Negative reviews and indexes

You have to be thick-skinned if you’re going to stick your neck out, which is what you’re doing any time you write a book. Bad reviews are annoying and hurtful, but they come with the territory. And sometimes you can learn from them. It’s embarrassing when it happens, but I’m grateful when reviewers point out factual errors. If the book goes back to press I can have them fixed; if the opportunity never arises, I can still take some comfort in knowing that the record has been corrected in a public forum. Truth is important to me.

CULTS, CONSPIRACIES, AND SECRET SOCIETIES has clearly pissed off a lot of people, as I would have expected it to. Fair’s fair–if I can call you a nut, then you can call me arrogant, close-minded, shallow, misinformed, intellectually dishonest, opportunistic, sleazy, smug or whatever. But what kills me is the prosecutorial zeal with which some reviewers have pointed to the book’s lack of an index, as if its non-existence were prima facie evidence of my many failings as an author–laziness, lack of rigor, see above. Clearly, they imply, I have something to hide. If I didn’t, I would have provided an index, which would have made it easier to find. It isn’t just malicious reviewers, either. Arnold Zwicky, a linguist, devoted a whole blog post to his annoyance with my “fascinating, though dismaying” book’s lack of apparatus.

The plain fact is that the whole time I was writing CULTS, CONSPIRACIES, AND SECRET SOCIETIES, I assumed that it was going to be indexed. My original introduction contained a paragraph about “how to use this book” which pointed readers to the index as well as to the bold-faced cross references. Much to my dismay, my publisher made a last minute decision to forgo it. There’s no conspiracy here, honest–just a parsimonious publisher in an economically challenging season. But if I ever write another book and the same thing happens, I will absolutely put my foot down.

5 thoughts on “Negative reviews and indexes

  1. I looked for an index, and was disappointed not to find one. But I figured it was a publishing decision and was not part of a conspiracy.

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