Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Dying is easy. Indexing is hard.

So early last month my publisher, McFarland, sent me the PDF containing the edited manuscript for The Aliens Are Here. My mission: check it for any errors that slipped through, and index it.

It’s a task I’ve done five times before: four previous McFarland books and my self-published Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast on the Bond films. Experience helps me do it efficiently but that doesn’t make it easy or fun.

Every actor’s name, every movie title, has to go in the index. Then I have to go through the manuscript and mark down everywhere the relevant entry appears, plus theme entries for “aliens as immigration metaphors” or “nuclear science in alien visitor films” (several films establish a scientist’s brainiac status by making him a veteran of the Manhattan Project or postwar nuclear research). It has to be done by hand because most digital shortcuts don’t work, and can’t detect the thematic stuff. Plus, McFarland’s formatting rules put The Andromeda Strain” under A and The 27th Day under T. When Word puts the entries in alphabetical order, it doesn’t follow those rules (by the way, I highly recommend the book A Place for Everything as a look at how alphabetical order became the norm for organizing things).

Then there’s the proofing. With a piece of fiction, the eyes can do a lot of the work: if a story refers to people meeting outdoors “in a groove of trees” my eye will spot that “groove” is the wrong word. When I’m double-checking names, that doesn’t fly. Sure, I might notice I’ve written “Judd Hirsh” rather than “Judd Hirsch” but I won’t spot errors in less well-known names — nothing tells me Julia Hopewell should be Julie Hopewell, for instance. So I look up every name, not in my original manuscript but in other film books or online. It was worth it — I caught quite a few errors — but it added a lot to my workload.

Worse, the schedule was tighter than it’s ever been before. Normally McFarland sends me the edited manuscript, takes my corrections, sends me the paginated galleys and then I index. This time I was correcting and indexing together, and with less than a month to get it done. And I’d already committed to a couple of paying August projects I had to get done. Suffice to say, it’s good to see that I can still push myself to put in hours of extra work when the need is there.

But now it’s done. I got it in ahead of deadline, in fact, which left me able to take Sept. 1 to 5 for a staycation. I rarely stop work for so long, so I’ve been enjoying it, big-time.

Aliens Are Here will be out this fall, possibly later this month. So wahoo! If you’re curious, here’s the topics:

I’ll give out a loud yell when the book is available for more than pre-purchase.



    1. Not really. Not getting all the spelling right is part of the problem.
      My last couple of books I did do the indexing before submitting the manuscript. That saved time later and it did help catch some errors (e.g., I have Tim Robbins and a Tom Robbins — hmm).

  1. Rob Allen

    Have you seen the book “Index, A History of the”? It came out earlier this year. I’ve heard the author on the radio but haven’t read it yet, but it sounds interesting.

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