to Contract with a Book Indexer, or "Hi, can you do an index
for me in three days?"
By Dan Connolly
A Brief Introduction
to Indexing and Indexes
It is not unusual for publishers
and editors who have not come from a scholarly background, or who
have worked mainly with fiction, to have an incomplete understanding
of what an index is, its purpose, and the means it uses to achieve
that purpose. In the simplest terms, an index is simply a key to
locating information contained in a book (for our purposes, I will
use book indexes as the main example, although many other types
of indexes exist, including periodical and online, hypertext versions).
Ideally, an index will provide references to the location of important
information, and deliberately exclude references to irrelevant
information. This distinction is an important one, and gets to
the crux of the professional indexer's role. Users of indexes look
for important and helpful information when they search for the
appearance of terms or ideas. Nothing is more aggravating than
to be sent on a wild goose chase through a book looking for a nonexistent
reference. To look in the index and be confronted with a reference
that leads to a useless passing mention is an annoyance and will
quickly lead to the user abandoning the book for another, should
it happen with any frequency. This can affect sales of the book
as well, if prospective buyers thumb through the index prior to
So that is what an index
is, in its simplest form. This definition will help us, then, to
distinguish between an index and a concordance. A concordance is
a listing of the occurrence of every word in the book (usually
this list is parsed so that one is left with more useful parts
of speech, such as nouns, verbs and adjectives). The essential
thing lacking in a concordance, of course, is the focus on important
information. A concordance actually refers its users to a vast
array of random irrelevant information. Its use as a reference
tool, consequently, is minimal and usually secondary to the target
audience of the book. For instance, a concordance can be a great
asset to an indexer, to assist in finding and analyzing the minutest
references to a term, for its possible inclusion in the index.
An indexer often uses the
search feature of a word processor to find particular words in
the text, prior to deciding if they are to be included in some
form. The intervening stage, then, between a concordance and an
index, is analysis. The context of the reference must be examined
for its relevance to the user. This aspect of index writing is
paramount, and cannot be duplicated by computers. Only a person
can read a passage and determine if there is useful information
contained in it and if that information can be extracted and referenced.
I used the term
"index writing" previously. I think this deserves some
emphasis. For a moment, let us look over the shoulder of an indexer
working diligently on a text. He is reading a passage and comes across
what he thinks might be useful and relevant information. At this
point, he might turn to his dedicated indexing software program,
and make a new "entry" in his ever-growing index. How does
he do this? He can't simply re-type the sentence (or paragraph) and
put the page number in. No, he must analyze the information that
he is referencing, and determine the exact and precise wording to
most rapidly point the user to it. He must consider the author's
specific language, the possible synonymous terms for that language,
and the perspective of the user. He must look at what topic is being
discussed, but perhaps not specifically named, in the text. He must
think of what other index entries this one relates to and create
connections to them (cross-references). He must be concise and accurate,
or the reader will be lost. This suddenly seems more daunting than
it did a little while ago. It is why indexing is also a form of writing.
It is a creative process. No two humans will produce the same index.
Each will bring his or her own perspective, knowledge, and experience
to the task. One indexer, who has done extensive research in this
area, asserts that indexes are eligible for copyright registration.
She says they are considered original works of authorship, in compliance
with Section 102 of the United States Copyright Act.
I entered into this discussion
so that you will gain a little perspective on the index-creation
process. I also mention the rights inherent in an index in order
to stress the importance of the role of indexer in the book-creation
process. You should be aware, as a publisher/editor, that you may
not be legally able to publish the index unless you have recieved
an assignment of rights or if you have explicitly contracted for
the creation of the index as a
"work-made-for-hire" [See Ivan Hoffman's discussion of
works-made-for-hire at www.ivanhoffman.com/work.html].
In brief, a "work-made-for-hire" involves two criteria:
the index must be specially ordered or commissioned, and this arrangement
must be documented in a specific, written contract. Unless both of
these conditions are met, the work is not considered a work-made-for-hire
and the indexer will retain all rights inherent.
As a publisher/editor,
you might not be aware of this issue. Perhaps you've asked for
indexes to be written for previous books without a work-made-for-hire
contract. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, this will not be
an issue. But you need to be aware of the potential for problems.
For example, what if you decide to produce an electronic version
of the book using an index to which the indexer lays claim to copyright?
What if you're having financial difficulties and pay your indexer
late? The indexer might just hold up production and distribution,
or cause some disruption, financial or otherwise. Just a point
Before you begin looking
for an indexer, and now that you know more about the process and
the product, are you certain that your book needs an index? It
would be deceitful for me to pretend that every book needs an index.
If the information in the book is ephemeral and likely never to
need to be retrieved by a reader, then you might not need an index.
If the book will not be judged quickly by enlightened browsers
who will search for an index, then you might not need an index.
If the information is arranged alphabetically as in an encyclopedia
or glossary, then you might not need an index. Otherwise, I'd suggest
an index is pretty useful.
Locating an Indexer
You know a little about
indexes now, and the process of index writing. You still have that
pressing need to get an index done for your book. How do you find
an indexer? For the moment, we'll leave off the solution of having
the author provide the index (even better, his sister-in-law!).
That just won't do. Without question, some authors can index their
books competently. But I'm convinced that the majority can't. Or
they won't want to and will shop it out to a relative, a grad student,
or just do a casual job of it. Writing an index is different from
writing a book, and the proximity with which the author views the
work inhibits creativity with the index. Authors aren't able to
step away from their roles easily and see where a novice reader
might need help (finding synonymous terms or other "lay" entries
to difficult concepts). Authors aren't trained in writing indexes.
As we saw earlier, it involves more than simply noting important
words. The beauty and art of an index lies in building a cohesive,
well-interconnected map to the text. The judicial use of cross-references
and double-posting, coupled with elegant and utilitarian entry
phrasing can make a well-written index a thing of beauty in its
own way (allowing for a liberal interpretation of Beauty).
Here's a bit of nuts-and-bolts
advice: If you're looking for an indexer in a special field, visit
the American Society of Indexers (ASI) web site at www.asindexing.org.
On it, you will find the Indexer Locator, a comprehensive, searchable
database of indexers with experience or expertise in particular
fields. You can search by type of material indexed, geographical
location, or field of expertise. It's quite comprehensive (and
free). While you're there, look around the excellent web site and
find out a bit more about the organization. ASI also has numerous
local chapters--check for one in your area and see if a member
can make a presentation to your company, to answer questions about
indexing. Finally, note that ASI also has a number of special interest
groups (SIGs) and some might fall into your field.
The Find-an-Indexer service
of Indexers Unlimited (www.indexersunlimited.org)
lists experienced indexers in fifty-seven different subject specialties.
This is a cooperative of freelance indexers with an exceptional
reputation. (Disclosure: I'm a member) Ask your colleagues who
indexes their books. Nothing beats a word-of-mouth recommendation
from someone you trust.
Do a web search. Many indexers
have web sites. This is especially useful for publishers because
a comprehensive indexer web site can offer a ton of information
about that person. You might be able to see titles of books he
has done. You might see a list of past clients or other relevant
experience. You'll certainly be able to judge how he presents himself
Find a book with a really
great index. Maybe one that's in your field and really has all
the bases covered. Look in the book for the name of the indexer
and contact him. If he's not listed (as is usually the case-why
is that?), contact the press and ask who wrote the index. Most
presses are glad to help.
When looking for an indexer,
you'll want to think about what you're really looking for. Does
your book cover a very esoteric subject? Do you feel that your
indexer must know the field? Should he possess an advanced degree
in that field? These are important questions. A professional indexer
is usually well-read and well-rounded. Liberal arts colleges churn
out many people qualified to index (there are other job prerequisites
that drive most of those candidates away, screaming). A seasoned
professional can approach most texts and do an excellent job. If
you feel you need a real expert in the field, one can be found.
You can use the Indexer Locator to find specialists or ask those
indexers whose sites turn up on a web search. Read their resumes.
Ask for their experience in the field. I, for one, stay away from
extremely scientific (physics, chemistry, etc.) and legal materials.
Regardless of your time
crunch on this project, remember that you should offer a project
to, and negotiate with, only one indexer at a time. It is not professional
to send out a broadcast to a dozen indexers and play them off each
other (knowingly or unknowingly).
Negotiating the Fee
You've found an indexer.
He has the requisite skills and experience. That's great. How much
should the index cost? Well, that depends on how much he wants
and how much you can pay. Simply put, it's a negotiation. Before
we discuss fees for indexing, let's look at the life of a freelancer
briefly so that you can see what (hypothetically) goes into fee-setting
for an independent contractor.
Well, that's a lot. Not
every indexer will have these costs, but most will. How does this
translate into a fee? Not simply or easily.
Let's look at how much
time is available in any given year to produce income. There are
365 days. Subtract 104 weekend days, 12 holidays, 10 vacation days
and 10 sick days. That leaves 229 working days if all goes well.
At 7 hours per day (don't forget that lunch hour and the fact that
most freelance work like indexing is very concentration-intensive),
that's 1,603 hours. In order to maintain a freelancing business,
fully 20% of the indexer's time will be consumed by marketing,
accounting, and other administrative duties. That leaves 1,283
hours. Okay, take 10% off for down time. He now has 1,155 hours
Now, let's say that he
wants to make $40,000 per year. That doesn't seem too greedy, does
it? He'd have to bill those 1,155 hours at $35/hr. in order to
succeed at making $40,000. Okay. How about if he wants to make
$60,000 per year ($52/hr.)? Remember that these are gross numbers.
If he makes $40,000 per year, he can give at least 40% of it to
the government (remember that he must pay both the employee and
employer shares of FICA). Okay, that leaves him with $24,000. Those
rates don't seem so exorbitant after all.
Unlike copyeditors and
proofreaders, indexers usually work for project rates. That is,
they charge by the project, not by the hour. This usually takes
the form of page rates (although there are other methods available,
such as per entry, per line, or per book). All this means is that
there is an extra level to the calculations, and there's no certainty
about any of it. A 300-pg. book at $4/pg. will yield $1200. If
that job took 34 hours, then he made $35/hr. If he wants to make
$52/hr., then he needs to complete that index in 23 hours (13 pgs/hr.)
Can he do it? Well, that depends on the book, doesn't it? And every
book is different. Sometimes, it's a crap-shoot. He'll end up on
one side or the other of that magic number with each job. These
calculations don't exist in a vacuum. The market exerts its influence.
Do you require special knowledge or experience? Does your book
require a rapid turnaround? Can you find someone else whose rates
are lower? The idea is to balance these things so that you are
getting value for your money and the indexer is getting a decent
Publishers who offer extraordinarily
low rates to indexers need to understand these dynamics. Although
getting value for your dollar is a driving force in business, is
paying a page rate that yields $10-$12/hr. any way for a talented
professional to be compensated for providing a necessary and often-rare
skill? I think not. Here are my guidelines (written in the most
general way) to page rates for different types of books. These
are only guidelines (I do books for less than $3/pg. if the content
merits it, and some books can cost a lot more than the prices listed
||$4.00 - $6.00
||$3.50 - $5.50
||$3.50 - $6.00
||$3.50 - $6.00
After the index is done,
ask the indexer for the statistics on the index if you want to
see how your book fit into this model. If you end up paying $4
per page for a trade book that produces only 3 entries per page,
that's something you need to know. You can see from this model
that the density of indexable information contained on the pages
of the book, as well as the content itself, have a big impact on
the time it takes that indexer to work. That should be your frame
of reference when discussing page rates with the indexer. It rarely
If the indexer you are
negotiating with isn't prepared to ask questions about the book
(type size, trim size, illustrations, number and type of indexes
needed, space constraints for index, and nature of text), then
you should be prepared to find one who is a bit more interested
in getting the right price for both of you. It stands to reason
that the more difficult, and more of, the text, the more you should
expect to pay. Expect to pay 50% more than the named rates if your
book is composed of two columns of text on each page, or if the
format is particularly large.
When counting pages that
need to be indexed, leave out pages that the indexer will not need
to look at, but include all pages that have text or illustrations
(no matter if it's only one line of text under a picture). These
"easy" pages balance out with the dense text pages in the
Once you have reached agreement
on the price verbally, follow this up with a contract. You'll be
better off (see discussion above on works-made-for-hire). It's
good business practice. At worst, set the terms down in a letter
of agreement. Finally, as the publisher, it is your responsibility
to provide a prompt payment to your independent contractors. Adhere
to the payment terms that the freelancer sets and that you have
mutually agreed to. Remember, even if the index is a work-made-for-hire,
it's not yours until payment is received by the indexer. Copyright
is vested in the creator of the work. You'll gain a valuable business
partner if you pay a competitive rate and do so promptly. Preferential
scheduling for prompt payers is common among freelancers.
One more thing: Expect
to pay from $.50 to $1/pg. if you need any special indexes in addition
to a general subject index (e.g., an authors-cited index, a name
index, a scripture index). While not intellectually difficult,
these are time-consuming indexes to write. Bibliographies and references
are consistently full of unresolved differences in spellings, which
must be checked by hand (eye). There are often thousands of authors
cited in a textbook or scholarly book and these require much tedious
effort on the part of the indexer to find and include. Other indexes
that can increase the page rate: scripture, title, geographic,
and first line.
Scheduling the Project
While the independence
and flexibility of the freelancer's life certainly has its benefits,
it has its drawbacks too. One of these is scheduling. There's either
too many or too few projects in the hopper at any given time and
only rarely are things just right. Here's the problem. You can
see how this happens. Freelancers are trying to fill all the holes
in the schedule and that means overlap. Then, a project comes along
that pays better than the one you've already taken for that slot,
so you accept it and work overtime. Then, a favorite client calls
with a special "last-minute" request to save them. And
on and on.
There isn't really a lot
that can be done about this. It's part and parcel of freelancing.
But it gives rise to the subject of lead time for indexing projects.
Invariably, when I'm contacted more than a month in advance of
an indexing project, it slips to a later date. If even by a few
days, this can cause quite a few problems (See schedule, overcrowded,
in the Book of Life). Neither is it a great idea to wait until
the day you have proofs in hand, ready to ship. You can usually
find an indexer, but you might not get your first choice. A good
lead time seems to be about two to three weeks. It's close enough
that everyone concerned knows there won't be any slippage. And
it allows the indexer to do some creative scheduling to meet all
Of paramount concern to
the indexer is that projects don't slip. This is little more than
wishful thinking on his part, of course, since indexing comes along
so late in the book-making process. But if you can speak with some
confidence and certainty that the project won't slip, bumping into
another project, that indexer will always look forward to your
Okay, how much time do
you need to allow the indexer with the pages? Because of the way
freelancers work, he will probably not be working on your project
the entire time he has it. He may have one or two other concurrent
projects that he is moving between (see previous discussion regarding
scheduling projects). The type of book has a lot to do with time
needed (and rates). Here are some guidelines:
||15 - 20
||5 - 7
||7 - 10
||7 - 10
Expect to pay a premium
to the indexer for requests that deviate substantially from this
outline. Indexers' rush rates vary between 25 and 50 percent more
than standard rates.
Give the Indexer a Fighting
You've picked an indexer,
negotiated the rate, and scheduled the job. It's time to discuss
exactly what the indexer needs from you to produce the best index
possible. Indexers need information from publishers in order to
write indexes. The publisher has many decisions to make in terms
of the layout and design of the index, and he needs to communicate
these parameters to the indexer clearly. Here are a few issues
to think about: alphabetization, format, subentry arrangement,
cross-reference format, levels of subentries, punctuation, capitalization,
concatenation, and scope. If these concepts are foreign to you,
I'd advise reading Chapter 17 of Chicago Manual of Style (14th.
ed). If you want to know even more about these things, try Indexing
Books by Nancy Mulvany. If some of these are familiar to you, then
by all means, read on.
The indexer needs to know
generally about the book and its intended audience. He needs to
know if the book is going to be marketed to a different audience
than its readership (i.e., college textbooks). He needs to know
who the reader is going to be, why that reader is going to be using
the book, and what experience and knowledge the reader is bringing
to the book. The indexer will use this information to get inside
the reader's head, so that he can write accurate, descriptive and
You should have a style
guide for your indexes. You don't need to create one from scratch.
There are a number available, including Chicago. If you've seen
indexes in books that you like, then you can copy that style. There
are standards and recommendations for those who really want to
get into it, but for purposes of this article, let's assume that
you are simply trying to publish a comprehensive, easy-to-use index.
It's beyond the scope of this article to recommend certain style
decisions, but you should be prepared to inform the indexer of
what your style guide is when you send the proofs to him.
To that end, develop a
written "indexing guidelines" document in which you clarify
the issues I've raised above. If you want to choose an existing
style guide for your indexes, then make sure the indexer has that
information (most indexers have a copy of Chicago, so that's usually
safe). Inform the indexer whether to index illustrations and captions,
and whether these references should be identified typographically.
Determine whether the format will be run-in or indented. Send these
guidelines with the proofs. In lieu of written guidelines, you
could send a sample index, and ask the indexer to follow that style.
The indexer can extract a lot of information from sample indexes.
You should provide the
indexer with some idea of the depth of indexing required, or an
index length to shoot for. Many publishers get these specs from
their typesetter, who might say that the index will have available
"four, two-column pages, with 48 characters per line and 40
lines per column," which would result in 320 lines at 48 characters/line.
These guidelines can help an indexer to edit the index to your specifications.
If you don't give any index length limit, but later realize that
you must cut material from the index, give the indexer a call. He'll
usually be happy to discuss this with you (giving you insight into
the structure of the index and indicating promising edit points).
He might like to rework the index to fit into your new limit. Compensation
for this work is entirely up to the individual indexer, but it's
a courtesy to ask his opinion on cuts.
The indexer might request
a copy of the book on disk. "Find" features in word-processing
software can be useful to an indexer in tracking down kernels of
information that he might initially have thought inconsequential.
The indexer might also use these electronic files to extract bibliographic
information in the compiling of an authors cited index. This can
be a time-saver, in addition to eliminating data-entry errors.
Send the copyeditor's style sheet if it is available. This can
be very useful in formatting the entries and promoting consistency.
Basically, you can't send too much information.
When you send the proofs,
make sure they are final pages. Re-doing work that has already
been done on the index, because of re-pagination, will cost the
indexer precious time and cost you precious money. Expect to pay
the indexer his normal page rate (again!) for any pages that need
to be reexamined and/or changed (or an appropriate hourly rate).
Arranging for the transfer
of information can be complex, yet it's so much more convenient
than it used to be. The most typical and efficient arrangement
is for the publisher to send the proofs to the indexer (together
with indexing guidelines, disks, the copyeditor's style sheet,
and contract) via overnight or second-day delivery. It should arrive
on the day before work is to commence at the latest. This is not
difficult nor different than in the past. The new twist is that
the indexer now returns the index via e-mail attachment as an RTF
(Rich Text Format) document. This method is extremely reliable
and efficient. The RTF method maintains the integrity of the index's
style, keeping typographic specs and indents in the appropriate
places. This isn't the sole method of transferring information,
but it is probably the most efficient. Of course, you can work
out the details with your indexer of choice.
Evaluating the Index
Once you've received the
index manuscript from the indexer, you'll want to check it for
accuracy and completeness. The well-qualified and hard-working
indexer whom you've hired has already done all of this, and more,
but it's your book and you might feel more comfortable knowing
what to look for. Here's what you should do.
Check the length
of the index.* Does it seem comprehensive, given the
particular text? One way to examine this is to ask the indexer
for the statistics (# of entries or locators per page is
a good measure). Compare the statistics with the table above.
If you don't have access to the statistics, count the number
of lines (estimate this using the usual methods). Lines/Indexable
Pages should range from 2 (light) to 10 (heavy).
Check on the accuracy
of the locators by doing a sampling (5% of the locators). This
means look in the index for a page number under a topic.
Go to that page and make sure that topic is covered there.
To some extent, you can do this in reverse as well. Look
at particular passages in the text, noticing important information.
Go to the index and see if you can find that information
referenced. Is it where you first looked? Is it in another
location? Is it not there at all? I don't advocate using
only the reverse check to assess index thoroughness.* Different
people can approach the text in different ways and this is
what you have paid the indexer to do. Each indexer writes
the entries differently. Each reader approaches the text
with their own background, knowledge, and experience. The
reverse check is more reliable when it comes to proper nouns
(names and places for example).
Check for orphan
subheadings (a single subheading under a main heading). Eliminate
these by moving the subheading up to modify the main heading
like so: "indexes, accuracy of." If the main heading
already has page references listed, then the subheading should
simply be eliminated and the page reference for it added
to the main heading.
*Caveat: Space limitations
imposed on the indexer can cause these problems. Take that into
account when assessing the index.
Creating a useful and accurate
index is a more involved process than it first appears, so collaboration
and communication are vital throughout the process. Don't leave
the indexer out of the loop. Following these suggestions will lead
to rewarding professional relationships with qualified, excellent,
dependable and grateful indexers. Who knows, you might be grateful
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