What if I index my own book? How can I make it a success?

In an interview with publisher Sandra Uschtrin, indexer Jochen Fassbender reflected on authors indexing their own work. Here are his comments: 


  • Subject knowledge and understanding of the text are key to indexing. You know your text best and you can bring your in-depth knowledge of the field to the index. There are even some instances where authors have won awards for indexes they’ve created.


  • A useful index is an analytical tool, not a keyword list. As such, you will be taking on substantial labour to create your own—potentially requiring several weeks—under a strict deadline.
  • Indexing a book is a very different mental process than writing a book. You may be too close to your work to be able to see it from a user perspective.
  • Equally important as subject knowledge is proficiency in modern indexing methods, tools, and best practices. If you don’t have this foundation, it’s easy to commit what Fassbender calls the “deadly sins” of indexing and fail to meet usability standards.

As an author, how can I make my index a success?

  1. First, honestly assess whether you meet the requirements for effective indexing. Fassbender recommends reviewing the “Authors and index creation?” section on the Deutsches Netzwerk der Indexer website.
  2. Pursue indexing training. At the very least, seek out seminars. To gain proficiency, undertake more extensive training and practice.
  3. Hire a professional indexer who works in your subject area. That indexer will bring subject knowledge to the index, while using their training and experience to create an analytical index efficiently, effectively, and on time.

Read the complete interview, including Fassbender’s discussion of the “deadly sins” of indexing and what makes a good index–for free in The Indexer: The International Journal of Indexing (Vol. 29, No. 1) at liverpooluniversitypress.co.uk/doi/10.3828/indexer.2011.4

Related questions

Editors and publishers want to know: What makes a good index?

In an interview with publisher Sandra Uschtrin, indexer Jochen Fassbender described some key qualities of a good index.

What does a good index look like?

The key qualities include:

  • Good term selection: The heart of quality indexing. Entries must be clear, meaningful, accurate to the text, and complete with locators. This is why indexing of a print book should take place only after the text pagination is final.
  • Comprehensive and consistent coverage of all important details and passages.
  • Entries for both implicit and explicit subjects (i.e., not simply a list of names and keywords).
  • All references to a topic consolidated under one “preferred” term, even if the text uses multiple terms to refer to that topic
  • Synonyms added to increase access points, either pointing to the preferred term via “see” cross-references or repeating the preferred term’s locators (double-posting).
  • Related index entries point to each other with “see also” cross-references.
  • Absence of passing mentions: This means the indexer did not index a word that is only in the text for illustrative purposes or otherwise does not provide significant information.
  • Accurate and explicit locators: Commas and dashes are used to distinguish between intermittent discussions of a topic on consecutive pages (e.g., 514, 515, 516) and continuous discussion of a topic on consecutive pages (e.g., 635-637). Furthermore, the start and end of page ranges are listed explicitly (e.g., 635-637 instead of 635 ff).
  • Ideally, main entries with more than 5 or 6 locators broken down into subheadings.
  • Appropriate length: Typically 4-5% of the length of the indexable material, and even 10% or more for reference works. Below 3.5% may be problematic.

Indexes with these traits add value to the text by ensuring users can efficiently find all substantive concepts, details, and facts.

What should editors and publishers look for in an indexer?

Read the complete interview—including Fassbender’s take on the “deadly sins” he wants indexers to avoid—for free in The Indexer: The International Journal of Indexing (Vol. 29, No. 1) liverpooluniversitypress.co.uk/doi/10.3828/indexer.2011.4

Fassbender also talked about some of the things that an indexer needs to produce quality work:

  • Training and practice: Essential for producing good analytical indexes
  • Ability to anticipate users’ needs and questions
  • Some knowledge in the book’s subject area
  • Indexing software: Indispensable for increasing the speed of indexing by handling and automating technical components

Read the complete interview—including Fassbender’s take on the “deadly sins” he wants indexers to avoid—for free in The Indexer: The International Journal of Indexing (Vol. 29, No. 1) liverpooluniversitypress.co.uk/doi/10.3828/indexer.2011.4

Why hire an indexer?

Who hires indexers?

You will benefit from the services of an indexer if you are

  • an author of a nonfiction book
  • a publisher of nonfiction books
  • the editor of a journal or series
  • a government department with long and complex reports
  • an organization with multiple digital files
  • a service that maintains a database
  • someone with a multiple-page website
  • someone with any other source of information that needs to be findable

What will an indexer bring to my project?

Indexers are trained to write a comprehensive and useful index that will help your readers find information on significant topics. Indexers bring to the job

  • Experience – An indexer has analytical skills, knows the conventions, and knows how to apply them.
  • Readers’ point of view – An indexer has the users’ needs in mind and knows how to think from many angles.
  • Fresh eyes – An indexer comes to the text without preconceptions, reading it as it was written, not as it was imagined by its creator. The indexer is often the last reader before the text is published or goes live and sometimes finds missed errors. An indexer will report those errors to you so that you can feel confident about going to press.
  • Community – The indexers whom you find here have access to resources and colleagues. Not many people in Canada (or the world) have indexing skills, which is why we have a national organization with connections to international organizations.

How do I find an indexer?

Our registry of indexers provides background, specialties, and locations of indexers across the country. Indexers who are not able to take on your project will often suggest names of other indexers whom they recommend. Ask and we will help you find an indexer for your project.

How do I work with an indexer?

Working with an indexer may be the easiest part of writing your book. This free e-book gives you the process step by step.

How much will it cost?

Due to the range of complexity of the material, there are no hard and fast answers. Most indexers can give you an estimate if you tell them about the size and audience of your project, send them your manuscript, or send some sample chapters.

In Canada, editors, project managers and publishers seem very willing to share information about costs of indexes. Consider contacting colleagues and ask what they paid for similar projects.

In 2021, ISC/SCI’s survey committee conducted a rates survey. Access the report for authors and publishers here.

If you would like to learn more about costs of indexes, here is an article about the indexers consider use to price their projects.