In creating a book, an author does more than merely put words on a page; she or he creates a city of ideas. An indexer then creates a map of the city’s topography, so any visitor can easily find her or his way through the concepts, so each block has its street name and each neighborhood is marked not only by its place, but by its neighbors.
Indexes are more than simple, pre-conceived, analog searches. An index creates a simple way to see the interconnection of ideas. While it also helps the reader find major topics covered as well as assisting a reader in revisiting an idea that she or he has already read through, the index is also a space in which a reader can quickly scan topics and names to get a sense of the book’s internal logic.
Indexing requires several read-throughs of a given book.
To index a book, I first read through looking to understand this city of ideas. I take notes about concepts and terminology that seem to crop up often, and mark down how the book is structured. On the second read, I mark items to index, usually noting how they fit into or alongside other items. Finally, on a third read, I index, making sure to cover all the marked topics and terms. I do a followup read, after the index is complete, to make sure I have not missed anything, and then, using the index I created, search for terms, to make sure I have not unintentionally listed a wrong page number, as well as to check for ease of use. Despite being a long-time computer user (I was using a computer in the 1980s), I index the old-fashioned way: using index cards. I find this helps me track my internal organization as I create a map of the organization of the book.
I have worked with several authors, each of which had been supplied with a list of specifications by the publisher for how the index must look. Index formatting is publisher-specific. Indexing can only be performed on galley proofs. A galley is the final, edited version of a book, which includes page numbers that are exactly as the published version will have them.
I have, in the past, found editing errors while indexing. I report them to the author and allow her or him to discuss corrective measures with her or his editor at the publishing house.
A careful indexing process is a great way to make a book not only searchable (even in paper format) but reader-friendly as well. My authors have all been happy with my indexes, and some of the books I’ve indexed, listed in my portfolio, are available on Amazon and in your local bookstore, so authors can look before they hire!