Some Thoughts About Indexing

Thanks to those of you who offered suggestions on how to go about indexing a book.  Yesterday I finished with a first pass over the manuscript.  While I certainly have a clearer appreciation of those of you who suggested I hire a professional indexer, I can’t tell you how happy I am that I decided to do it myself.  The decision was made easier by the fact that right now I simply can’t afford such a service.

Yes, it is back-breaking work, but I now see it as an essential part of the process.  The indexing of key terms is pretty straightforward, but it’s the indexing of concepts that requires careful thought.  One reader encouraged me to construct the index as a road map of the book or to ask what I want the reader to be able to easily find.  While I could certainly offer suggestions to an independent indexer as to what headings and sub-headings to use, it goes without saying that no one has a better handle on the overall structure and argument of a book than its author.  This same reader also encouraged me to make it possible to find information under different headings and even shared that he first looks at the index to get a sense of the book’s focus.  To be honest, I’ve never thought of an index in such a way. Again, thanks for all the suggestions.

In the end, I am not sure that what I came up with is superior to what a professional could produce.  Still, I am glad that I took a shot at it.  The plan is to sit on it for a few days, review what I’ve done and send it to the publisher on Wednesday.  Hopefully, the next time I hear from them will be in the form of a box of books.

5 comments… add one
  • Andy Slap Apr 9, 2012 @ 11:25


    My first grad school advisor (and your former neighbor) told me years ago that you could always tell if a book was the first by a historian because it had a good and useful index. Later in their careers when they could afford to hire someone, he said their books tended to have fairly useless indexes. I hate indexing, but I think that the author can usually do a better job creating an index that captures and illustrates the ideas in a book.


    • Kevin Levin Apr 9, 2012 @ 11:33

      Hi Andy,

      That makes sense. It wasn’t that difficult given the length of the ms. I am not going to be able to retire on my book sales, but it is nice not to have to eat into royalties.

  • Pat Young Apr 9, 2012 @ 6:41

    Kevin, it is tribute to your abilities as a writer that I have read (and enjoyed) your posts on creating an index. I even want to read your index when the book comes out!

    • Kevin Levin Apr 9, 2012 @ 6:48

      Hi Pat,

      Thanks, but the goal was not meant to raise expectations re: the quality of the index. I am just happy that I got through it. 🙂

  • Mark R. Cheathem Apr 9, 2012 @ 4:51


    I agree with your assessment of indexing. Hiring someone would be easier, but only you know the conceptual framework of the manuscript well enough to do a good job.

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