What are the pros and cons of professional book indexing services?

Writers should carefully weigh the pros and cons when considering DIY (do it yourself) vs professional book indexing services. DIY indexing offers cost savings as authors can create indexes without additional expenses. However, it can be time-consuming and may result in a lower-quality index, impacting the overall usability and readability of the book. On the other hand, opting for professional book indexing services brings expertise, efficiency and improved book quality. A professionally crafted index enhances the book’s credibility and reader engagement and meets publisher standards, increasing the chances of traditional publishing success. Therefore, writers must decide between the budget-friendly DIY approach and the expert touch of professional indexers to ensure your book’s success in the competitive literary landscape. This article will dissect the two approaches to indexing, empowering writers with expert knowledge to make an informed decision.

What do book indexing services entail?

Indexing is the art of organising a comprehensive alphabetical list of key topics, concepts and references found within a book. It is a vital navigational tool for readers, allowing them to quickly locate specific information or sections of interest without reading the entire book. A well-crafted index enhances the accessibility and usability of a book, providing readers with a seamless and enriching reading experience. Professional book indexing services involve the expertise to categorise and cross-reference content efficiently, creating a roadmap that guides readers through the book’s contents. By carefully curating the index, essential ideas and references become easily accessible, elevating the overall quality and credibility of the book.

What is the difference between DYI indexing and professional indexing services?

DIY indexing entails authors taking on the responsibility of creating the index for their books without a professional indexer’s assistance. On the other hand, professional book indexing is a specialised service provided by trained indexers who craft comprehensive book indexes.

Why do books have indexes?

Book indexing services aim to create a well-organised index that complements the book’s content, guiding readers to specific sections and topics of interest and ultimately ensuring a seamless and rewarding reading journey.

Books have indexes for two primary reasons:

  • Publishers consider indexes an essential component of published works as they enhance the book’s usability, professionalism and overall structure.
  • Indexes cater to readers, providing them with a user-friendly experience.

What are the publishers’ requirements for indexing?

Ethical considerations

Ethical standards are paramount among reputable publishers, and the indexes should also reflect them. For instance, an index should accurately reflect the content of the book and avoid any intentional bias, omission, or misrepresentation of the author’s ideas or arguments. Moreover, indexes should be impartial and fair in treating various topics and perspectives presented in the book. They should avoid favouring certain ideas over others and instead provide an equal opportunity for all relevant content to be found and referenced.

Choice of index terms

Terms, keywords or descriptors chosen for the index succinctly represent a text’s main themes and concepts, making it easier for researchers and readers to discover relevant content. For instance, Bloomsbury Publishing stresses this aspect, especially among new authors. Their advice is to ‘Ask yourself at each point: What is this chapter/paragraph actually about?’ This could also be extrapolated to the index creation. By critically analysing each paragraph, the index creator arrives at a list of terms that will be helpful to the readers using the index later on.

Another way to determine the indexable terms if to follow this checklist of questions. When creating an index and deciding whether to include a specific term in the index, consider if:

  • Anyone would look for it?
  • If they did, would they find anything useful there?

Length

Excessively lengthy indexes are not useful and provide unnecessarily granular level of detail. It is essential to have an index that adequately covers all valuable elements. Yet, it is recommended to keep it within a range of 70 to 80 terms (including headings and subheadings) per 10,000 words of the manuscript. For instance, the University of Michigan Press Guidelines suggest an average index length of eight master-proof pages. This translates to 24 single-column, double-spaced pages comprising the index. Other publishers estimate that an index page count should equal roughly 3% of the entire book’s page count. For instance, a 200-page book would yield a 6-page-long index.

What are the pros of DIY indexing?

Cost saving

DIY indexing eliminates the need to invest in professional indexing services. This is especially beneficial for writers operating on a limited budget. By handling the indexing process, writers may allocate their resources to other essential aspects of publishing, such as editing, cover design and marketing. DIY indexing empowers authors to retain control over their book’s organisation and content without additional financial obligations. It is a cost-effective option for those looking to manage their expenses while still providing readers with an index that enhances their reading experience.

What are the cons of DIY indexing?

Lengthy process

DIY indexing is time-consuming for writers because when authors create the index themselves, they need to gain the specialised skills and efficiency that professional indexers possess. As a result, authors spend significant time grappling with the aspects of indexing, leading to slower progress. Moreover, authors often may need help with multiple tasks during the publishing process, such as editing and book formatting, leaving limited time for indexing. This additional responsibility can extend the overall timeline, potentially delaying the book’s publication.

Lower quality

When authors opt for DIY indexing, there is a potential risk of a lower-quality index. Professional book indexing services possess the expertise to categorise and cross-reference content efficiently, creating a well-organised and user-friendly index. However, authors may need more experience and training to craft an adequate index, leading to potential inaccuracies, omissions or incomplete coverage of topics. A subpar index results in difficulties for readers trying to find specific information, impacting the overall usability and readability of the book. Furthermore, because authors are so familiar with the text, they may lack the perspective allowing them to discern between what they want to include in the index and what the readers will find helpful.

What are the pros of professional book indexing services?

Expertise and efficiency

Professional indexers are skilled in the art and science of indexing, possessing in-depth knowledge of the best practices and industry standards. They understand how to analyse and structure the content of a book, identifying key topics, concepts and references that should be included in the index. Their expertise allows them to efficiently create an index, ensuring it accurately represents the book’s structure and content.

Enhanced book quality

A well-crafted index created by a professional indexer adds a layer of professionalism and credibility to the book. An index is a valuable tool that guides readers to specific sections, concepts and references, making the text more accessible and user-friendly. With a comprehensive and organised index, readers can quickly find relevant information, facilitating their understanding of the book’s contents. Achieving such standards and quality of the index comes from years of experience and training, which only professional indexers possess.

Meeting publishers’ standards

Meeting publishers’ standards is a critical benefit of professional book indexing services. Publishers often require the authors to provide the book manuscript supplemented by a high-quality index that meets their criteria. Authors can ensure their book’s index meets these strict standards by engaging professional indexers. Professional indexers are well-versed in the specific requirements of various publishers and can create an index that aligns with their guidelines.

What are the cons of professional book indexing services?

Cost

While professional book indexing services offer numerous benefits, the cost associated with hiring a professional indexer is a factor that authors must consider. Engaging professional indexers requires a financial investment, and the cost may vary depending on the complexity and length of the book. For instance, the Society of Indexers suggests indexing rates of £29.75 an hour, £3.35 per page or £9.00 per 1,000 words for an index to a non-academic text. For authors with limited budgets, this expense may be a concern. However, it is essential to weigh the cost against the value that professional book indexing brings. A well-organised and high-quality index enhances the book’s credibility, reader engagement and potential for success in the literary market.

Time constraints

Time constraints can be a potential drawback of engaging professional book indexing services. Indexers are often booked up in advance, so for books on niche topics or requiring specialised knowledge, the wait times are something to bear in mind. Furthermore, indexing is a time-consuming process. According to Wiley, adequate index preparation requires 10–15 hours per 100 typeset pages. For example, a 300-page book will require 30–45 hours of preparation.

Limited author’s input

While professional indexers work diligently to create an index that aligns with the book’s content and structure, authors may have less influence on the specific choices of the index entries. Authors may provide suggestions for the index content. But ultimately it will be up to the indexer to decide whether these suggestions meet the indexing criteria. Despite this potential lack of direct control, professional book indexing services offer the advantage of expert insight and organisation, contributing to a high-quality index that enhances the book’s appeal and credibility.

Final thoughts

When considering DIY vs. professional book indexing services, writers must carefully weigh the pros and cons to make an informed decision. DIY indexing offers cost savings, allowing authors to take control of the index creation process. However, it can be time-consuming and result in a lower-quality index, impacting the book’s overall usability and credibility. On the other hand, professional book indexing services bring expertise, efficiency and enhanced book quality. Engaging a skilled indexer ensures a well-organised and reader-friendly index that meets industry standards, elevating the book’s appeal to publishers and readers alike. While the cost of professional indexing may be a consideration, the benefits of a high-quality index and increased book credibility often justify the investment.

Contact me to ensure your manuscript includes a practical and user-friendly index. You can also ask me for a free sample index (and remember to use my early bird discount!). If you want to hear more from me, including self-editing and writing tips, follow me on Mastodon, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn or join my newsletter.

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Magda

I am an editor, indexer and a lifelong lover of literature with a PhD in literary history. I am an Intermediate Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), a student member of the Society of Indexers and a vetted partner of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).