Why Indexers Don’t Need a Word List from an Author

by Nancy Humphreys on September 6, 2010

I have a tendency to undervalue my own abilities. So, it’s a pleasure when I understand something new about my skills. I had such an epiphany this week.

Like other indexers, I’ve grumbled for years about receiving word lists from authors who commission my services to index their books. Word lists from book authors are lists of words and phrases the author believes should be included in the index.

I’ve heard many reasons for our complaints:

Word lists:

  • Feel like micromanagement. (“Don’t they know I know how to index?”)
  • Slow us down. (This costs us time, i.e., money!)
  • Usually are a waste of time. We don’t need them.
  • Tend to be specific terms in a book rather than the broader subjects of the book

I confess, many of us who index, throw out these lists and never even look at them.

This week I finished my new e-book, Marketing Your Book to Libraries: An Insider’s Guide for Authors. In general, I believe authors should not index their own books. But I wanted to get my e-book out quickly. That meant doing the first index for it myself.

I felt my book needed an index, but I just didn’t feel like reading it one more time to make one! So, one morning I got up early. Using TextEdit on my Mac, I began typing out a word list based on my recall of my own book.

That’s when the light finally dawned. When I was done typing, I looked at the page in amazement. I didn’t have a word list!  I had an actual index. It was an index complete with subheadings and cross references.  The only things lacking were alphabetical order and page numbers!

That’s when I realized what’s wrong with all but a couple of the word lists my clients have sent me over the years. I could finally see and appreciate the difference. It has nothing to do with the words in the word list. It’s that non-indexers do not know how to pick out the most important main points of a book.

The rules of alphabetizing and wording and laying out an index are tedious to learn, but they are easy when compared to learning to recognize and express the key subjects of a book. Knowing what to index is the hardest part of indexing. Subject selection is the very basis for the “art” of indexing.

Indexing isn’t just about spotting subjects though. It’s about providing readers with meaningful ways to navigate through the contents of your book. So, give yourself and your book’s readers the gift of a true index. Hire a professional! (And don’t send them a word list unless they ask you for one!)

To locate a professional indexer in the US, go to http://www.asindexing.org and look for the “Indexer Locator.” If you are in Canada, use “The Register” at http://www.indexers.ca/

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For information about my forthcoming e-book, Marketing Your Book to Libraries: An insider’s Guide for Authors by Nancy K. Humphreys, and to qualify for a prepublication discount, sign up here!

For more information about book publishing see who I follow on Twitter!  www.twitter.com/Wordmaps

Marketing Your Book to Libraries Marketing Your Books to Libraries: An Insider's Guide for Authors by former librarian Nancy K. Humphreys includes: 
  • How to tell what kind of library to target
  • Types of librarians and books they order
  • Strategies to get past the "gatekeepers" who influence librarians
  • Right ways to approach librarians most likely to order your book

Learn more »

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