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What's an indexer?

Indexers are the little-known people who work quickly and quietly behind the scenes to create the indexes at the back of non-fiction books, cookbooks, journals, magazines, annual reports, websites, and other publications.

Writing a good index is a complex and skilled task. It not only involves reading the whole publication and assessing the information within it bit by bit, but also thinking of all the ways that readers might try to find the information in the publication, and creating those 'entry points' through index entries.

What's the point of an index?

A good index allows the reader of your book, magazine, or website to quickly and accurately locate the information they're after in the text. It is an invaluable part of any non-fiction work, and provides much more help to the reader than the table of contents, or even a keyword search (which just throws up every instance of a word, and doesn’t locate the important areas of information).

How do you write an index?

Writing the index for a publication happens at the very end of a project, around the time when proofreading is done, and just before going to press. This because the layout and page numbers need to be finalised.

To write your index, I work my way through your proofs, one page at a time, identifying the significant information and creating index entries for each instance. I think about how a new reader might want to access information in your publication. I develop information 'structures', so that there are several ways of finding the same information. I also set up the ‘see’ and ‘see also’ cross-references. I use CINDEX indexing software to create the database of your index. I can also produce embedded indexes for ebooks.

Once this first pass through the whole document is done, I then edit the index, tidying up the terms and checking cross-references, which generally takes about 25% of the time.

The last part is creating the final index for you, with the required formatting. Spelling and accuracy is double checked before I submit it to you, and I include a free proofreading of the index after it has been laid out, and just before your publication goes to press.

How much does it cost?

This is one of those “How long is a piece of string?” questions, but rest easy, the piece of string isn't infinitely long (generally in the range of $1,000 — $4,000, mostly depending on the length of the text, and audience of the publication). It depends on many factors, as set out below. I am happy to provide an obligation-free quote for you.

To create your quote, I need a sample chapter from your manuscript, sample issue of your magazine or journal, or previous year’s annual report. I also need to know the:

My fee based is on the recommended hourly rate for indexing, as set by ANZSI, and the information you’ve provided.

If my quote is out of your budget, I am happy to discuss possible alternatives with you to reduce the cost, such as reducing the level of detail in the index.

Authors and indexes

One quirk of the publishing business is that the author is often lumbered with getting the index done, and even paying for it. I suspect this is the reason why so many good books nowadays are missing indexes.

If you're in this boat, it is worth double-checking with your publisher whether they can contribute to the cost of indexing or not.

Many authors try to take on this chore themselves, but I feel this is a false economy (well, I would say that, wouldn't I!). Let me explain.

Indexing well is a tricky task. The author is too close to the project (and heartily sick of it by this stage) to see the manuscript with the fresh eyes of a reader who is unfamiliar with the topic. It's hard for them to think of the ways a reader might search their book.

There are also certain non-obvious conventions that professional indexes follow, concerning layout, grammar, punctuation, and so on.

Creating truly helpful indexes, with proper cross-references, and lovely structures that will enhance your publication is a skill that takes much professional training and experience. It is a complex task that quickly becomes a huge panic-inducing mess on a tight deadline to the uninitiated. Seriously, save yourself the stress!

As I am also an author, editor, and a graphic designer, I have a unique understanding of all aspects of the writing and publishing process. I will work closely with you and your editor to create your index to deadline, and take all that nasty stress away. Magic!

How long does it take?

Things like the length of the manuscript, and the complexity of the text dictate how long it takes to write your index. Books with headings and sub-headings within the text are a bit quicker to index. A long specialsed academic text may take around three or four weeks to index, a short children's book may only take a matter of a few days. I will let you know how long I think I will need as part of the quote.

OK, you’ve convinced me. What next?

If you’ve sent me a sample chapter, and I’ve sent you a quote and you’ve accepted it, I will set aside that time in my schedule for your job.

Once the happy day arrives, and you have the page proofs, you just send me them as soon as possible. I can work from either a printed proof or a PDF proof. A PDF is preferable.

Please note that if the index is supplied more than several weeks late, it may impact badly on my other work, and may attract a late fee. Work on your index will also be delayed, if you've overlapped with another scheduled job, as the latter will take precedence.

I will then get started! As I work on your index, I may have various questions about the content, which we can discuss over email or phone. I will get your feedback on the index during the process, too.

Once you’ve checked and approved the final index, I will finalise the layout according to your publisher’s requirements. I will submit my invoice at the same time as the finished index files. Your publisher can then slot the formatted index into the publication layout, and you’re off to press!

My qualifications

I am a trained indexer, and can produce indexes for paper-based publications, websites and ebooks. I was Vice President of the Australian and New Zealand Society of Indexers (ANZSI) from Oct 2013–July 2014. I am the current President of the ACT Region Branch of ANZSI, and have been a committee member of the branch since 2011. You can view my 'Indexers Available' listing here.


Indexers tend to specialise the topics where they have at least some knowledge and understanding. My speciality subjects include:

  • annual reports
  • biography
  • children’s books
  • computing
  • cookery
  • crafts
  • design
  • ecology
  • education
  • fine arts
  • gardening
  • health
  • history
  • medicine
  • music
  • natural sciences
  • physical sciences
  • psychology
  • puzzles
  • travel

Published Indexes (a partial list)

I am a pro indexer at Eat Your Books, doing ongoing database indexing of cookbooks. Some titles I've indexed for EYB include The Food of Vietnam (Luke Nguyen), Ruby Violet's Ice Cream Dreams, The 5:2 Fasting Cookbook, and Cooking Class Thai.

Quirkology book cover

I have written an index for Quirkology (Wiseman). You are welcome to download the PDF of the index, and print it out. There are two versions of the file:

A4 index - this index is laid out to print onto A4 pages, either single or double sided as you prefer

Booklet index - this file has been designed to make a little booklet that can be slotted into the back of your copy of Quirkology. You need to be able to print double sided, and to trim pages to size (using a ruler and blade, paper guillotine etc). The pages are laid out in imposition.