Curriculum Vitae
Indexing Articles

FAQs - Frequently Asked Questions

How much does an index cost?

Indexers charge per page of indexable text. An indexable page is one that contains indexable material, and may include illustrations, photographs, notes, tables, charts, and figures as well as text. Rates vary considerably and depend upon the difficulty and density of the work to be indexed. Generally, my rates are in the $4-$6 range, but may go as low as $2.50 or as high as $25. I can provide a firm quote on examination of a representative sample of text. Rush jobs can be done at a concomitantly higher rate.

How long will it take to have my book indexed?

I am a fast indexer. If I have time available, and if you are willing to pay a premium rate, I can turn around a standard 250-page monograph in as little as two days. However, given the malleability of schedules in the publishing industry, I am usually juggling a number of projects. It’s a bit like trying to assemble a puzzle from pieces floating on a flowing stream. In addition, if I have more time to work on your project, I can do a better job. Ideally I like to have at least two weeks for 200-300 page books, and a month or longer for larger projects. Ultimately, it’s a matter of working out an arrangement that meets the demands of your schedule and mine. However, once we are able to set a deadline, I am committed to your project and will make sure it gets done on time. In fact, I usually turn projects in early.

What do I need to provide to the indexer?

All I will need from you is an electronic copy of the PDFs of your final pages. By “final pages,” I mean text that has been typeset and which will not be rewritten so as to change the flow of the text over the pages (minor changes and typo corrections are not an issue). If rewrites do occur, and necessitate repagination or reindexing of already completed sections of the book, I will have to charge extra. Should your publisher require an embedded index in a Word document, I have the software to accomplish this.

Can I write the index myself?

Anyone can write an index. Not everyone can write a good index, however. Authors, even those with indexing skills, are often too close to a piece of work to provide all the keywords a potential user might want to look up, and editors often don’t have the time or training to create a reliable product. As a professional indexer, I make it my business to know how an audience will approach a text, what they will want to look up, and how to cover that subject matter comprehensively. My index will add value to your text by pulling together all its common themes, and will help sell your book to its intended readers.

Will I have to tell you what words go in the index?

No. That’s precisely what a professional indexer’s job entails. I decide on terms to use in the index by reading your text, analyzing its intellectual content, encapsulating those ideas and concepts in words that users will look for, and providing alternative terms for those words. As an example, if I created an entry for agriculture, I would also duplicate that entry at the term “farming,” or provide a cross-reference from “farming” to “agriculture,” since a reader might very well look under either term.

What’s the difference between a table and an index?

Tables are lists of occurrences of specific elements in a text: legal citations to statutes or regulations, names of referenced authors, scriptural citations, references to specific lines in the works of a classical author. I am happy to compile tables, should your work require it, although the provision of tables must be negotiated specifically and are not included in a general agreement to produce a subject index.

How does the indexer decide about the style, structure, and length of the index?

If the publisher of your text has a house style guide or a commercial style preference (such as The Chicago Manual of Style), I will follow their requirements. I am familiar with most common style manuals, and publishers with their own house guides will be happy to provide them to you or directly to me. Some of these manuals will also have specific directions as to structure. If no guidance is provided, I am happy to use my own best judgment as to what works for a particular project. Since I use dedicated indexing software (CINDEX™), I can easily manipulate the structure and format of the index to fit specific needs. Length is a matter of the demands of the book and the number of pages available for the index. If I am notified at the start of the project I can ensure that the index is designed to fit into the space available.

What kinds of things will be in the index?

First of all, I include entries for all substantive and relevant subject matter in the book. Subject indexes are not lists of words, but an arrangement of concepts. For instance, an  index might contain an entry for “agriculture” that references parts of the text that talk about farming, rice cultivation, livestock raising, and other topics in which the word “agriculture” may never be specifically used. “Agriculture,” however, is most likely to be the place where readers would want to find all these concepts drawn together. They might also look under “farming,” so I would either duplicate the information there, or place a cross-reference saying “farming. See agriculture.” Topics like rice cultivation and livestock might also be very good main entries on their own.

In terms of parts of the book indexed, I will automatically look for indexable material in the foreword, preface, introduction, conclusion, illustrations, appendices, and figurative matter, as well as the body of the text. I generally do NOT index the acknowledgments and the references or bibliography. Notes may or may not be indexed. Current practice is to pick up material from the notes only if they contain relevant and substantive information about topics not accessible through the text. Names of secondary references (modern scholars) are indexed only if the text directly and specifically discusses their work or theories in some detail. Clients who want to include material in the notes, or a thorough list of all referenced authors, should make sure to discuss this specifically with me.

Once the index is done, how do I know if it’s any good?

Reviewing an index can seem like a daunting task, but it needn’t be either difficult or time-consuming. You’ll be relieved to know there’s no need to actually read the index as you would a text. Instead, USE the index the way a reader would: consult it. First of all, pick some sections of text and look for indexable concepts. Don’t just go for easy things like names and places; choose substantive ideas and think about what keywords you would choose to find them. Then look for those keywords in the index. Are they there, or are there cross-references that lead you to the right spot? Check at least five sections for every two hundred pages of text.

Next, go to the index and pick a term from the first column. Look at the pages it references. Does the term relate to what’s on the page? Are the page numbers accurate? Check at least one entry from every column in the index.  Even a really good index might contain a few errors; but you shouldn’t find many. If the index doesn’t seem to be working using these techniques, or if you find more than three errors, it’s time to talk to the indexer about what seems to be the problem. A good indexer will be happy to work with you to make things right.

My clients tell me I need a taxonomy for my website. What is it, how much will it cost, and how long will it take to create one?

A taxonomy is a classification scheme for organizing data, usually large quantities of it, so that it is easily searchable. One can create taxonomies for a physical collection of materials, anything from a library to an assortment of garden tools, but they are usually built for electronic databases accessed through a website. Your clients are probably telling you that you need a taxonomy because they are unable to find things easily. Constructing a taxonomy involves examining a representative slice of data in order to determine appropriate categories and their organization.

How long it will take, and how much it will cost, depends on how much data there is. For taxonomy construction I normally charge by the hour, anything from $50 to $100 depending on the complexity of the task. Since projects vary so much, I cannot give an average timeframe or price; the work usually is accomplished over several months. Once the taxonomy itself is designed, the documents have to be assigned to appropriate categories. I am happy to work on this process also, either doing the taxonomic assignment myself or serving as a consultant for that purpose (perhaps composing a manual to guide the classification process or training the staffers who will do the classification).

Copyright © Kate Mertes 2007