Book Indexing FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

What is book indexing? What is a back-of-the-book index?

An index is a guide that appears at the back of primarily nonfiction books that helps direct readers to the information contained within the book. It includes main topics, concepts, ideas, and page numbers where you can find that information. Book indexing is the act of creating this map or guide to the information. Indexers have the technology and the training to efficiently create extremely useful and valuable indexes.

How do you create an index for a book?

Most indexers are highly educated in the topics that they work with and have obtained advanced-level training specifically related to indexing. They possess the technology needed to help organize and format the index, and the training, skills, experience, and expertise to create the index.

When I get a new project, I organize the page proofs, set up my software, and start reading in depth. While I’m reading, I’m putting myself into the author’s shoes, to determine what they are trying to convey, and I’m also making decisions about how the user will want to access this information every step of the way. An indexer’s job includes determining the importance of various topics, and organizing the topics in a usable guide that will increase the value of the text and provide many benefits to the reader, as well as to acquisition personnel at libraries, book stores, professional organizations, and universities who may use the index to determine if a specific book is something to consider adding to their shelves.

Can't a computer create an index?

Computers cannot create a quality index that provides value to the reader. While a computer can search the text for terms and provide page numbers, it is unable to determine context, search out ideas, or anticipate how a user may wish to access this information.

For example, perhaps a book discusses prisons for several paragraphs. A computer may pick up on the term prisons, but wouldn’t know that a reader may search under criminal justice system, jails, or detention center. A computer may also not pick up on the fact that 100 pages later, the book mentions arrests or court dates, and the computer may not know that the reader would benefit from that information as well when looking for information on prisons. In addition, the book may mention that “being at home was like being in a prison for Kevin Smith” and yes, prison is mentioned, but there is no information about prisons here! This is an example of a “passing mention.” A computer wouldn’t be able to distinguish between passing mentions and valuable information.

Indexers, including myself, are highly trained to read and organize information while considering terms, ideas, concepts, user needs, and author’s voice. Important decisions are made at nearly every step of the process that a computer just isn’t equipped to handle.

How long does it take to index a book?

The amount of time required to index a book will depend on the size of the book as well as the depth and technicality of the content. A small trade book will take much less time than a large technical professional book.

I realize that time is a factor for many authors and publishers, and indexing is one of the very last steps in the publishing process. I work efficiently, keeping this fact in mind, but without compromising on quality or usability. For the average book, I typically spend 3-4 weeks creating an index. Rush projects will be considered depending on my schedule, and may or may not be charged a rush fee.

How is an index arranged and formatted?

Typically an index is arranged based on the guidelines set forth by either the Chicago Manual of Style or a publisher’s in-house style guide. I can work from any style guide provided, and if that’s not an option, will work according to industry standards. Some clients want me to make all the decisions, while others may have very specific guidelines in place about how the index should be organized.

Considerations such as how the index is arranged and formatted will be discussed prior to beginning work on a project, as we will want to make decisions on using either a run-in format or an indented format, capitalization regarding main entries, cross-references, etc., In addition, indexes are usually sorted alphabetically, either using a word-by-word approach, or a letter-by-letter approach. There certainly is a lot to consider when it comes to how a final index will be formatted and organized. I have the training and the software to make these decisions for you, meet your specifications, or walk you through these decisions.

How much does it cost to index a book?

The cost of an index will vary depending on several factors, including the length of the book and how technical or in-depth the content is. It would be cheaper to have a 200-page trade book indexed than it would be to have a 1200-page technical manual.

Rates are usually charged on a per-page basis. I never charge for pages without content, such as front matter, blank pages, and title pages. There are of course exceptions to this billing practice. For example, name/author indexes are typically charged on a per-entry rate, so a book with only a few names or authors listed on a page would be less than a book with numerous mentions, regardless of pages. All of this can be discussed prior to beginning any project. I’m happy to provide free quotes!

How do you use an index?

In general, indexes consist of main entries that are sorted in alphabetical order. Within each main entry, there is often a list of sub-entries or topics that are related to the main entry in some way. These are also sorted alphabetically.

A user would flip to the back of the book to find the index, and then search alphabetically for the term that they are seeking information on, and from there, they can narrow down their search to only the pages that contain the information, or to see how extensively the book covers a certain topic or concept.

Indexes are used by librarians, academic departments, faculty, bookstores, etc., in order to help make acquisitions decisions (it helps sell your book!). Indexes are used by students, professionals, researchers, and everyone in order to find specific information, and many readers will also use an index to determine if they should purchase a book. Indexes are also used by readers who have read a book, and remember something being mentioned but can’t remember where to find that information again.

What is an index example?

Please see my Projects page, where you can find links to several books that I have indexed. You can see the completed indexes by clicking on the “See Inside” feature of Amazon!