Michael on Authors and Indexes

The following is a guest post by Associate Editor Michael Sivilli about creating a book index.

As an Associate Editor, one of the questions I have to ask an author during the introductory call regarding the editorial/production process is: “Would you like to create the index for your book?” Over the years, the question has actually evolved into something more like: “Do you have any interest in creating your own index?” The reply is usually “No,” which is the answer for which any Associate Editor is hoping. However, occasionally an author expresses interest, whether it’s to actually create the index from scratch or to supply a list of key terms for the indexer to use while creating the index. The latter is not such a bother. The former, however, is highly not encouraged.

Indexers are a different breed from any other positions in the book publishing world. As much as I’ve always loved looking through indexes, whether for a particular term, name, place, etc., or just thumbing through one in a bookstore, I never understood how or why anyone would want the job of having to create such a seemingly complex document. To create a list of terms, ideas, names, etc., and then indicate every place in the book where each appears seems challenging at the least, tedious at the most. However, as I ultimately do, I’m sure indexers look at what they create as art, in some way. To me, that should pretty much sum up why creation of the index for a book should be left to the professional trained at such, not to the author.

In the few times when an author has opted to create his or her index, I have had the index looked over by a professional indexer, who in turn would contact the author with suggestions. Authors are usually very cooperative with this procedure. However, this ultimately adds to the production and manufacturing costs of the book.

Steve Ingle, President and CEO of WordCo Indexing Services, an indexing company that creates the indexes for most of the books I work on, shares the following comments as far as the advantages of letting a professional create the index for a book:

When it comes to creating the index for a book, the author potentially has two advantages over the indexer: The author has a better knowledge of the book’s subject matter, and may have a better awareness of the book’s audience. The indexer, however, has several key advantages. For one thing, a trained indexer is an expert at constructing an index. Building an index involves knowing how to prioritize headings for inclusion in the index (especially if there are space limitations), formulate appropriate main-level index headings, being able to subdivide major topics into sensible subheadings, and create cross-references (e.g., the See’s and See also’s). Cross-references direct the user from synonymous terms to the relevant index headings, and from key terms to related headings. The indexer must also know how to utilize and fully exploit indexing software. Indexing software enables the indexer to sort the index correctly (i.e., letter-by-letter vs. word-by-word), format alphabetic groups, ignore prepositions and conjunctions for sorting of subheadings, etc. Sophisticated indexing software also allows complex search-and-replace features, enabling the indexer to make global changes (e.g., adding volume-number prefixes). The indexer also understands the publisher’s workflow and ensures that the index-creation process meshes smoothly with the publisher’s schedule. The experienced indexer knows many “tricks of the trade,” which enable him or her to complete the index quickly and efficiently. Finally, if the indexer makes an effort to familiarize him- or herself with the subject-matter and the book’s intended audience (possibly by communicating with the author directly), the indexer has the potential to create the best possible index for the book.

Professionally stated! Think about this when you get that phone call from your editor asking you if you have any interest in creating the index for your book. Think of the indexer as an assistant in a way, someone whose main goal is to help you make your book not more interesting, but an easier tool as far as accessibility to topics, ideas, and references. And also think of the editor, who only asks that you help make his or her job easier by accepting the fact that creating the index, like any other task, should be left to the professionals.

Thank you, Michael!

Michael Sivilli has been an Associate Editor with AMACOM, the books publishing division of the American Management Association, since 1988.

Earlier Posts:
Michael on Permissions
Michael on Corrections and Galley Proofs


3 responses to “Michael on Authors and Indexes

  1. “that should pretty much sum up why creation of the index for a book should be left to the professional trained at such, not to the author.”

    As a professional indexer, I agree with you 100% !

  2. Elliot Linzer

    Another advantage that the professinal indexer has over the author is that the indexer sees the book through the eyes of the reader, using language that the reader will use to look things up. Everybody else in the production stage of a book is working as the author’s representative. The indexer is working for the reader.

  3. Couldn’t agree more! And I like Elliot’s comment

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