI since it was formed.
PI: Tell us your indexing (or other information access system) origin story. All superheroes, including indexers, have an origin story. 😉
Straight out of college with a B.S. in chemistry and a minor in languages and literature, I went to work as an editorial assistant (eventually editorial supervisor) with New York City publishers—first with Macmillan, then with John Wiley & Sons, in New York, working on their scientific monographs and encyclopedias. For the books I was editing, young women would bring me the indexes on alphabetized, interfiled, index cards (those were the good old days). It fascinated me. Then came a time when we had to do some indexing in-house, and I got quicky in-house training by my supervisor. That’s how I learned indexing. After that, I acquired a few private clients because some of the Wiley authors I worked with asked me to index some of their other materials, and their journals. I indexed manually (no computers for that in the 1960s) on the side that way for a few years, and then we moved from New York City to Phoenix, Arizona.
After the move, I was out of the workforce for a few years raising our young family. When I went back to work in Phoenix, it was office and administrative work for about 15 years. There was no publishing industry in Phoenix to speak of, so indexing faded into the background. Gone, but not forgotten.
With older children and non-creative office jobs, I got restless and felt the need to do something more creative and intellectual, and that’s when I thought of going back to indexing. By then, in the late 1980s, indexing software and the Internet were in their infancy, and it seemed feasible to work freelance and without the drudgery of hand-writing (or typing) index cards. I investigated the software, the American Society for Indexing (ASI), and the possibility of indexing with clients who are not in my city and was very excited by the idea.
I did some jobs for the one small publisher I could find in Phoenix, all the while keeping my day job. But I was very excited about being an entrepreneur, so I started trying to grow my business.
I began by attending ASI conferences in the late 1980s and early 1990s, made some excellent contacts there, and got to know other experienced indexers who took me under their wings and mentored me. The ASI workshops were golden—full of instruction for me. I acquired a few clients and my business started to grow. I left my full-time job to concentrate on my indexing business in 1993, and as they say, the rest is history.
PI: What are your specialties and/or favorite subjects?
Anything science-related, although I’m not too fond of medical books. I am pretty much of a generalist, though. I also am bilingual and am fluent in Spanish. Almost half my work is in Spanish.
PI: Pick one of your favorite subjects and tell us why it fascinates you.
I love to work on science and technology books because they are always well-organized and have plenty of headings and subheadings, which makes indexing much easier. There isn’t much difficulty trying to figure out what a paragraph or section is “about.”
PI: What do you consider the most challenging aspect of the work?
The most challenging aspect of indexing is the scheduling part—allotting sufficient time for the indexing work, dealing with sliding (and sometimes colliding) schedules.
PI: Where do you usually work? (Please include a photo of your office setup unless it’s a secret superhero location)
I can only work in my office. Alternative locations just don’t work for me. I don’t concentrate well. Not in an easy chair. Not on the patio. Just at my desk.
PI: Talk about your process (and this can be for book indexing or other related projects, like keyword tagging, embedded indexing, etc.). Any advice for other professionals—new and experienced?
I am an indexer who marks page proof. I work on paper, so the first thing I do is print out the entire file of page proof. I give a quick read of front matter and a chapter or two, very quickly, to orient myself in the book, and then start reading and marking page proof. After a chapter or two, I input the entries into Macrex [ed.: professional indexing software]. Then I go back and read some more. This cycle continues until I’m through the book. After I’ve done data input, I usually scan the index file quickly and give it a light edit. At the end of it all, I read and do a final edit, spell check in Word, and I’m done.
PI: Cindex, SKY or Macrex (or other)? What do you like best about your choice?
I’m a Macrex user. I’ve used it for so long that I think I think in Macrex. I’m so used to it that even after trying the other indexing softwares (which I did not too long ago), I’m still most at home with Macrex. I love it because I see the index displayed on the screen WYSIWYG without doing anything to get that view. As I input entries, I see the indented index being created on the screen.
PI: If you could only recommend one book about indexing, what would it be?
For a beginner, it would be The Accidental Indexer, Nan Badgett’s book, published in 2015. For a more experienced indexer, I’d recommend Do Mi Stauber’s Facing the Text.
PI: Where’s the neatest location you’ve ever worked in?
My own office. I’m a neat-freak!
PI: Where do you live (just approximately, since this will be published on the Web)? And if you like, tell us a bit about your surroundings and folks you live with (including furry friends) if you wish.
We live in Phoenix, in a hilly section of the suburbs. We’re three in the house—me, my husband, and my adult son Josh. We don’t have any pets.
PI: Tell us about your hobbies. Are there specific ones you turn to as a break from work, or any that are a special treat in between or at the end of projects?
We do jigsaw puzzles in our house in the evening, or whenever I need a break. I am also passionate about my backyard and patio, and love to putter with my plants and sit out there. It’s peaceful and quiet and meditative.
PI: What’s the last book you read for fun?
Just finished Judgment Day, by Sheldon Siegel. It’s a legal thriller.
PI: What’s your superpower? 🙂
I type very, very quickly. I’m so glad my parents made me take typing in high school! It stands me in good stead now.
PI: Thanks so much, Janet! Looks like you have a great system for indexing efficiently and effectively. Janet can be found on the Web at Southwest Indexing.