It’s common practice in the publishing industry for non-fiction authors to have to provide the index for their book themselves. This leaves you with a few decisions to make. You can leave out the index entirely. You can have a stab at writing it yourself (I’ll explain why this isn’t a good idea in an upcoming post). Or you can pay a professional indexer to write it for you.
Let’s look more closely at that first option — leaving out the index. The problem with this approach is that, while it might save you money in the short term, it’s going to make you lose out in the long term.
You may think that a really thorough table of contents would do, wouldn’t it? With headings, sub-headings, and even sub-sub-headings all listed? That would negate the need to spend either your hard earned cash, or take a bite out of your very precious book royalties.
Unfortunately, your table of contents doesn’t actually give a full list of the contents of your book, it just reveals its structure. It doesn’t show all the topics, some of which may be scattered through the text, not all just in one spot in one chapter. And chapter titles and headings use your terminology, but your reader may well be searching for information using different terms.
Readers get very frustrated with non-fiction books without indexes. They can’t find the information they’re interested in — they don’t want to have to read the whole book to find out if you’ve mentioned that symptom, battle, technique, recipe, or mouse species they’re particularly interested in.
And for readers who have read your whole book, they won’t be able to find that bit about the nesting habits of Crimson Rosellas that they vaguely remembered, and want to locate again. The lack of an index is a huge disservice to your readers, the book itself, and to you as an author.
A professionally written index is not just a list of keywords or names that have been grabbed from the text and quickly cobbled together. It involves context, analysis, alternative terms — complex information structures. It provides a whole road map to everything you’ve written.
The indexer’s first priority is to write for the reader. We always ask ourselves: ‘Would the reader be pleased to find this entry in the text?’ ‘Would a reader be likely to look up this term?’ and ‘How else might a reader search for this information, what other terms might they look up?’ We create the bridge between your reader and your text.
Readers appreciate a good index — and a good index is often ‘invisible’ to readers, because it works seamlessly and well. Well-written indexes help you as an author, too — they make your knowledge easily available to your readers, improving your reputation as a subject specialist.
A poorly-written amateur index will attract annoyance, lower sales, and poor reviews. But the lack of an index altogether is much worse. The reviews are bad, the sales are even lower. People will opt for another similar book where the author cared enough to include an index.
Librarians, teachers and readers make buying decisions based on whether a book has an index or not. Book reviews in library trade magazines include assessments of the indexes in new titles. The inclusion of an index is the top consideration for your readers’ selection of which title to buy — more than the author’s name and the price of the book combined.
By including an index in your book, you are serving your readers well. You’re also increasing sales and exposure for your work. Indexes improve publishers’ profits, and keeping your publisher happy is a Good Thing™.
With an index in your book, what’s the net result? Libraries are more likely to buy your book. Teachers are more likely to use it as a class text. Readers are more likely to buy it. Your publisher will be happier. Your readers will be happier, and more likely to recommend it and leave positive reviews. Everyone is going to be happier. And suddenly making sure a professional index goes in your book seems like a no-brainer decision, doesn’t it?
So, if your book needs an index, click here to send me an email. I’ll get back to you within 24 hours (and usually much sooner), and ask you some questions about your book. Then I’ll draw up an obligation-free quote for you. If you decide to proceed, you can rest easy. All your hard work on your book is finally done, and it will be off to great things, with the best start it can have in life.
 ‘Let’s get usable! Usability studies for indexes’, Susan C. Olason. The Indexer, Vol 22, No 2, October 2000, pg 95