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Should your Book have an Index?

Posted by Brittany Lavin on Mon, Jan 24, 2011 @ 07:00 PM

By Carol Roberts, owner of Roberts Indexing Services.

It took a long time to write your book - will readers be able to find anything in it?

Although your book will have a table of contents, which gives readers an overview of what’s in the book and how it’s arranged, what if someone wants to find something specific? More important, what if they won’t even buy the book unless they find that information? Did you know that many libraries won’t acquire a nonfiction book unless it has an index? This is where a good index can boost sales of your book.

Who’s going to write the index? Some authors enjoy indexing their own books and have a knack for indexing, which is a specialized form of textual analysis and writing. Others don’t. Deciding whether to hire a professional indexer is a lot like deciding whether to hire a plumber. Your decision will be based on many factors: whether you know anything about plumbing, whether you have the time, whether you enjoy that sort of work, and so on.

A professional indexer can lift many of your burdens, because she or he will

  • know what your publisher requires,
  • meet the publisher’s tight deadline,
  • free up your valuable time, and
  • tend to produce a more objective index.


If you think you’d like to take a crack at it, be sure to ask your editor for indexing guidelines (or read the indexing chapter of The Chicago Manual of Style) and the names of a few indexers, as a fallback. While your manuscript is being copyedited and then typeset, pick a book from your bookshelf and try indexing it. If indexing overwhelms you, it’s better to find that out as early as possible, so you’ll have time to line up a professional. Then you can devote your time to your next book!

Tags: self publishing, self publishing companies

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