You Do What? How To Explain What You Do to the World at Large
By Laura A. Ewald Fall 2011
We have all had this conversation: “So, what do you do?” “I’m a freelance book indexer.” “You do what?” “I index books.” “Huh?”
This last line may vary from “That sounds very interesting” to “Can’t a computer do that?” to a blank stare. So how do we sell our services, if we can’t first explain just what those services are—and how important they are to both readers and the potential value of a book? Of course, most people with whom you are having this conversation won’t be writing or publishing a book, but they may know someone who is, and if we are hoping our networking and schmoozing will produce at least an occasional potential client—and we don’t want our valuable business card to be lost in Aunt Bea’s kitchen junk drawer—we need to be prepared to sell our profession as well as our services to any audience at the drop of a hat.
There are at least three scenarios for which we need to be prepared:
The 30-second (or less) elevator blurb;
The 2-minute (if you’re lucky) speech for the Chamber of Commerce or that academician/ businessman/author (you fill in the blank) you happen to meet at some social gathering; and
The in-depth pitch to an author who never knew he needed an index but has written a book that could potentially be vastly more sell-able—i.e. usable to readers—if it includes a well-written index by yours truly.
So, where do you start? The American Society for Indexing website is a wonderful resource for indexers who need to sell their profession. My personal go-to publication is a brochure called “Authors and Indexes: Do It Yourself or Hire a Pro?” (see link below). I have liberally quoted from this publication (with credit to ASI) on both my web page and in my own business brochure. Print this brochure and memorize it! Once you have it down pat, you can tailor the information to your PR needs as they arise. Need more? ASI also has an “Information About Indexing” page that includes Frequently Asked Questions (see link below). Most of these questions are for people interested in becoming an indexer, but a few can also provide the background you need to solidify that elevator blurb or cocktail party conversation strategy you will need.
If you have a library or research background, you have the advantage of having used a lot of indexes— both the very good and the very bad. If you don’t have this in your background, visit your local library’s reference collection and start trying out some indexes. The experience should give you plenty of fuel for arguing your case for the value of a good index, not to mention a plethora of examples of critical cross-references readers need that prove, “No, a computer cannot do what I do.”