Is there enough? I’ve often been asked this question by folks trying to get into editing or book indexing. It also applies to starting almost any business or looking for a job, of course. My first response is, “Don’t whine!” And please don’t supplicate. I can smell want-work desperation from across the conference room. It’s not pleasant. Makes me want to walk the other way. So, yes, if you act desperate and do the supplication kneel for work, it will likely walk away because of your approach. Unless the employer or prospect likes to play power games. But you don’t want corporate slavery, either. I assume.
It’s not a question of “enough.” It’s a question of finding your match. Always, always. Think about the custom guitar maker. His market is likely small (unlike the market for Coca Cola, for example), but he is in demand and makes a very good living because he provides tremendous value to those customers, and they will pay a premium for it. He doesn’t worry about general job availability statistics. He just has to stay connected to his particular “tribe,” largely through reputation, and he’ll make a great living.
But, you say, what about the newbie? That’s the whole point of the question. The new person to a career field doesn’t have connections yet, nor the expert skill set, necessarily. True. But the market, your tribe, is still there. You just need to be introduced. That’s what targeted marketing and social media are for. I only targeted ten publishers when I started my indexing business in 1995. I waited nine months back then before social media discussion groups before I got my first indexing job (because the publisher’s first choice was unavailable—after that first job, I became the first choice, not because the other indexer wasn’t available for every job, but because I was excellent!).
“Is there plenty of work out there?” I was asked the other week regarding book indexing in particular. This is a shifting career field, although the early 2000s reports of its demise and replacement by search engines have been premature. Which figures. Someday artificial intelligence may reach a level of semantic knowledge that will allow for real contextual judgments about subject significance, but the computer is not there yet.
There is plenty of indexing work out there; it’s just a question of establishing that reputation. I don’t believe in the numbers/statistics game in general with almost any occupation unless technology or something is really eliminating a way of working (e.g., buggy whips or whale-oil lamps vs. automobiles and electricity).
The thing about indexing these days is to be flexible enough to get beyond the printed book. If you’re interested in indexing, take a basic course for the mental of indexing judgment (not everyone has the right mindset), but then make sure you give yourself some self-education in the new areas (ebooks, embedded indexing, taxonomy, even information architecture) that are related to traditional indexing. That will give you more breadth to move into the future. It will pay to think outside the book covers for sure; there’s demand for linked indexes to ebooks, for example, and human-created search keywords for mobile apps that have complex subject matter.
So, I definitely see a future in indexing, although traditional print book indexing may take a smaller share of the activity. And you’ll want to market beyond traditional publishing organizations for indexing and other publishing-related services; the publishing revolution continues. You may end up working directly for writers or folks putting up websites, etc. Smaller jobs and more of them maybe, rather than larger book jobs for traditional publishers. Get your Paypal buy buttons set up and you’ll be ready to take care of credit card-paying clients as well!
Go forth, create value, and be visible!