Winner of the Betty Moys Prize : 2005
Life before indexing?
Christopher Phipps: Bookselling and librarianship, including 18 years at the London Library, latterly as Head of Reader Services and Development Librarian.
CP: I was looking for a ‘portable’ career: one that would allow me much greater flexibility about when and, more importantly, where I work (I now spend roughly half my time in France and half in London). Indexing seemed a viable – and interesting – freelance option which built upon some of the skills and experience from my earlier career.
What was your first indexing job?
CP: A biography of Benjamin Disraeli for Simon and Schuster. Very fortunately the author was a (very trusting) friend who knew I was planning to establish myself as an indexer. It was very much learning on the job: trying to put into practice what I’d learnt on the Society’s training course while also mastering the new (to me) software. But I’m not too embarrassed looking back at that first ‘real’ index; and much of my work continues to be in historical biography.
Have you managed to establish yourself as a full-time indexer?
CP: Yes. I completed the Society’s training course at the end of 2005; I carried on working four days a week at the London Library for a couple years, indexing on the other three (no weekends off!). I had a fairly steady flow of offers of work from four or five different publishers during that time, so in April 2008 I took the plunge, resigned my day-job and have been indexing full-time since. So far there hasn’t been a single day when I haven’t had some indexing work (I have a couple of small, ongoing periodical indexing jobs which can fill in any gaps between bigger book projects).
What do you most enjoy about being an indexer?
CP: It has to be the freedom of being my own boss, choosing, to a very large degree, how, where and when I work. But I also actively enjoy the work itself: there’s genuine pleasure to be had in analysing and dissecting a text and adding value to an author’s work. There’s a real reward in watching an index grow and take shape (good indexes can be surprisingly good reads as stand-alone texts); and – once they’re over – I even get satisfaction out of successfully working to a tight deadline.
Freelancers sometimes feel isolated – how do you keep in touch with professional colleagues?
CP: Technology can definitely help here: there’s a tangible sense of a small but actively supportive community of fellow indexers to be had from subscribing to the Society’s information board/discussion group, SIdeline, even if, like me, you’re more of a ‘lurker’ than a ‘poster’. And once a year, at least, the Society’s conference (attendance heartily recommended for new and experienced indexers alike) allows you to put faces to email addresses.
What about other interests? What do you do in your ‘spare’ time and how do you relax?
CP: I’ve kept a small, voluntary hand-hold at my old workplace (I’m on the editorial board of the London Library Magazine), and I’m also now the Reviews Editor of The Indexer. But when I feel the need to escape the computer screen altogether, I try to spend as much time as I can tending fruit-trees in France, which was the point of the exercise in the first place…
What’s been your best moment as an indexer so far?
CP: I’ve been fortunate enough to have had some very generous feedback from authors and from editors, which is always very gratifying. And even more so when it leads to repeat commission.
What’s the most important piece of advice you would give to someone starting out as an indexer?
CP: Whether you’re planning to index part-time or full-time, in order to get the most out of it – and to be successful – you need to treat it as a proper, professional career.
What about the future – where do you hope to be in ten years’ time?
CP: More of the same would suit me fine.