What you need to know
Q: Who is responsible for the creation of the index?
A: Traditionally, authors are responsible for the creation of the index, though the majority find a freelancer to write the index for them. A few publishers have an indexing staff, but most of the time, this part of the process is contracted out. I have had several instances in which an author will contact me after making an attempt at creating the index, only to learn they do not have the tools, skills, or time to do so.
Q: Can’t I just have software do the job for me?
A: Technically, yes, but what you would end up with be a concordance, rather than an index. A concordance is a list of words found in the text, where an index is an organization of thoughts, ideas, and concepts. For example, in a book on investments, an author may use the idiom “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” referring to risk-taking. The words risk-taking may not be used, and therefore software would not find it. An index entry of bush, or bird, would be useless.
Q: How much should I budget when hiring an indexer?
A: Indexers typically charge by indexable pages. Indexable pages refer to any page with text on it and exclude such pages as blank, TOC, section dividers, etc. I find typical trade books’ indexable pages are 85-90% of their total page count.
The rate depends greatly on several factors: depth of book topic, size of book, number of illustrations, project timeline, and publication type. You will find my rate competitive with other indexers with my level of experience, and ranges from $3.25-$4.25 per indexable page. I do offer a discount for self-publishing authors, so be sure to ask me for more information.
Q: At what point in the publishing process does is the index created?
A: At the very end. All edits and proofreading will need to be completed before handing off the book to an indexer. Even small changes to text can change pagination, making the index worthless, and requiring the project to start over (usually at the author’s expense).
The American Society for Indexing (ASI) advocates for the excellence of indexing and promotes the importance of well-written indexes. Founded in 1968, ASI educates indexers and others in the publishing community to ensure the advancement of indexing. To learn more about the organization, visit their website
The United Kingdom's professional indexing organization is the Society of Indexers.
Authors should be prepared to advocate for a professional indexer. This article by Seth Maislin tells us why.
Indexers as the unsung heroes of the publishing world? Decide for yourself in an article by Sam Leith.
Who should pay for the index? The author or the publisher? Helen Kara talks about indexing.
Indexes in academic writing serve a purpose a little different than trade books. The Thesis Whisperer talks about indexes in dissertations.