Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Index Decision: Part 2 -- Hiring An Indexer

Part 2, continued from the post yesterday.  If you haven't read it, you might want to go back and do so.

This article previously appeared in Roundup magazine. No part of this article can be reused, reprinted, or copied in any manner without the author's consent.  Copyright, 2013.

The Index Decision:

An Overview of the Process and the Practice of Indexing 

By Larry D. Sweazy


Do I really need an index?  The publisher will probably dictate that decision, but if the author has a choice, it is my opinion that all non-fiction works need an index. 
Why?  Very simply, nearly all non-fiction can be read in a non-linear fashion, may be used as reference material, and should serve the reader at all possible levels.  A book lacking an index, no matter how well-written, is lacking an important component in serving its audience.
So, it has been decided that the author will not write the index, where are freelancer indexers found, what do they cost, and are there professional standards that must be followed?
First things first, finding an indexer is not as hard as one might think. 
Most publishers have a list of freelance indexers that they’ve worked with in the past that have the necessary credentials and experience to serve an author’s needs.  If the publisher has no freelance indexers that they are willing to refer, then the first place I would suggest the author look is The American Society of Indexing (ASI).
The ASI web site (See resources) offers a great amount of information, including the Indexer Locator.  If an indexer is not found there, then there are many listed on the Internet.  Google freelance indexers and you’ll find more than you’re looking for.
Another way to find an indexer is through colleagues. 
Writers often work together, or see each at conventions or in social situations.  Don’t hesitate to ask a fellow writer if they have any experience with freelance indexers.  Most indexers do not advertise, they survive on word-of-mouth, and their reputation.
Indexers tend to specialize, and are listed by discipline in The Indexer Locator, as well as by name.  It may surprise you to learn that there are people who just write indexes for cookbooks, or technical books, or scholarly books.  A person who specializes in cookbooks would not be a good choice to write the index for a biography on Abraham Lincoln. 
There are no required standards for becoming an indexer. 
There are library science courses devoted to indexing offered at many respected colleges, a certification course is offered by ASI, and an indexing course is also offered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). 
The USDA has offered education courses for 75 years, and is highly respected.  The indexing course was created to provide a second stream of income to farmers and their spouses, but has also become a resource to those seeking to work at home.
Once an indexer who specializes in the particular subject has been found, it would behoove the author to ask for references, check the references thoroughly, and ask for a work sample. 
Rates usually range from $3.00 a page to $5.00 a page, depending on the depth of the desired index, the length, and the deadline.  A 200 page manuscript will typically range between $600.00 and $1000.00.  Most freelance indexers will require half of the payment up front, and the rest on delivery of the index, when working with a new client. 
A contract is not necessary, and most indexers operate on a gentleman’s agreement.  But if it would make the author feel more comfortable, there are examples of contracts on the ASI web site. 
Since the indexer is essentially a work-for-hire proposition, the indexer retains the copyright to the index until the indexer has been paid in full, and the rights are then turned over to the author.  If an indexer is not paid, they have legal recourse they can pursue not only through the author, but through the publisher if the book has been published.  A lawsuit from a freelancer could have dire consequences on an author’s relationship with their publisher.  If you hire a freelancer, make sure they can be paid in full.
It is extremely important that the freelance indexer is given an accurate deadline, and the publisher will often work directly with the indexer once the author has made the hire. 
Some things to consider when hiring a freelancer:
You want someone who has the experience to decipher the book’s text, and create a navigable index.  One who understands conceptual maps, and the responsibility of appealing to the reader when they first pick up the book.   Many freelance indexers have been indexing for a number of years.  Make sure their experience can be validated.  It’s your book on the shelf, but it is also the indexer’s index.  They should take as much pride in the published work as you do. 
Education is important, but experience is just as important—if not more.  Can the indexer hit deadlines?  Is there a copy-edit needed?  Have they proofread their work? 
Can they deliver the file to the publisher in the proper format?  If the freelance indexers have worked with reputable publishers in the past, then they should be able provide this information easily.

Either way, whether an author writes their own index, or if they hire out the work, they are ultimately responsible to their readers (and their publishers) for the quality of the index. 
It is entirely possible that an author can write a great index, just as it is possible that a freelance indexer can fail at the task.  Much care must be taken with such an important component of the book, and ultimately, of the reader’s experience.  There are many things to consider in making the indexing decision, and I would appeal to all authors that they take the proper amount of time and research in that consideration.  I hope the information provided here will make that decision a little easier.

American Society of Indexers  (www.asindexing.org)
USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) graduate indexing courses (www.http://www.grad.usda.gov)
Microsoft Word (www.microsoft.com)
Adobe FrameMaker (www.adobe.com)
Quark (www.quark.com)
Macrex (www.macrex.com)

The Chicago Manual of Style (http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org)
Indexing Books, 2E, Nancy Mulvany (Chicago Guides to Writing and Publishing)
The Art of Indexing, Larry S. Bonura (Wiley)
Indexing A to Z, Hans H. Wellisch (Niso Press)


Larry D. Sweazy is a novelist, short story writer, and indexer.  Check out his web site (www.larrydsweazy.com) for more details.

Larry is also the owner of WordWise Publishing Services, LLC, and as a freelance indexer, he has written over 750 back-of-the-book indexes for publishers such as Pearson, Cisco Press, Addison-Wesley, O'Reilly, and Cengage.


Joy Dean Lee said...

I enjoyed your two-part article, Larry. I also had read your post a few weeks ago about writing and tried to post a comment about it. I couldn't decipher the words required to prove I wasn't a robot.

BTW, ASI is now American Society for Indexing. Changed a few years ago. :-)

Larry D. Sweazy said...

Joy, thanks for the comment. I'm aware of the name change for ASI, but this article was published a few years ago, and I didn't update it, I published it as it was published...