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How to determine what and what not to index

A good rule of thumb for deciding what to index, said freelance indexer Kay Banning, is to ask: “Is the user happy to be there when you send them there?” The answer to that question, said Banning, will help determine what to index and what not to index.

Banning said she charges usually charges $3.25 to $3.50 per page, subtracting any pages that don’t need indexing. After receiving the hard copy pages by express mail, she said she does a first read-through of the book to see the “big picture.” Then she reads the introduction and review questions to get the author’s slant for what is important in the book.

Banning said authors should work with their editor to build time into the schedule to review the index.

Geography author Robert Christopherson, who does his own indexing, said a good index that the author has proofread properly can help in the sale process. The sales rep, he said, can put the well-indexed book side-by-side with a competitor and point out the benefits of having a well-indexed book.

Because many students don’t even use indexes, Christopherson recommends talking about the importance of the index the first day of class. He gives his students stickie notes to tab their textbooks’ glossary and index sections.

Banning offered these tips for lining up an indexer:

  • Talk with your editor, most of whom keep lists of freelance indexers.
  • Call an editor at a large publishing house for a name.
  • Call a university press editor for a recommendation.
  • Look for members of the American Society of Indexers, which indicates a commitment to professionalism.
  • Favor indexers with experience, who come highly recommended, who meet due dates, and who can provide the correct file format.

For authors considering their own indexing, Banning listed these software programs:

She recommended these resources:

  • Chicago Manual of Style, 14th edition, Chapter 17. University of Chicago Press
  • Linda Fetters. Handbook of Indexing Techniques. FimcoBooks, 1999.
  • Nancy C. Mulvany. Indexing Books. University of Chicago Press, 1994.
  • American Society of Indexers