Is freelance indexing for me?

In the early 2000s, indexer Martha Osgood posted a series of popular articles in the “Novice Notes” section of her website, Here is an extract from one of her articles.

The first thing to recognize is that YOU are in charge.

Freelance income is dependent upon the number of books contracted, hours worked per week, speed and experience levels. It takes marketing (it’s a numbers game), experience (speed, accuracy), repeat business (quality work), and time (2-5 years) to build up to the good income levels .

This is honest, skilled work, not a scheme to get rich quick.

The second thing is that there is a lot more to indexing than meets the eye. Following all the rules is easy (with a lot of practice and feedback); it is the art of indexing that is hard. Don’t forget this as you read on.

And the third thing is to re-read the second thing and think about it. I had to learn, through 6-8 in depth indexes and peer reviews, how to pay attention at that level, and I STILL find in reviews the IndexPeers do for me that I can improve. The level of detail was a real surprise to me.

Now consider your own personality and your ideal work-day:

  • Does working in isolation mean solitude, or loneliness?
  • Do you like to work without much guidance?
  • Would it frustrate you that the reader (and your editor!) is eternally invisible?
  • How would you feel about the repetition (double postings and cross references)?
  • Can you tolerate the minutiae of editing your index?
  • Can you cope with the concentration and human memory requirements?
  • Will the agony of deciding on the exactly right word or phrase with the proper keyword—over and over again—wear you down, or satisfy your obsessions?
  • Can you happily balance the user-friendly aspects of the index against the deadline and space limitation an editor may place on you?
  • Do you prefer working 8 to 5, or would life be easier with mid-day naps and taking your elderly aunt to a two-hour lunch?
  • Do you love the idea of baking a cake and doing laundry while you work?
  • Do office politics drive you nuts or is it fun?
  • Can your budget tolerate an irregular income?
  • Can you take vacations when the opportunity arises, or do you prefer to plan ahead?
  • When you can’t sleep at night, do you like to be productive or do you prefer to watch TV?

Will this work drive you batty-bonkers sooner rather than later—or do you dream of putting everything in its proper slot in a big roll-top desk?

As Do Mi Stauber has said on Index-L, “Are you confused-frustrated or confused-excited? The difference matters.”

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