Don't Be a Hermit! An Indexer's Guide to Working with Clients
Presentation by Kate Mertes at the Fall 2015 Meeting
By Roseann Biederman
The afternoon session of the Fall 2015 Heartland Chapter meeting featured a workshop with Kate Mertes, a co-author of ASI’s Working with Authors and Editors. Focusing on the entire process of client interactions—from first contact to turning in the final index—Kate outlined the different client types an indexer might encounter, and how to effectively address their varying needs.
Kate began the discussion on a light note with an explanation of the “hermit” reference in the session title. Noting indexers’ tendency to “huddle” and close themselves off from the outside world as they work, she pointed out that even a group of Franciscan monks—working as indexers on the side—still maintained regular contact with clients, despite the fact that they were a silent order. The point, she said, is that by staying in touch with clients throughout every stage of the indexing process, indexers go a long way toward establishing clients’ confidence and trust in their work.
A Client Taxonomy
It’s helpful to understand the client “type” you’re dealing with up front, according to Kate. She outlined the three most common categories of indexing clients, along with their defining characteristics:
Armed with an understanding of how various clients operate, you’ll be on solid ground when faced with working out the terms for specific projects. For the benefit of attendees, Kate outlined an indexing scenario she regularly encounters, in which an academic author/client contacted her to complete the index for his soon-to-be-released book. She provided sample documents pertaining to the assignment for participants to adapt to their own businesses.
One such document is the Intake Sheet, which Kate fills out immediately after they contact her. Since the client may not provide crucial information about the project in the initial email, and timing is critical (she schedules projects six weeks in advance), she uses the completed Intake Sheet to establish the basic parameters of a project.
At this early stage, Kate also requests a sample chapter from the client to determine the per -page rate, and to clarify any special project requirements. In the case of an academic index, for example, Kate says it is important to establish how footnotes will be handled (e.g., CMS, house style), and to be clear about how many indexes the client will receive.
When the terms of the project have been established, the indexer can send a boilerplate contract to the client if requested (Kate provided a sample for attendees), or simply rely on the email chain, which serves as a contract in a court of law. Kate advises indexers to carefully study any client-generated contracts before signing to ensure that the terms are acceptable. You should add to such contracts (as well as your own contracts and email communications) that the rights to the index will not be transferred until you receive payment. Also be sure to send a W9 form (or other form required by the client to process your invoice) to prevent payment delays later.
When the Text Comes In
Once the indexer and the client agree to the terms of the project, the indexer can get to work. More often than not, says Kate, the text will be late, and indexers should come to expect this since they cannot control the timing of the availability of final proofs. She advises immediately addressing a revised completion date when a text comes in late. Kate notes that receiving an index early is actually a bigger problem, since you may not be able to take the project if the schedule has been moved up. Regardless of when the index arrives, always check the files carefully, and email the client to confirm their receipt and reconfirm the schedule.
Working on the Index
As you work through the text, keep a running list of queries for the client. “Unless a question stops you dead in the water, save it for later,” says Kate. Above all, don’t pester the client. “As a freelancer, no one cares about your drama, so don’t contact the client unless absolutely necessary.” She adds that, when working with authors, more back-and-forth is acceptable since the book is their “baby” and they will want to be apprised of any glitches. And while you should generally avoid sending partial indexes to clients for review (since you don’t want to have do a lot of clean-up work at this stage), sometimes it is a reasonable request you should honor, if the project is a large one. Be prepared, though, for clueless questions about why the part of the book you haven’t yet gotten to has no index entries yet!
Turning in the Index
Since timing is crucial in the late stages of the book production process, clients are delighted when they receive a completed index early. With this in mind, Kate suggests building extra days into the schedule so you can deliver the finished index a few days ahead of the deadline.
After ensuring that the index conforms to any house rules and is formatted correctly, send it to the client with the following information:
Kate always sends a back-up email requesting that clients contact her if they haven’t received her earlier message. If she doesn’t receive a response within 24 hours, she follows up with another email and a phone call.
Tweaking the Index
Approximately 40 percent of indexes will require minor tweaks after you turn them in to the client, according to Kate. When submitting the finished index, you can either send a note with specific directions for making changes (such as using Track Changes so you can see what alterations they want), or offer to let the client make the changes without your further involvement. If the client changes the original guidelines after you have finished the index, you can charge additionally (by the hour or the page) for your extra work. Kate notes that this is why ongoing email communication with the client is so important, since you may need to reference earlier conversations to support your argument for charging more.
Occasionally indexers are asked to make arbitrary—or even senseless—changes to a finished index, such as removing all cross-references. In these cases, says Kate, you can refuse the client’s request and explain your rationale. “It’s important to be up front in your communications. You can tell the client, ‘Indexing is a rules-driven system and there are reasons for what I’m doing.’ Most of this process is about getting your client’s trust. They buy in to your expertise,” she says.
While most indexing clients pay on time, and some even pay early, a few will make collecting payment an exercise in futility for freelancers. Kate advises waiting one week beyond the invoice due date, then following up with an email reminder. Another reminder two weeks later may also be necessary. If payment still isn’t forthcoming, Kate suggests the following bargaining approaches, which typically resolve the issue:
Getting a Second Job from the Same Client
Since having repeat clients keeps you in business, it’s important to think of every indexing project as an opportunity to develop relationships with editors and authors—and any friends they may refer you to. “Do a good job and be on time,” says Kate. “Try to make this a positive experience for them. If they’re happy with your work, they’ll call you again.”
© 2015 by Heartland Chapter of ASI. All rights reserved.