Sunday, October 11, 2009

Great Careers for Scanners

On Oct 11, 2009

Dear Barbara -

I am definitely a scanner - though not an easily categorized one (go figure). Who's to say? A writing scanner or a scanning writer? G.

Hi, G.
I don't know if most writers are Scanners or not, but I do know that if you love to write you can have a great Scanner career. Writing is one of those 'umbrella' skills, like being a talk show host or a literary agent, that allows you to cover almost any interest that takes your fancy.

Let me see what other careers are like that...looking on my bulletin board (everything, I mean everything is there. go see for yourself:

Oh yes, of course: Indexer!
(and if that doesn't sound exciting to you, read this post from someone who was given this suggestion by my favorite indexer anywhere, DoMiStauber. Facing the Text: Content and Structure in Book Indexing -- and no, I am not an affiliate :-) DoMi doesn't even know I'm doing this.)

Dear Domi!!!
I got so excited when I read this post! This is something I think I could do and love. [Reading everything I can find] but am very intrigued. I thought it was interesting that I had trouble finding entries in the index for becoming an indexer.

So my question for you is this - how daunting is the prospect for becoming an indexer? I can barely contain my enthusiasm for the prospect, and am really really hoping that this isn't just another of my magpie attractions.
Here's where the discussion began:

Fionna wrote:Hello!

I just attended Barbara Sher book signing/talk this week (IT WAS GREAT! As is the book.) She mention a job - book indexer. I was extremely interested in this career. Anyone know a book indexer? I would love to ask a few questions?

A) What is the day like?
B) What makes a person successful as an indexer
C) Do you work at home or at an office
D) How is it done
E) How did you get the job
F) Salary ranges
G) What is the most interesting book you indexed

Thanks for any and all help!!

And Do Mi originallly answered:

Hi! This is Do Mi, the indexer someone mentioned. I'll try to answer your questions and give you some resources for further info.

What the day is like: I work at home, so every day is different (although some indexers have more regular schedules than I ever manage). My jobs come to me from regular clients (publishers, book packagers, and occasionally directly from authors) via Fed Ex or the Internet. I spend about four hours a day working at my computer: reading the book (and yes, you do have to read the book in detail), thinking about what a reader might look up on each page, and organizing that information using my wonderful indexing software, Macrex, which doesn't do the thinking for me but does do everything else. Depending on the kind of book I'm indexing, I do an hour or more before needing a break. It can be intense, creative thinking work, and you're always on a tight deadline, because the index is the very last part of the publishing process.

What makes a successful indexer?

You need to be able to read fast and absorb ideas easily. You need writing skills--indexing is a kind of writing, in that you often need to choose a word or phrase to express a concept. It's helpful to be a scanner (see Barbara's new book!) since you're dealing with a different subject every couple of weeks. You need to have what I have found to be a fairly rare kind of mind: one that can pay close attention to details (like whether a letter is lower- or upper-case, or whether you've indexed every single one of a pageful of names), but also can deal with broad concepts and their relationships. And you need to enjoy the process--some people just don't! You also have to be able to deal with absolute deadlines.

To investigate further:

--read Indexing Books by Nancy Mulvany. It's the standard text in the field.
--then read Facing the Text: Content and Structure in Book Indexing by me!
--sign up for Index-L, the listserv where lots of indexers talk to each other. There's a link to it on the American Society of Indexers website:
--then find a textbook in a field you're familiar with, and take a crack at indexing it! You won't know what you're doing, and you'll be totally confused. The goal is to find out whether you're confused and frustrated and want to throw the book out the window, or whether you're confused, intrigued and thrilled. If it's the second, you might want to look into indexing education.
--The best way to learn indexing these days, in my opinion, is the University of California Berkeley distance learning course. There should be a link to it from the ASI site; if there isn't, email me and I'll find the website (I'm not on my own computer right now).
--You do need to know that this isn't a fast moneymaker. It will take you about a year to learn to index and find enough clients to make a living; it can take even longer to have enough jobs that you're comfortable, turning away work, and taking vacations when you want instead of when they're forced on you!
--You won't get rich, but you can make a decent living.

I hope that's helpful!

Do Mi Stauber
Facing the Text: Content and Structure in Book Indexing


  1. Yes, indeed, G, Barbara knows whereof she speaks about Scanning writers and writing Scanners.

    I enjoyed reading your note above and her reply. I have never done any indexing, mind you, but the writing "umbralla" has taken me from doing ad copy for car dealers (just how many ways can you say "best buy, honest deals?" to helping a foreign grad student with a thesis, from human interest stuff for newspapers to labor-of-love animal welfare publications.

    Wishing you well with your endeavors. (And I presume you saw our dear Barbara helping geniuses in Germany at

  2. Many thanks for that note of encouragement, Eileen. Writing sometimes makes me crazy - kind of like trying to pull a hat over your toe - but it tends to make room for me, which means it's a generous soul. As for seeing the Germany video: Indeed. My child self is delighting in the "genius" recognition.

  3. Thanks for suggesting a few options.But aren't these a waste of intelect for those of us with high IQ/abilities? I am searching for a satisfying career. I've trained in Architectural design, worked this from home and specialised in eco homes. I'm also an artist. I've been a photographer. I've been writing articles for magazines for many years (with the help of spell check) but none of this stimulates me enough to last or drive me onward in that feild. It feels like i'm wasting my brain. Please do you have any other suggestions?

  4. Since we're on the subject of writing as an umbrella career for Scanners, and you write articles, have you considered writing a book and becoming a public speaker -- in other words, doing what I do? If so, check out and listen to the podcast about WriteSpeakers, or look at the program WriteYourOwnSuccessStory (unfortunately, this year's is almost full already), or, better yet, head over to my blog to see why I do it:

    Also, you should know that Scanners seem to have the same profile as gifted adults. (That is to say, most Scanners are pretty smart.)

  5. Do Mi's explanation is so very thorough and helpful. Thanks so much!

  6. I'm a scanner and I've had two main careers and am about to head into my third. But I've had heaps of jobs along the way (paid and unpaid).

    And I've also studied at University, privately, at Community types colleges, and overseas. (I have 6 degrees in a range of fields - none of which has involved a major thesis - somehow I think I lack the staying power for that - a challenge I still need to conquer - especially as I've recently enrolled in a PhD part-time so I can keep working). Funny aside - at one stage I was studying 3 degrees part-time at once (in Town Planning, Business and Visual Arts) and working as a secretary.

    I find that jobs that allow for a broad range of activity are best for scanners - and I reckon any job would be interesting for a while until I get bored with it. Currently I'm a Director of People and Capability - basically I oversee HR (which has a huge range of aspects to it) and a few other bits of the organisation. Prior to this I was a Change Manager - helping people in organisations deal with change.

    Prior to that I was a Town (or Urban) Planner. Before that I was a project officer in our Govt sport dept. Basically you can be anything you want to be - just change what you think about the word career. My current job is the job I've been in the longest - 5 years - and now I'm getting bored - so planning my next move. I've still managed to move up the ladder because I find organisations fascinating - and one part of that is learning the rules. If you follow just enough of those then you'll get promoted (if that's what you want).

    My next move is into High School teaching. I start the course part-time in a month. It'll take me two years and will result in me earning less money but having more time to spend with my child and on my other interests. In my 40s that seems very important.

    I've always had a strong desire to be self sufficient nd so have always worked as many jobs as I need to, to pay for my lifestyle. One thing about scanners and boundless energy - you sure can cram a lot into a day if you really want to.

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