Recently I was asked to provide a guest post about indexing on author Mary Moerbe's blog, Meet, Write, and Salutary. Mary is a deaconess for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and she has authored and co-authored several Lutheran publications. Her blog is uniquely geared towards Lutheran authors and other Lutheran professionals involved in the book-making process.
I am re-posting my "nuts and bolts" article about indexing here also. Because this article was written for a specifically Lutheran audience, I use some familiar "Lutheranisms" throughout the article. Enjoy!
Indexers and indexes: What does this mean?
In the language of Lutheranism, one might say that indexers love to “read, learn, and inwardly digest” books of all kinds. However, it doesn’t stop there. They also delight in helping others by organizing the contents of books.
While it is true that an indexer’s name seldom appears anywhere in a book, there is no denying that indexers provide an important service to readers, authors, and publishers alike. For the reader, a book’s contents and worth are quickly assessed by a well-made index. Accurate and concise wording in the index give authors “credibility-at-a-glance.” Publishers’ book sales may increase if prospective buyers can browse a book’s index prior to purchase. These are certainly good reasons for including indexes in the back of books, but an author may still wonder if it is really necessary to hire a professional indexer.
On temptation—why hire a professional indexer
As an author, it is tempting to think that making an index is no big deal. How hard can it be to make an alphabetized list of keywords from a book? After all, there are several cheap indexing computer programs available for purchase (i.e. concordance generating software), and going this route looks like it will save a few bucks. Besides, what better choice is there for indexing a book than the author who wrote it? These are a few of the most common misconceptions concerning indexes and indexers.
On relevance-- what an index is (and isn’t)
Indexes are easily confused with concordances. Concordances look like indexes because they are alphabetized lists of keywords with corresponding page references from a book. However, computer generated concordances are very different from indexes in at least two ways.
First, a concordance includes every occurrence of each keyword throughout the book’s text. Page references for these keywords may or may not lead to relevant information, and thumbing through a concordance begins to resemble a wild goose chase. Another major difference between concordances and indexes is that concordances do not include cross references for synonymous keywords and topics. Only careful textual analysis and human intellect can make these connections, and this is what freelance indexers are trained to do.
Alternatively, a professionally made index reflects the author’s intentions and language of the book through an organized list of carefully selected keywords and synonymous cross references. Their corresponding page references lead to substantive information because the indexer deliberately excludes all irrelevant passing mentions for each keyword or cross reference. A well-crafted index looks less like a utilitarian, disjointed list of keywords and more like a thoughtful, creative piece of writing.
On identity-- who indexers are, what they charge, and how to find them
Freelance indexers are a surprisingly large group of professionals in the publishing industry, many of whom have master’s degrees in library science and various other subject areas. They are well-versed in the basics of indexing specifications like those outlined in The Chicago Manual of Style, and they likely own professional indexing software that allows them to easily create and manipulate indexes in many different ways. Fees charged by indexers vary, but they are mostly determined by the complexity of a book and the desired thoroughness and length of its index.
Indexers are easy to find. Many reputable indexers keep busy through referrals from satisfied, regular clients. Therefore, it makes sense to begin your search by asking your publisher, editor, or other reputable authors for a list of preferred indexers with whom they work. Another way to find an indexer is through professional indexing societies or editorial organizations. Examples of these include American Society for Indexers and Editorial Freelancers Association . Keep in mind indexers pay for their individual directory listings on these websites, and they are by no means exhaustive lists or indicators of quality of service.
Most non-fiction books benefit from indexes because they make a book’s content easier to access. This helps readers, authors, and publishers in various ways. Indexes are not concordances, and because of this index writing is a more complex process than it at first seems. For this reason alone, it is a good idea to hire a professional indexer. Indexers are not hard to locate, and they always welcome opportunities to further discuss the merits of book indexing.
Coates, Sylvia. "Every non-fiction book needs an index: Here’s why." Interview by Alan Rinzler. Alan Rinzler: Consulting Editor. Ed. Alan Rinzler. N.p., 12 Jan. 2009. Web. 1 Apr. 2016.
Connolly, Dan. "How to Contract with a Book Indexer: Or ‘Hi, Can You Do an Index for Me in Three Days?’" Word for Word Book Services. Ed. Dan Connolly. N.p., 2010. Web. 1 Apr. 2016.
Noble, John. "Interview with Fellow of the Society of Indexers; John Noble." Interview by Angel Candelario. Tech Writer News. Ed. Angel J. Candelario Rodriguiez. N.p., 11 Jan. 2013. Web. 9 Apr. 2016.