Indexing, process of

typewriterI love working with authors. They all have a dream of this book they’ve been obsessing over for years. They’ve lost sleep, tired their friends and family with specific topic conversations, some have quit jobs or put careers on hold. By the time they get to me, they are buttoning everything up and can see the end in sight.

It is a joy to work these authors. Their excitement is contagious.

Many, though, feel so close to publication that they want to fly through the indexing process. “How fast can you get it done?” I hear, a lot. Few flinch at the rate I charge them. If there is a piece that needs to be negotiated, it is often the timeline.

index cardsOne time I had a prospective client ask, “Will it go faster if I give you a list of words and you alphabetize them?”

Allow me to explain what happens in the last days of your project so that you understand what may seem like an unreasonable amount of time to alphabetize a few words.

Although not all indexers do, I read the book on a quick, high level before I start anything. I make notes of themes that reoccur in the text, and create an outline of the main topics. Then I am able to dig into the manuscript in detail. Reading and rereading, I analyze the book page by page, ensuring that all topics, names, and important mentions are included in the index. I think like the reader, asking what they would want to find and how they would look for it. This takes time to get right. Of course, some books are easier to read and index than others. Indexing a book on travel with elderly parents takes less time than a book that explains scientific concepts and how they relate to the world around us. After reading and indexing, the hard part starts:  editing. During the editediting phase, I double and triple check each heading, cross reference, subheading, and comma. Remember the editing process of your book? The same level needs to happen with the index.

The funny part? I don’t even have to do any alphabetizing. I have a program that does that for me!


Heroes, indexers as

I love my clients. I really do. Partly, of course, because they are my clients and allow me to have the job I love, but also because they are often amazing people. Roughly half my clients are authors, and the other half work for publishing companies. Authors tend to be  passionate and enthusiastic about their work, and will talk about their subject matter to anyone who will listen.

Milan Somborac's profile photo
Milan Somborac, DDS

One of my favorite clients is a dentist and an investment expert. And he has written books on both subjects.

I want to share with you a series of really fun emails I had with him. I think you will quickly see why he is one of my favorites:

Good morning Jen,

I read Seth Godin’s blog. He puts it out daily and often, it contains pearls (but not daily). You might want to check it out.

You do a great job indexing. It is hard to believe that AI could replace you. (See link below.)

Best wishes,


Artificial Intelligence

Hi Milan:
I see your article and raise you an article… 😉
Indexers as Heroes

Good morning Seth,
You drop many pearls in your blogs and I look forward to them. I recently sent a link to your “23 Things Artificially Intelligent Computers Can Do Better, Faster, and Cheaper Than You Can” to book indexer Jennifer Weers and she responded by sending me a link to “In Our Google Era, Indexers are the Unsung Heroes of the Publishing World.”
You, and most  writers will find it an eye opener. Enjoy.
Milan Somborac DDS, fearless of computers
Author of Monday Morning Millionaire Ed. 2, indexed by Jennifer Weers.

Indexer, on becoming

“So. What do you do?”20180228_194917

When that socially-required question is asked by someone I’ve just met, I already know how the rest of the conversation will go:

“I’m an indexer. I write back-of-book indexes.”

“Really? I didn’t know that was a real thing.”


“How did you get into that?”


Party pleasantries aside, how I became an indexer is one of my favorite stories to tell. It’s a good one.

polly pockets
A parent’s worst nightmare

I was a stay-at-home mom with a college degree and business experience sitting on the floor with my kiddos playing Barbie and Cars. Although I don’t regret a minute of the time I was home, I did spend an unproportionate

amount of time wondering what was next.

I knew I didn’t want to go back to the corporate world. I knew I wanted flexibility. But I didn’t know at all what that would look like. Like, at all. Looking back at it now I’m a bit embarrassed about how much time I spent worrying about my next gig.

I kept busy doing things other than playing Polly Pockets. I wrote articles for newsletters. I did some research. I fact-checked for an author. I edited business reports. And, though I enjoyed all of these jobs, they were jobs. They weren’t careers.

The three reasons I stayed home all those years.

I felt like time was ticking. My baby was about to go to 1st grade.

One day I was lamenting to my BFF, Toni, about my post-mommy career anxiety. Toni and I first met as English majors in college. Until the demise of brick and mortar book stores, our favorite thing to do together was wander around a Barnes & Noble or Borders. We are book nerds.

With a sigh, she said, “Wouldn’t be nice if you could just read for a living?”

Wait. Read for a living? Could I actually do that?

9 (2)
My Toni

So, I did the next natural thing and Googled “reading books for a living.” Hidden in that search result list was the gem I didn’t know I was looking for. Indexing.

Um, stupid question. Don’t computers just index a book? Turns out, they don’t.

I found the leading organization for indexers, American Society for Indexing (ASI), and soaked in everything on their website. I scoured the indexes on my own bookshelf, ordered books on how to start an indexing business, took a course offered by ASI, and jumped in.

And I haven’t looked back.

Now, I am so thankful for a career that brings me so much personal satisfaction, allows me flexibility, provides a nice paycheck, and helps authors bring their dreams to life.

I read for a living. How great is that?

If you think reading for a living and writing indexes might be the answers to your obsessive “what now” questions, let me know. I’ll be your Toni and give you that little push.



Thanks for joining me!

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton