Finding the Right Indexer

Why Hire an Indexer?

(1) Hiring an indexer will cost you less money

Hiring other people to work for you is the smart thing to do. If you plan to use a IRS Form Schedule C (sole proprietor business) or IRS Form Schedule E (rents and royalties) to report the income you receive from your book, you can deduct the costs you pay others for helping you  write your book and create an index for it. You deduct these expenses on line 17 on Schedule C or line 10 on Schedule E.

Here’s the thing about the IRS. They tax everyone for the cost of work they do themselves. However, the IRS will allow you to take tax deductions for work done for others. So, if you hire an indexer, you can take a tax deduction on Schedule C or Schedule E. But if you do you your index yourself, you cannot deduct the expense (i.e., the cost of the total hours it takes) for your own labor.

(2) Hiring an indexer will save you time

Not only that! Indexers are professionals who learn from experience how to index quickly. Here’s what one of my (very intelligent) clients wrote to me after I finished his index, “All in all, I’d say you did a heckofajob.  You gave me a better index than I could possibly have made, and you did it in under the year-and-a-half it would have taken me.  Thanks again.  Your check is in the mail.”

And by the time you get to the index, you really want your book to be done! Every day your book isn’t out there being sold, it is losing sales. New books that will compete with yours are being published every minute by other authors.

(3) Hiring an indexer will let you get you sleep you’ll badly need

Some online sites for writers promise you that a book can be written in 90, 30 or even 3 days. That’s certainly true for some free PDF books intended to promote a product or service. But it’s equally not true for traditional printed books, ebooks, and audiobooks.

Most of my clients tell me it took them around five years just to write their books. When they’re done writing they realize they also need to market their book! Wouldn’t you really prefer to take a break and catch up on your sleep before you begin working to sell your book?

 Will Any Indexer Do?

Indexing is an art, not a science. Like snowflakes, no two books are the same. As a result each book’s index is unique. There’s no such thing as a “One-size-fits-all” index. Nor is there a standard way or cost for creating every index.

Although indexers follow many common rules and traditional practices, studies show that there is no such thing as inter-indexer consistency. In fact, there is no such thing as intra-indexer consistency. An indexer could index the same book in different ways at different times in their career.

In addition, each indexer has unique strengths. Each indexer has a different educational background, as well as varied work and life experiences. Indexers each have different personalities and ways of working. And as indexers, we all have a variety of philosophies about how to go about indexing books.

But not all indexes need to be deluxe indexes. For example, an introductory college textbook may simply require that the indexer pick up the primary mentions of the jargon terms the new student in that field must learn. Other books may be quite detailed and need a very skilled indexer to pick out what’s in the index.

This is why prices for creating an index can be expected to vary considerably.

The importance of index quality

In addition, there are different quality-levels of indexing. Quality of an index has a direct relationship with both the sales of a book and its usefulness to its readers.

No index in a book means the reader has to find anything they remember by leafing through the whole book. In the case of an ebook no index means the reader has to use the Search function, an equally tedious and hit-or-miss way of finding things in ebooks.

This includes indexes with no subheadings or with only single page references. An index with no subheadings and/or single page references is not really an index at all—it is a merely a list of words. A word list is barely better than no index at all.

Low quality indexes

A low-quality index is one that shifts much of the burden for finding things in the book to the reader. For example, there will be long strings of page numbers for the reader to wade through to try and find the specific piece of information they need. Many readers won’t bother to do this.

A poor-quality index might omit See cross-references that point the reader to the synonyms the indexer used for the terms the reader is trying to find in the index. And it might skip See also cross-references that suggest where else the reader might find information of interest.

Low-quality indexes tend contain trivial pieces of information and leave out important information. Often you can spot a cheap, low-quality index by its length. The average index for the print version of a book take around 5 percent of the total number of pages in the main text of that book. The range of indexes in proportion to text pages in various types of books runs from 2 to 15 percent.

For more information about index length, please see pages 70-72 of Nancy M. Mulvany’s book, Indexing Books (University of Chicago Press, 2004, 2nd Edition)

High quality indexes

A high quality index will be comprehensive, clearly worded, concise, and easy for the eye to scan in order to find something quickly. It will be efficient to use and yet at the same time elegant in appearance.

A high-quality index makes connections between passages scattered within the text of the book. It also makes distinctions between different aspects of the major topics discussed in the book, so the reader doesn’t waste time reading passages that are not what they really wanted to know about.

High-quality indexes make life easier for the reader. They provide the reader with more and better information than cheap indexes do. And they give the reader a better idea of what is in your book. Just a step below the title of a book, its index and table of contents are the most important parts of the book when it comes to selling copies of your book to customers.

Ebook index quality

What I’ve said about high-quality indexes is doubly true for ebook indexes. You cannot pick on up and flip through pages to see what an ebook is about. All you will find in too many nonfiction ebooks is a brief sample of pages from the beginning of the book and perhaps a table of contents.

Looking in an ebook to see if a topic you are interested in is in that ebook? Too bad, you are out of luck. The ebook Search tool will return a ton of results, some trivial, a few meaningful, but the reader won’t know which few hits are what they want to find. This is why I’ve published several articles in  journals for indexers about ebook indexing. You’ll see what the Search function for ebooks is not a substitute for an index in an ebook – far from it!

The tragedy of the rarity of indexes in ebooks is that ebook indexes offer superior functionality over print book indexes.

Links created by the use of a device called an “anchor” allows the reader to go directly from one place in the index to another place in the index. It also allows the reader to jump to the approximate location of an indexed topic in the main text of an ebook. To learn more about ebook indexing, please see my new articles about indexing ebooks, coming soon.

How Can I Find an Indexer?

Here’s how to find the right indexer for you and what to do when you first contact that indexer!