Professional or DIY indexing?

I see this frequently on Twitter and other social media. Academics indexing their own books is a bit like them being asked to sort out their own toilet when it gets blocked. Just because you’re an experienced user, it doesn’t make you an expert on fixing or creating them. My Society of Indexers colleague Dr Tanya Izzard has written a very useful summary, which I see no need to repeat. She covers many of the issues and gives some helpful links if you are an academic thinking about indexing your own book.

Professional indexers

  • don’t need a list of terms or important people before they start. They’re quite capable of doing that.
  • are open to dialogue before they start and once they’ve sent you the index. After all, we want you to be happy with the index.
  • won’t take on work that’s outside their area of knowledge, unless it is very basic and for a lay audience.
  • don’t like their work being ‘improved’ by editors or authors without being involved. It’s a bit rude really.
  • are skilled at what they do

Not everyone who claims to be a ‘professional’ indexer is actually trained and has been assessed as competent. Members listed in the Directory of the Society of Indexers are both trained and assessed. They’ll be happy to discuss your requirements and make a great index to your book.

SI Conference 2019 – ‘Investigate, Invigorate, Innovate’

Having attended all the Society of Indexers’ conferences since 2014, taking in Cirencester, York, Birmingham, Oxford and Lancaster, it’s my turn as Chair of the society to invite members and other interested parties to our event in London in September. You can find out more on the Society of Indexers’ website.

I don’t get away with just meeting and greeting and having fun, I’m down to speak to new indexers.

I’ll be talking about

  • finding first indexing jobs
    • marketing to publishers
    • other possible clients and where to find them
  • dealing with potential clients
    • how to ask questions to find out what they really want
    • quoting – what are the options
  • doing the job –
    • approaching a whole new book,
    • using software
    • keeping records,
    • checking the index and sending it off,
  • feeding back comments and questions to the editor/client
  • reviewing the process

But, if there’s anything else you think I should be covering, just let me know in good time before the conference.

NID2019 – Hits the North


Following the success of National Indexing Day 2018, the Society of Indexers has arranged another day of indexing knowledge exchange on Thursday 28 March 2019 at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester. This event is designed for editors commissioning indexes, or for other interested publishing professionals, with a focus on how indexers work and how they can add value to any non-fiction book.

Bookings are open now.

For more information visit the Society of Indexers website here 

Indexing, it’s like plumbing

Indexing a book is like doing plumbing. Everyone knows what an index (tap/toilet/other appliance of choice) looks like. We mostly know what they do (I’m never terribly sure if a bidet in a hotel room is working properly). Some of us know a good or a bad installation when we see it. Some of us put up with bad plumbing because we can’t fix the one we’ve got (leaky tap, grumbling radiators etc). Yes, you can do plumbing by grabbing a book, watching a YouTube video or just getting in there. But it might take you a long time, you might not have all the parts or tools you need for the job, and the result probably won’t be as good as a professional job.

So, as with plumbers, if you need an indexer, get someone who has been on a recognised course, done the training with expert tutors, and got the professional equipment. When your time is money, it makes sense to find a professional.

#WorkInPublishing week

This week, 19 to 23 November is #WorkInPublishing week. As an indexer, I sometimes get asked “Do you work in publishing?” and my answer is “Yes, of course I do.” Indexing is one of the last stages that a non-fiction text goes through on its way to print. Like copy-editing and proofreading, indexing is mostly done by freelancers like me. The good ones are trained, professional people who are members of The Society of Indexers. That means we uphold professional standards and promote indexing to anyone who will stand still long enough to listen.

How do people become indexers? What previous knowledge or skills do you need? The Society of Indexers has a brilliant self-paced course.  Trainees work through the modules and other elements of the course and get first-rate teaching from the online tutors. It may be self-paced, but it isn’t a lonely experience. To be an indexer you have to like reading non-fiction and be prepared to work on a wide range of subjects, not just your special interest. Some indexers come from a library or archives background, but many others just found out by accident that they might have what it takes. There are some exercises you can do to see if you might be suitable. As with any freelance work you have to be organised and disciplined and a little bit of a self-starter but then there are the up-sides of freelance working in that you can turn down work you don’t like and can take jobs to fit around your other commitments.

If you’ve never thought about indexing before, take a look at The Society of Indexers for more information or talk to us on Twitter @indexers.


It’s the day when publishers launch books they want you to buy for Christmas, for yourself or as gifts. Over 500 titles this year according to The Guardian. Not all non-fiction, but a significant proportion of titles that need an index because they contain information that readers might want to look up; think cookery, gardening, self-help, history, biography, science etc. etc. etc.

Of course, a book isn’t just for Christmas and they are launched all round the year. If you’re writing or publishing non-fiction, make sure it includes a good index. Use a qualified, experienced, indexer, such as those listed in the Society of Indexers Directory. Good quality indexes help sell books. Readers do check them out before buying a book. Librarians and academics also check them before purchasing for their libraries. Don’t let your readers down by having poor quality indexes, they are just as bad as not having an index.

Having a revamp

With a short gap in my schedule I thought I ought to have a quick revamp of some of this site. Back in May this year, publisher Bloomsbury acquired one of my clients, I. B. Tauris. While the small company is being assimilated into the larger it seems as though their website has gone the way of good things, and all the links I had to books I had worked on on my indexing experience pages were broken. So I’ve linked all those books to Amazon pages, and in due course if they appear on the Bloomsbury site I’ll be putting links to there. Although Amazon offers ‘look inside’ so you can sometimes see the work I’ve done, I think it is fairer to link through to the publisher, and then you can choose if you want to go to Amazon. Some publishers, such as Equinox, allow you to download the index for free.  I have also made some more subject pages for my indexing experience, as a few titles seemed to clump together nicely.