The Future of Book Indexes

by Nancy Humphreys on August 4, 2011

I believe the future of indexing, and of books, demands we come up with a way to index books while they are being written. That’s because the future of book publishing is digital!

It’s a total pain to go back after a book and its index are done and insert anchors into the file for the ebook version’s index. Many ebook formatters do not offer this service. And many authors of nonfiction books utterly delude themselves that a keyword search using a Find feature can somehow do what a subject index does.

Or else they are just too cheap to come up with the extra $100 it takes to format their print index as a digital index.

Yet indexes perform multiple functions for books. Some of the things indexes do for an author’s book even aid sales of the book. We, who index, others who work with authors, and authors of nonfiction books who care about getting readers and making sales, need to insist standalone-index-software provide ways to create an index while writing and final-editing a book.

The key to the future of book indexes is the development of this new kind of software.

What’s wrong with indexing software

Current indexing software is amazing in the speed and accuracy it adds to to the process of indexing. Those of us who remember 3 x 5 index cards in “shoeboxes” bless the days these software programs; Macrex, Cindex, and Sky, were born. But these programs produce files that have to be exported to other programs for index layout. This makes it time-consuming to change the index after it is laid out.

Yes, Microsoft’s Word can embed tags for index entries into the author’s text as the book is written, but the process of editing an index generated in Word is so tedious; it will cost the indexer eyesight and patience alike.

We need embedding software where changes can be made easily after the index is laid out in its final format! This is essential for creating digital indexes, and for maintaining the integrity of the index in the face of the onslaught of freelance editors, designers, and digital formatters who do not understand the principles of readability and accessibility that underlie rules for laying out an index.

Likewise, Quark and InDesign programs also allow indexing to take place right in the document, but they are merely design and layout programs. They are not information-access programs like our present indexing software. Even as design programs, InDesign and Quark have limitations. Their indexes are “static,” and they still have to be formatted for digital books.

What kind of software is needed

What we need now is a blending of our powerful indexing programs with our best book/index design programs. Oh yes, and we need to throw in XML into this mix, as this is the standard coding for digital files for ebooks that will be broken down into parts, combined, or otherwise changed, after they have been formatted.

Only the creation of an advanced, all-in-one, software like the one I proposed above, will preserve indexing and indexes for the future. Otherwise, it seems to me, indexes are going to become just too cumbersome and expensive for authors to keep on including in their digital books.

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For information about my new PDF book, Marketing Your Book to Libraries: An insider’s Guide for Authors by Nancy K. Humphreys, see Early-bird discount available until September 2011.

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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