evaluations, of indexes

checklistToday I read a tweet from an author frustrated with the quality of the index the publisher was sending her. She suspected it was machine generated and her frustration was palpable, mostly because of her emoji decision.mad face

The struggle of not knowing how to determine the worth of an index is real. To avoid real-life mad faces, I am including an evaluation checklist from the American Society for Indexing (ASI). Their evaluation is all-inclusive and may seem overwhelming upon first glance. Even using a few of these items to evaluate your index can give you an idea of the overall quality.

One last piece of advice. Quality indexers will provide you with a quality index. There are many indexers that index books “on the side” or those who agree to write an index not understanding the detail needed. I strongly suggest hiring an indexer that is a member of the ASI. In my next post I will cover some questions you can ask a potential indexer to help determine their experience.

From the ASI website on evaluating an index:

Reader Appropriateness ·         Are the indexed terms appropriate for the intended audience? For example: “heart attack” in a book for the general public, “myocardial infarction” in a book for health professionals; “Taxus” in a work for botanists or horticulturalists, “Yew” in a work for home gardeners.
Main Headings ·         Are the main headings relevant to the needs of the reader? Are they pertinent, specific, comprehensive? Not too general yet not too narrow? Not inane or improbable?

·         Do main headings have not more than 5–7 locators (page references)? If more, they should be broken down into subheadings.

Subheadings ·         Are the subheadings useful? In the example below, a) the page ranges are extensive b) the subheading “problems with Republicans” may be too general:
Roosevelt, Franklin
problems with Republicans, 1–32

·         Are subheadings concise, with the most important word at the beginning? For example, not:
and relationship to Federal Reserve bank


Federal Reserve regulation

·         Unnecessary words and phrases like “concerning” and “relating to” and proliferation of prepositions and articles should be avoided.

·         Is the number of subheadings about right? More than one column’s worth is probably too many. Are subheadings overanalyzed? Could they be combined? For example, could “dimensions” be substituted for “height,” “width,” and “length”? Or should some subheadings become main headings with their own subheadings instead?

·         Do subheadings have more than 5–7 locators? If more, they should either be broken down into sub-subheadings or be changed to main headings.

Double Postings ·         For the reader’s convenience, many subheadings should be double posted—that is, they should exist as main headings too. An example: “Cats: Siamese” and “Siamese cats.” Has this been done? Double postings should, of course, have the same locators. Do they?
Locators (Page References) ·         Are the locators accurate? Check a sample of entries to see. Spot-check pagination for nonsense numbers where the hyphen or en dash may be missing, such as 18693 for 186–93. Check that elision (page ranges such as 186–93) is consistent.

·         When locators include roman numerals or volume numbers, does the typography make the usage clear?

Cross-References ·         Have see and see also cross-references been provided?

·         A see should direct the reader to a different term expressing the same concept, such as “Clemens, Samuel. See Twain, Mark” or “aerobics see exercise”.

·         A see also should guide the reader from a complete entry to the related entries for more and different information. Examples: “Mammals: 81, 85, 105; see also names of individual mammals” “astronomy 12–14, 56, 68. See also galaxies; planets”

Length and Type ·         Is the index length adequate for the complexity of the book? An index should be 3–5% of the pages in the typical nonfiction book, perhaps 5–8% for a history or biography, and more (15–20%) for reference books.

·         Is there a need for more than one type of index? For example, in addition to the usual subject index, perhaps a separate name or place index is called for. If so, is there one?

Format ·         Is the type large enough to be easily read? Do the index pages look open and not crowded?

·         Are the main headings and subheadings (and sub-subheadings if any) distinguished from each other?

·         Is the organization—whether alphabetical, chronological, or other—accurate, clear, and consistent?

·         When an entry’s subheadings “turn a page” that is, are continued from a right-hand page to a left-hand page, the main heading should be repeated, followed by the word continued in parentheses. Depending on the size of the pages, continued headings might be appropriate for continuations from left to right pages, or even from left to right columns. Are they present?

·         Preferences for punctuation between main headings and their subheadings and see and see also cross-references will vary from publisher to publisher. This discussion features several acceptable variants. The important thing is that the punctuation style be clear to the reader and consistent. Is it?





on names

This week I am indexing an historical biography on a woman of importance in the late 1800s and early 1900s. I feel, a little, like I’m studying for a high-school history class (for me that is a huge perk of being an indexer, I love learning about people, places, and concepts I’d otherwise have no or little introduction to).

name tagThe book is pretty name-heavy. In the case of this current project, the author stated that he wanted all names in the text included in the index, so I am obliging that request. If I hadn’t received such specific instruction, however, there would have been some choices to be made on whom to include in the index, and who was simply a passing mention.

If you are the author of a biographical or historical book, or one of any genre that includes many names, you will likely be asked by your indexer if you have a preference on determining which people are important enough to be indexed. When I put it that way, it seems like a daunting task, right?

Here are a few things I talk about with my clients when we discuss names in a name-heavy book:

  1. Usually you will not want every name indexed. If for no other reason than inclusion of each person will likely make the index too large and run the risk of being confusing for readers.


  1. People who are passing mentions usually do not need to be included in the index. Consider, for example, a reader that finds Shakespeare, William in the index, turns Hw-shakespeareto the appropriate page only to find: “Smith enjoyed reading Shakespeare during his college years.” This information gives no substance to the reader and only leaves them frustrated. The same goes for epigraphs. I find these hints at the theme of the coming text to be useful and enlightening, but they usually provide no new information and need not be indexed.


  1. Sometimes indexing most names, including passing mentions, can be worth-while to the marketing of the book. Last year I indexed a cookbook about a resort town in Mexico that included many stories of the people who have had homes in the resort over the last fifty years. This book will likely sell mostly entirely to folks who lived or visited the resort. To check the index and find your name, or that of a relative or friend, could be the difference between a sale and someone walking away. Realize, though, that books of this nature are a rarity.


  1. I fully understand the desire to include a person of importance in your field, especially in scholarly works. I’d encourage you to provide such a list to your indexer. I once indexed a book on sales marketing. I had glossed over a name that was mentioned twice in the book, but in both instances with no information I found necessary to index. After the author first read through the index, he emailed me very upset that I had not included the name of a very important woman in the marketing world. I explained my decision not to include her, leading the author to realize he hadn’t written nearly enough about a person he was trying to impress. It was a very enlightening conversation for both of us. He was able to remedy the omission with a quick added paragraph that didn’t change the pagination of the book (thank goodness, because that would be a whole different conversation that we can talk about at another time).


In the end, the best practice is to trust your indexer. Most of us have trained for these situations, read the authoritative books on when to index and when not to, and have years of experience backing us up.

Higher Loyalty, A (Comey)

I just had to take a look at A Higher Loyalty’s index. A politically important and newsworthy book like Comey’s makes my imagination go wild. Who indexed it? What was that process like? I kinda even want the indexer’s autograph. I did the same thing when Hillary’s book came out. I’m a nerd like that.

But, to my annoyance, there was no index on Amazon’s “look inside” for Comey’s book. I did, however, find a snapshot of it on Clio Chang did peek inside and pointed out some interesting entries (HT, Clio Chang!).


Comey Index 1

I am reasonably political. I feel as if it is important to know the happenings in Washington and other capitals around the globe. I have a definite opinion on many issues, but I am also able to have a conversation with someone from the other side of the aisle. I might even share a few of their beliefs.

I once was invited to interview for a political book (this was several months before the 2016 elections). Before I could make a bid, though, I was asked a series of questions regarding my political beliefs. I was asked to be honest and specific in my answers. I later found out the book was on Donald Trump. I didn’t get the job.

I am not going to comment on the entries in Comey’s book. I’m also not going to read the Comey Index2book. I want to point out, though, how this snapshot of the index gives us so much information about the publication without having to read it.

An abundance of information exists on the significance of indexes in nonfiction works. I am particularly aware of the index as a marketing tool, and how librarians, educators, and the public make buying decisions based on the index.  The index for A Higher Loyalty might exaggerate this claim, in spite of the fact that we all knew, roughly, the content before seeing it. Even these two pages are very telling, and there should be no surprises on content. The indexed warned us (ok, so maybe I’ll comment just that once).

If you are an author, don’t forget this. It is just as important for you as for James Comey. More, actually, unless you plan on appearing on every news outlet in the world.

Academic Writing: and Fake News

I’d like to take a little bit of time to talk about fake news.

fakenewsAs a former mass communications major, I have always respected and trusted the gateway of information. Throughout my adult life I have scoured newspapers, watched newscasts, and generally paid attention to what is happening in our world. With the advent of social media, I began picking through sources to find the ones most trustworthy.

But now, the term “fake news” dominates even the news itself. What of what we read and listen to is true? How is that gateway holding up? I spent many years defending the media, but I can’t do that anymore. I still read CNN’s site every night before I fall asleep and watch morning news, but not with the tenacity I used to.

I think that might be why I’ve become so attached to academic writing. As Dan Rather said of the genre to the Association of American University Presses last year, “Our country needs you and your work right now…. Do that with courage and gusto. You cannot waiver, hesitate, or cower…. What you do matters.” (this article in Publishers Weekly has that quote)


My very first paid indexing job was an academic piece on public restrooms as it pertains to gender fluidity. And this was long before the “real news” covered events on this issue in detail. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that monograph set a tone for my work to come.

I find a sense of trust in academic writing. Because of that, I feel a powerful sense of responsibility. I am aware that the audience of these writings can be much different than that of other books I index. The discourse community knows what they are looking for, and using the index can be a tool used like no other reading community.

The importance of indexes in academic writing is not lost on me. I take the job very seriously.

I know some news is fake. Just because someone writes it doesn’t make it true. But I know in these peer-reviewed scholarly books, the information is very real. And I appreciate all the authors, reviewers, editors, and publishers who make sure of it.

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