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Nancy’s FAQs for Authors and Publishers

  1. Does my book need an index?
  2. What kind of an index does my book need?
  3. What does a good book index look like?
  4. When should I begin thinking about having a book index done?
  5. If my text is going to reflow after you index it, why don’t you just use a computer and insert the index into the text?
  6. Do you proofread the index or should I?
  7. When should I call you? How long does it take to create an index?
  8. What should I say when I first call or email?
  9. Can you format an index for final printing?
  10. If you can’t do a project for me, can you recommend someone who can?


1. Does my book need an index?

You bet it does! An index enables the reader to find information they seek. Imagine an almanac that did not have an index to the facts it contains! Imagine The Joy of Cooking with no index to ingredients or recipes! Imagine a celebrity biography that did not index the main events of a person’s life or the people they associated with! Imagine a book on programming with no index to objects or methods! It does not matter how long or short your book is. Any book that has any substance requires an index.

2. What kind of an index does my book need?

Your book needs an index suited to its contents and its core message. Different kinds of books need different kinds of indexes. A cookbook, a scholarly book, a computer book, a business book, and a biography may all have indexes that are very different in content and style. Even within the same genre, indexes can differ greatly depending upon the aim of the book. In this web site and my email newsletters, I will cover some reasons for these differences, and I will help you figure out what kind of index is best for your book.

3. What does a good book index look like?

A good index enables the reader to find information they are seeking quickly. A good index should also be a "thumbnail" of the contents of the book. A thumbnail is a small version of a web site image that gets big when you click on it. Likewise, a good index reflects the contents of the book in a nutshell. Because it does this, a good index can be used as a great sales tool for the book. A good index can make readers want to buy more of your books. In a pinch, an index can even compensate for features omitted from books when it is too late to make any more changes. These are the basics—the best index will do even more for your book and its sales.

4. When should I begin thinking about having a book index done?

You should begin thinking about an index when you begin thinking about publishing your book. That is the time to consider what you want the index to do for your book and how much space you will allocate for it. But an index should not be created until the designer has set the pages in the format. It is important to make sure that text in your book does not "reflow" after the index has been made. Reflowed text is text that is moved over to the following pages. Reflowed text can result in mistaken page number references in the index. Reflowed text can also mean that references to deleted material might still appear in the index. Or the index might omit mention of material added to the final copy. If you will not be sending final typeset pages for indexing, be sure to mention that beforehand, and mark on the pages any changes that are planned for the final copy of the book!

5. If my text is going to reflow after you index it, why don’t you just use a computer and insert the index into the text?

I do. I’ve used both WordPerfect and Microsoft Word to insert the index into manuscripts. This is called "embedded indexing."

Pros: Embedded indexing can be used when a book must be published as soon as it is edited. Portions of the book are indexed as they are written. Embedding can also be used when you expect to reuse parts of a book later. It is most cost-effective to employ this technique on content that has unambiguous terminology that can be highlighted and pasted into the index without modification. Marking up terms for inclusion in an embedded index is fairly fast. However, editing an embedded index almost always takes much more time than editing a non-embedded index.

Cons: Embedded indexing is a process that requires fine hand-eye coordination and intense concentration, so it may be more expensive. Because you expect to change your text after it is indexed, you will not want the indexer to insert page ranges for topics, and most software for embedded indexing only inserts the page number where a topic begins. Also, it would also be unwise to put many "see" and "see-also" cross-references into your embedded index because the topics referred to might be deleted later on. Unlike "dedicated" indexing software, the software used for embedding indexes does not warn the indexer when "see" or "see-also" references lead to deleted topics. These limitations of Word and other embedding software programs make embedded indexes a bit less useful for your readers.

6. Do you proofread the index or should I?

Indeed I do proofread my indexes! My indexes are proofread five times during the editing process. Nevertheless, as with any kind of writing, it may take another person to catch every single mistake in the text. I recommend that publishers/authors also read the index and ask me to correct any errors they find. It’s best to ask for corrections, because what you think is an error may not be, and even experienced copyeditors may not be familiar with all of the special conventions used in indexing. This leads me to Nancy’s number one principle of indexing: Everything in an index should have a purpose. If you don’t understand the purpose of something in an index, be sure to ask about it! A good indexer ought to be able to give you a reason for everything they do.

7. When should I call you? How long does it take to create an index?

This truly depends on the book and what you want its index to do. In general, I like to have at least one week for every 200-300 pages, but it is quite possible to index faster than this. The more time you can allow for a project, the better I can reflect on the structure of the index both at the beginning and later on when I edit the final product. I discuss the return date for an index when accepting a job. I guarantee that the index will be received by that agreed-upon date, and I always meet that guarantee.

8. What should I say when I first call or email?

When I am called, publishers or authors usually identify themselves and then tell me a little bit about the subject of the book they want indexed. I usually ask publishers about the intended audience for the book, how long the book is, what date I would receive page proofs, and when I would need to provide the finished index. I ask if there are any special features in the book, and I usually ask the publisher to fax me a few typical pages from the book before I make a bid on it. After I take on an indexing project, I ask more specific questions about how the book will be marketed and what kind of index the publisher would like--see Nancy’s Style Sheet Form and Nancy’s Index Style FAQs.[these would both have links]

9. Can you format an index for final printing?

If you are interested in this service, be sure and ask. Usually I deliver an index in one column with only minimal formatting, e.g., italics. However, I can and do modify indexes as publishers wish, usually for an extra charge(s). Modifications I’ve been asked to make include:

(1) adding diacritics or other special characters,
(2) adding large letters and/or extra space at the beginning of each alphabetical section,
(3) using special fonts,
(4) turning off word-wrapping and marking up headings and subheads so they can be given different "styles" in word processing programs,
(5) applying word-processor "styles" to create multiple columns of the index,
(6) adding page numbers, headnotes, and other features to a final index, and
(7) formatting an index in .html or .pdf for posting on the Internet.

I also work in Framemaker, and I do web indexing.

10. If you can’t do a project for me, can you recommend someone who can?

I do provide referrals to indexers or other publishing professionals. I use a variety of print and online sources as well as the many contacts I’ve made through over fifteen years of freelance indexing and membership in the American Society of Indexers.

To contact me, call (415) 462-1844. If you wish, take a look at my index specifications/costs sheet first. I will be asking you questions based on this form. The form contains links explaining and illustrating all of the terms used in it.

Thanks for reading this and best wishes for your book!

Nancy

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NANCY HUMPHREYS · WORDMAPS · 415-462-1844

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