Costs of A Book Index: Cross-Referencing

by Nancy Humphreys on February 1, 2012

If you take the lowest bid you get for an index you may be missing out on term consistency in your index. Why is this the case? And why is it important?

Expertise of the indexer

Taking the lowest bid may mean you don’t get the most consistent index. As with other professionals, not all indexers have the same expertise. I discussed the topic of choosing an indexer in my last post, “Term Consistency and Book Indexing“.

Although some indexers choose to charge the same average rate for all books, most experienced indexers ask to see pages from the book first before they give you an estimate. That’s because there are a wide variety of factors that can affect the price for an index. For a list of those factors, see my page at WordmapsIndexing about Cost Factors For Indexes. Consider these cost factors as they may apply to your book.

Address any cost factor that applies to your book with the indexer you are thinking about hiring to do your index. For example, if your book is on a topic with special terminology, you’ll want an indexer who totally understands that terminology. While a general undergraduate degree may be fine for some book, you may need someone with a major in your subject, work experience, or even a Master’s degree in your subject. It all depends.

Expect to pay a bit more for special expertise from an indexer if your index needs it. Now on to why term consistency is important. This week let’s look at the first of three costs for indexing that involve term consistency:  cross-references.

Cross-referencing of headings in an index

Indexes without any See or See also cross-references are usually inferior indexes. Here is why.

Readers don’t always use the same word to find the same concept. You can’t index a book about hell without using synonyms for the beings associate with the Christian idea of hell: Demon, Daimon, Devil, and Satan. Nor can you index a  book about writing fantasy stories without synonyms for the beings found there: Aliens, Beasts, Creatures, and Monsters. the indexer must create cross-references among these synonyms.

How does an indexer go about putting See cross-references in an index?

To avoid making the reader look in four different places in the index for information about the same topic, most indexers will choose one term from either of the two batches of synonyms listed above. The indexer will use  one term and make See cross-references to it from the other three or four terms in the index, e.g., Daimon, See Devil; Demon, See Devil; and Satan, See Devil. The term the indexer picks may be the one most-used by you, the author in the text. Or the indexer might pick the term they think most readers will use to find that subject.

Now, if there are just two terms that are synonymous, the indexer might want to use both terms in the index, and make a See also cross-reference from each one to the other, e.g., Satan See also Devil along with Devil, See also Satan. It all depends on the book and the indexer.

However, if the way two or more similarly-defined words are used in your book is not quite synonymous, then each word will need to be its own main heading and the indexer will need to create See also cross-references pointing to the other similar word(s).

The important thing to understand here is that the indexer must make the reader aware when you’ve used synonyms or near-synonyms in your book when discussing a topic. Readers who look in the index will find the discussion(s) of that topic even though they started their search by looking under different words in the index. In other words, the bee can take more than one path to the honey.

How does an indexer go about using See also cross-references in an index?

A book about fantasy writing can’t be indexed fully without making See also references to more specific instances of the main topics in the book. For example let’s say Beasts are a main topic of your book. If you frequently talk about dragons, a specific kind of beast, and/or mention lots of different kinds of dragons, these can be listed separately under a new main heading, “Dragon,” in the index.

If dragons aren’t listed under the main heading, “Beasts,” the indexer sure as heck must include a See also cross reference like this one: “Beasts. See also Dragons”. Otherwise the reader who looks under “Beasts” may never realize information about dragons can also be found in your book.

Now why is this important? I’ve done research at a college library that indicated students who look in one place and find only partial information on a topic stop right there. They do not look further for the information that is missing. They assume it just isn’t in the library catalog, or in this case, in your book.

The immense importance of cross-references in indexes

Books that have indexes that omit cross-references will cause the reader to miss much of the information that you, the author, have devoted your time to providing the reader with. Nor will readers be able to go back and find something they recall reading about in your book.

For a prime example of the frustration this can cause a reader,  read any of Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad book series and then go back and try to find something you read in it. Famous as he is, Kiyosaki might have far more sales of his book, especially among college students,  if he had simply provided an index his books. But he doesn’t. Kiyosaki’s antagonism toward education, i.e., his “Poor Dad,” is understandable, but not forgivable when you are the reader of one of his books.

Even books with very specific topics or genres need cross references. For example in a cookbook, some people will use the term “butter lettuce”. Others will use the term “Boston lettuce”. What if one reader looks under “cakes” and another looks under “desserts”? Cookbooks almost always must have See and See also cross-references.

Even an introductory textbook should have a real index. I’ve seen introductory math books and even an advanced text about physics where the index included only the definitions of terms. An index is not a dictionary! In index is not a glossary! One of the main purposes of an index is to gather together all of the different aspects of a topic in one place.

Badly-indexed textbooks where only the definitions of terms are indexed appear to assume that students will merely memorize those definitions. Surely most teachers would rather their students understand the concepts being taught. This is why an indexer should index examples and discussions that may further explain a concept. An index should also capture any comparisons of one concept with another in your book!

Cross-references are an important part of terminology control in your book. The amount of cross-referencing needed for your book is a significant consideration for the indexer when determining the cost of doing an index for a book.

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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

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