Novice Notes
on this website


Let me Talk You Out of Indexing

Process of Indexing a Book

The Business End

Marketing Yourself

Peer Review Example


Martha Osgood

To find these Novice Notes again, you can:
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Before you invest time, money, and energy in software, courses, and networking, let me show you some of the issues now that might discourage you later. Think about them well - and consider carefully: are you excited by this list or oppressed by it? The good, the bad, and the ugly...

Start-Up Considerations
Start-Up Costs

Are you SURE you want to be an indexer?

When I was considering indexing as a business, I asked indexers I interviewed to "talk me out of this idea." Here are some of those kinds of issues.

a) You don't want to invest the time or money if indexing is not "for you". Some people run screaming from the room when I mention indexing, and you just might be one of those once you see what it takes and the kind of detail you will be working with. Another important question in this first big category is whether you can afford health insurance on your own.

b) Note, too that it may take some time (18 months?) both to begin to get real business and to get continuous business (depending a lot on your repeat clients - which in turn depends on how good your work is). Consider whether your finances, working style, and preferences allow for this. Many indexers moonlight at first until they can count on business and repeat business coming in.

c) Are you good at finding the center of a discussion easily, and do you have a decent talent for synonyms? Can you divide your work into the number of days you have to meet the deadline then actually meet that deadline? Some folks are self-directed in their recreations, but less so in their work lives... Are you hyper organized? I expected to need a decent memory, but I did not expect to use (and improve) my organization skills so intensely.

d) Get hold of a few Before and After indexes (before peer review and after peer review). They can show you a decent enough index, then the same index with the commentary of several Peer Reviewers which shows you how much better it can become. Is it too deadly to read through these to understand what is going on in them? If so, Indexing might not be for you.

e) Another possible cost is a laser printer. Ink Jet printers are not generally able to print out your 350-600 page books received by PDF attachment in an economically viable or time-friendly manner. Do you have a different option, or will you need to negotiate with Kinko's to print out that many pages at 7 cents a page instead of at their usual 50 cents a page on fine paper as they do for most clients (which is still $25 out of your pocket). Or you could have the client send you the hardcopy by mail or courier (as well as the PDF) and waste a day or two of your valuable indexing time...

f) Speed matters for the following reasons: If you cannot bring your skills up to a decent speed that will allow to make enough to pay taxes (set aside 50% off the top since you have to pay both the employee AND the employer parts), insurance for yourself (and family?), overhead (set aside 35+% of your time for billing, learning new software, reading Index-L, peer reviewing, research at the library to verify standard indexing treatments for a confusing book, pre-reading and editing your index before submitting it...), vacations/sick time/down time/retirement (what are your goals?), and yourself (you MUST make more than a McJob would pay) ... then you will need to have different goals than "making a living doing this work". There are a number of people who ARE supporting themselves plus at least one other by indexing alone, but I can't emphasize enough how efficient they are. Depending on the subjects they index, they can complete (read, mark, enter, edit, submit--and still market) 300 pages a week.

On the other hand, if this is intended to be part time work, a second income, a skill to offer non-profits, or intended for the pleasure of forced deep reading in a favorite field, go for it. Remember, that I know a number of people who index so efficiently that they support themselves, a spouse, and have paid off the house and are putting money aside for retirement. And I know people who drop out of it because they are not efficient enough to make money at it.

My favorite topics are generally in Philosophy or Theology, even though these topics take longer than many others because their threads of thought are tangled (think spaghetti) all through the book rather than in discrete pieces. My total process - reading, marking (note: not everyone pre-reads or marks though I feel that I need to in order to follow all the tangles through my texts), entering, editing - goes rather slowly, about 100 pages a week. The simpler the topics, the quicker the index goes. The better organized the text, the quicker the index goes. The better organized the INDEXER, the quicker the index goes. But... the simpler the topic the more boring it is and the sleepier I get... Sometimes the good money makes up for it, sometimes not. (BTW, other indexers can do 100 pages a DAY).

g) If you need income NOW, don't count on indexing. It can take up to 3 years or more to build a consistent client base to support yourself (if you market well and wisely, and if you get repeat business due to the quality of your indexes) in the manner to which you plan to become accustomed.

h) If you need a bank loan to purchase the furniture, computer, software, phone or Internet systems, and courses, you will have to consider seriously the interest costs and the payback schedule in relation to your income needs and your income potential - you'll get faster but not without a LOT of focussed, effective practice: I seldom met my hourly goal even at the 5 year point.

i) There is business out there, and the field will not go away - in fact, indexing will probably grow in scope and importance as information-overload continues to explode and search engines only give thousands of unanalyzed, general hits instead of the specific few that can really help.

j) Self-motivation is a MUST. (Note: self-motivation is sometimes defined as a fear of humiliation combined with an utter determination to have the freedom of being self-employed).

k) Is this a good match with your family? Some indexers (male and female) have very young children and it works for them. For others with the same family structure, it does not work well.

l) Try indexing a book before you invest in it. Ideas for how to do this.


(these don’t have to be purchased all at one time)

Computer: PC or Mac (or Unix), new enough to do email, big enough to use one of the dedicated software programs, all the other programs you need to have open at the same time ( browser, Word or WordPerfect, Acrobat Reader, maybe Quickkeys), and plenty of memory.

Printer: laser (must be able print out 10 pages a minute minimum, pref 20) (ink jet printers take too long to print out 350-600 pages, and cost too much in ink cartridges)

Software (and time to LEARN IT WELL):

A word processing program: WORD or WordPerfect, or MS Office
Web Browser (free),
E-mail client (some are free, but I like the pro versions a lot better),
The best virus software you can find if you are on a PC (even if it costs more than you want to afford) or use a Mac
Acrobat Reader (free)
Indexing software  ~$500.00
Web building software - later

I also have several emailing methods because one of my email programs seems to remove spaces in my indexes when I attach them.

USDA correspondence course costs $355.00ish
Regional courses (faster, more thorough, and with a lot more feedback) cost about $600 and are not always available when or where you need them.
Consider also the TIME involved in learning how to index - it ain't as easy as it looks and learning well the first time saves grief later.

Reference books:

Stauber $40
Mulvany 2nd Edition $40 (may come with a course)
Smith and Kells $40
Chicago 15 $40
Wellisch $40

~ but don't purchase the following till you need them:
Biographical Encyclopedia $30
WORD for Dummies $20?
Smith and Kells, Inside Indexing $30?
Two different, big dictionaries
Knight (out of print, so $??)
Grammar books (Fowlers II or III, Judd, other)
Name structures book by Ingraham (opt)
Reference books in your fields (as you need them)

American Society of Indexers

Continuing education workshops:
Consider the costs and benefits: In the Pacific Northwest, semi-annual workshop costs vary from $55 to $100 for all day and day-and-a-half conferences (most often including lunch and snacks), plus motels in Seattle, Richland, Bend, Portland and/or Eugene (there are some "Indexer-Inns" available at no charge), and meals with other indexers outside the workshops. (Don't miss these regional gatherings - they are the heart of your "renewal" and connections with others who understand what indexing is).

Markers (I use Zazzle because they have a "pump action" and so don't dry out in a day), large D-ring notebooks, copypaper, coffee, rack or podium or a way to hold your page proofs to index from, finger-grip or goo, more coffee, cat, window, squirrel feeder, bird seed, suet.

Your Time
- priceless. Don't waste it if this work is not going to be your passion.

Table of Contents of All Six Novice Notes pages:

1. Resources to help you decide whether you want to index books or not - profiles of indexers in general, ASI, PNW, AUSSI, SI and chapter sites, discussion lists, software sites, indexing courses, income expectations, kinds of indexing, Is Indexing Really for YOU?

2. Let me talk you OUT of it - expenses, equipment, cost of courses, speed of indexing, brain agility ("Quick, give me three perfectly nuanced synonyms for XX"), moonlighting, self motivation, slowness of getting started, marketing yourself, irregular income, most index as supplemental income, organization, details, no feedback...

3. What does indexing look like from the inside? Sample step-by-step process of indexing (not a lesson in indexing), indexing sins, strategy, secret notes to yourself in the draft versions of the software, groups/grouping, other editing processes, timing, deadlines, some aspects are boring and solitary. Consider indexing a whole favorite book (and then asking your friends to use it while you watch) before investing in software or courses...

4. The Business of Indexing - a sample business plan (very informal), what to do between USDA lessons, skill building practice ideas, your desk, administrative background tasks, pricing and productivity, reference books.

5. Marketing Yourself - creative marketing ideas, one of several accepted processes for marketing your indexing business.

6. Peer reviews of indexes for purposes of continuing education, determining one's progress, quality control, submitting a more polished product to a publisher, etc.


Back Words Indexing
Martha Osgood, Indexer