Do I Really Need an Index?

by Nancy Humphreys on January 21, 2011

You know, in my two decades of indexing, no one has ever called me and asked this question. But I know they’ve thought about it because I’ve seen so many new books without an index. In particular, authors writing about wealth-building and self-publishing seem to think they don’t need an index.

The worst offender is, of course, Robert Kiyosaki with his Rich Dad Poor Dad series.

A couple years ago I gave a talk in Portland, Oregon at the national conference of the American Society for Indexing. My title was, “Do You Know What You’re Worth?” My topic was the business of indexing.

This morning I recalled sitting at Barnes & Nobel page-flipping through every Kiyosaki book that I didn’t have at home. I was trying to find the explanation I’d read in one of Robert’s books of the difference between “self-employment” and “owning a business”.

I knew what the difference was, vaguely. But I wanted a quote I could put on a slide. It took ages to finally find that quote.

I originally thought Kiyosaki omits indexes for his books because he doesn’t want buyers to see how much he repeats himself within and among his books. But now I see he’s not unique. All the “get rich easily” guys do it. They leave out indexes in their books.

What those guys don’t, or won’t, get is that many readers want to go back to books they’ve read and find information they know is in that book. That’s an example of what we librarians call a “known-item search.”

Bad indexes, and no indexes at all, both transfer the work of finding something in a book from the seller to the buyer. In my world (of self-employment and business-owning) that time spent means money lost.

This week I read another entrepreneurial book without an index, Dan Miller’s No More Mondays: Fire Yourself – And Other Revolutionary Ways to Recover Your True Calling at Work. I read it because it was free. Someone gave it to me. And this time I marked up post-its and attached them to pages I knew I’d want to go back to.

One of my post-its refers to a section in the book called “Self-employed or business owner?”  Dan Miller explains the difference so much more succinctly than Kiyosaki:

“An Eaglepreneur [Dan’s term for a self-employed individual] is someone who just wants to work on his or her own. That is actually the model most appealing to me. But having a business implies that there are systems in place that would create income even if you are not there”.

Dan continues, “The goal is not to have to work 80 hours a week to create reasonable income–rather, the goal is to develop systems to reduce the time required while the income potential increases anyway”.  (hardcover, expanded edition, 2008,  pp 174-175)

Like Kiyosaki, Dan Miller purportedly aims to help working people reach a higher income (and spiritual) potential. Unfortunately for these guys, most self-employed people, or Eaglepreneurs, want to create quality products and services. They expect those who would help them to do the same.

Robert Kiyosaki, Dan Miller, and Dan Poynter, the self-publishing guru who creates his own “indexes,” all have books that offer great ideas. But the unspoken message in each of their books is that one can only make money by passing on one’s costs to other people.

So now here’s what I think. These guys can afford indexes. But they don’t care enough about their customers to include indexes in their books. That’s just plain cheap — and it’s stupid!

So here’s my answer to  “When Can I Omit an Index for My Book?”

ONLY WHEN NO ONE WILL EVER WANT TO GO BACK AND FIND SOMETHING IN IT

If you want your book bought by the most people possible, put a quality index in it!

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