I’ve just finished the index for my book about the Greek philosopher Plotinus: “Return to the One—Plotinus’s Guide to God-Realization.” There are various ways to prepare an index. The approach I used must be the hardest on the back and the knees, but fortunately I don’t have any back/knee problems—until now, at least. I scattered 18 pages with index entries in a semi-circle around me on the floor. Then I leaned over and jotted down the page number(s) that had entries for various subjects, working from the galleys that the book designer had sent me.
It took me three days, much stretching to get the kinks out, and many cups of coffee to get the cobwebs out. The next time you casually consult an index, murmur a little “thank you” to the indexer, one of those unsung heroes who do boring jobs that make life easier for other people, but who nobody ever thinks about.
Given the rather noxious authorial task I had to endure today, this wasn’t the ideal moment for a friend to send me a link to a Salon article called “The Confessions of a Semi-Successful Author.” Anonymously written by one Jane Austen Doe (for obvious reasons), the piece starts out on just the note I wanted to hear, what with my back so sore and my knees so achy: “I’ve published several books, won adoring reviews, and even sold a few copies. But I’ve made almost no money and had my heart broken. Here’s everything you don’t want to know about how publishing really works.”
Well, the article confirmed for me the wisdom of my setting up a publishing company, Adrasteia Publishing, with which I am co-publishing “Return to the One” with Unlimited Publishing. Sure, it’s great if a writer can find a big-time publisher willing to pay him or her big-time advances/royalties, and devote big-time resources to big-time promotion/publicity efforts. But most writers, like Jane Doe, are medium-time (or midlist) at best, and often farther down the publishing food chain than that.
My first book sold 10,000 copies. My second book, admittedly published non-commercially in India and sold dirt-cheap, has sold at least 25,000 copies, maybe more. So if I stretch things a bit, this sort of makes me midlist, at least in my own mind (where it counts). But I had a frustrating experience trying to find a publisher for “Return to the One,” just as Jane Doe did for her various books—and she is much better known and better reviewed than I am.
So, in addition to thanking indexers, the next time you read a midlist book (written, that is, by a good but little-known writer) thank the author—who probably is making much less than minimum wage for all the months and years he or she put into that labor of love (I am referring, of course, to the minimum wage in China, not the United States).