POD Book Indexing

POD means Print On Demand.  POD companies provide layout and printing services for authors who want to self-publish. After you type up your final book pages, your POD printer will layout those pages according to whichever of their software templates you choose. Their software will enable you to design a basic cover for your book too. Besides layout, POD publishers print and bind your book pages.

The convenience of POD publishing is that you can choose not to handle print copies yourself when you sell them. However, may authors ask their POD printer for multiple copies to take with them when they are speaking at an event and plan to sell those copies.

POD publishing seems easy in comparison to producing and distributing a book on your own, but there are some limitations to POD publishing that you should be aware  of before you decide if POD is right for you.

POD company limitations

A typical publisher provides about twenty five important services to their authors. POD printing companies offer only a handful of these publishing services. services a traditional Here is a Checklist of the major authors’ services offered by traditional book publishers. As you can see, much of what the POD company doesn’t do, you, the author will need to pick up on doing.

In particular, POD companies do not offer indexing services. They may refer you to an freelance indexer, but neither the indexer nor the POD company will be likely to format your index for you. As a result, you will need to provide your index in what was traditionally called “camera ready” copy. In other words, it must be formatted exactly the way you want it to look in your book.

You should have your editor or designer design your index before taking it to the POD company. However, many designers and editors coming in to serve the exploding market for self-publishing authors do not have experience with formatting indexes. And, even if they have experience with one type of index layout, they may not be familiar with all of them. This is why it is a really good idea to have the indexer you hire take a look at your index before it goes to your POD company and even after the index goes into your book.

The importance of index formatting

All of the “rules” of indexing are there to facilitate the reader’s ability to find things in your book. The way entries are alphabetized can make a difference in the readability of your index. The indentation of lines in an index is utterly crucial to understanding the information being provided by the index. Altering line-spacing in an index can make index  entries completely unreadable.

Omission of “running heads,” i.e., headings at the top of a page that tell you what the main heading is when a column of subheadings is broken up and some flow onto the next page, can leave readers lost. When subheadings continue from the bottom of a page to another or even from the bottom of a column to the adjacent column on a page, the index should have a running head at the top, for example: Ice cream treats continued

In addition, the font used in an index can be smaller than that in the main text or even different from it. Even though an index doesn’t need to be “right-justified” like the text is, spacing between its lines and columns is very important in terms of scanning an index and finding the thing the reader (or prospective buyer!) wants quickly.

If you are hoping to sell your POD book to a library, and it is a nonfiction book, know that the professional formatting of your index can play a hugely important role. Librarians have high standards for books. That include book indexes. Your POD book will “begin the race” to sell it with a handicap that comes simply from being a POD book rather than a published book. Don’t give it two strikes against it by giving it a poor index!

To learn more about selling your POD book to libraries, please see my page, The Best Way to Market Using Your Index.

Where can you find the right indexer for your book?

Begin by assuming your POD editor will know little or nothing about the conventions of indexing a book. That means it is most important to find an indexer who has some training in how to index. The US Department of Agriculture, through its Graduate School USA program offers the oldest existing courses for training indexers in the US.

Canada and the US both have universities that offer a basic index workshops, often through University extension programs. Some colleges offer courses on special kinds of indexing such as computer book indexing, scholarly book indexing, or cookbook indexing. The American Society for Indexing offers a course on indexing as does the Society of Indexers in Great Britain.

Contrary to what seems logical, a library degree does not mean the holder has any experience with creating book indexes. Some library schools may offer a course on indexing, but most do not. Library book cataloging is an entirely different profession than back-of-the-book indexing. Other than the rules for formatting names of persons, the two systems of providing access to what is inside a book have very little in common.

Membership in an indexing society is a sign that the indexer you hire is keeping up with new developments in their profession. There are approximately ten indexing societies in the world. You can find out information about them at the Society of Indexer’s web site.

The three largest English-language indexing societies have databases where you can search for an indexer to hire. These databases can sort by subject matter of your book, language, genre, and other parameters. Here are their links:

1. The American Society for Indexing Indexer Locator

2. The Indexing Society of Canada/Société canadienne d’indexation The Register

3. British Society of Indexers “Indexers Available” online directory

For what to do when you contact an indexer, please see Wordmaps Indexer FAQS.