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How to Contract with a Book Indexer, Part 2: Negotiating the Fee & Scheduling

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You’ve found an indexer. He has the requisite skills and experience. That’s great. How much should you pay him? Well, that depends on how much he wants and how much you can pay. Simply put, it’s a negotiation. Before we discuss fees for indexing, let’s look at the life of a freelancer briefly so that you can see what (hypothetically) goes into fee-setting for an independent contractor. As a small, independent publisher, you most likely know about this stuff already.


Type of Book Entries Per Page Pages per Hour Page Rates

Academic/Scholarly 5-10 7-12 $4.00 – $6.00
Textbooks 7-10 8-12 $3.50 – $5.50
Trade Books (Light) 2-4 12-20 $3.00 – $4.00
Trade Books (Dense) 5-10 7-12 $3.50 – $6.00
Technical/Business 7-12 10-15 $3.50 – $6.00

Well, that’s a lot. Not every indexer will have these costs, but most will. How does this translate into a fee? Not simply or easily.
Let’s look at how much time is available in any given year to produce income. There are 365 days. Subtract 104 weekend days, 12 holidays, 10 vacation days, and 10 sick days. That leaves 229 working days if all goes well. At 7 hours per day (don’t forget that lunch hour and the fact that most freelance work like indexing is very concentration-intensive), that’s 1,603 hours. In order to maintain a freelancing business, fully 20% of the indexer’s time will be consumed by marketing, accounting, and other administrative duties. That leaves 1,283 hours. Okay, take 10% off for down time due to scheduling mix-ups. He now has 1,155 hours available to bring in income.
Now, let’s say that he wants to make $40,000 per year. That doesn’t seem too greedy, does it? He’d have to bill those 1,155 hours at $35/hr. in order to succeed at making $40,000. Okay. How about if he wants to make $60,000 per year ($52/hr.)? Remember that these are gross numbers. If he makes $40,000 per year, he can give about 30-40% of it to the government (remember that he must pay both the employee and employer shares of FICA). Okay, that leaves him with $24,000. Those rates don’t seem so exorbitant after all.
Unlike copyeditors and proofreaders, indexers usually work for project rates. That is, they charge by the project, not by the hour. This usually takes the form of per page rates (although there are other methods available, such as per entry, per line, or per book). All this means is that there is an extra level to the calculations, and there’s no certainty about any of it. A 300-page book at $4/pg. will yield $1,200. If that job took 34 hours, then he made $35/hr. If he wants to make $52/hr., then he needs to complete that index in 23 hours (13 pgs./hr.). Can he do it? Well, that depends on the book, doesn’t it? And every book is different. Sometimes, it’s a crapshoot. He’ll end up on one side or the other of that magic number with each job.
These calculations don’t exist in a vacuum. The market exerts its influence. Do you require special knowledge or experience? Does your book require a rapid turnaround? Can you find someone else whose rates are lower? The idea is to balance these things so that you are getting value for your money and the indexer is getting a decent fee.
Publishers who offer extraordinarily low rates to indexers need to understand these dynamics. Although getting value for your dollar is a driving force in business, is paying a page rate that yields $10-$12/hr. any way for a talented professional to be compensated for providing a necessary and often-rare skill? I think not. Here are my guidelines (written in the most general way) to page rates for different types of books. These are only guidelines (I do books for less than $3/pg. if the content merits it, and some books can cost a lot more than the prices listed here).


Type of Book Entries Per Page Pages per Hour Page Rates

Academic/Scholarly 5-10 7-12 $4.00 – $6.00
Textbooks 7-10 8-12 $3.50 – $5.50
Trade Books (Light) 2-4 12-20 $3.00 – $4.00
Trade Books (Dense) 5-10 7-12 $3.50 – $6.00
Technical/Business 7-12 10-15 $3.50 – $6.00

Ask the indexer for the statistics on the index if you want to see how your book fits into this model. If you end up paying $4 per page for a trade book that produces only three entries per page, that’s something you need to know. You can see from this model that the density of indexable information contained on the pages of the book, as well as the content itself, have a big impact on the time it takes that indexer to work. That should be your frame of reference when discussing page rates with the indexer. It rarely is.
If the indexer you are negotiating with isn’t prepared to ask questions about the book (type size, trim size, illustrations, number and type of indexes needed, space constraints for index, and nature of text), then you should be prepared to find one who is a bit more interested in getting the right price for both of you. It stands to reason that the more difficult the text, the more you should expect to pay. Expect up to 50% more than the named rates if your book is composed of two columns of text on each page, or if the format is particularly large (and filled with text).
When counting pages that need to be indexed, leave out pages that the indexer will not need to look at, but include all pages that have text or illustrations (no matter if it’s only one line of text under a picture). These “easy” pages balance out with the dense text pages in the end.
Once you have reached agreement on the price verbally, follow this up with a contract. You’ll be better off (see discussion above on works-made-for-hire). It’s good business practice. At worst, set the terms down in a Letter of Agreement. Finally, as the publisher, it is your responsibility to provide a prompt payment to your independent contractors. Adhere to the payment terms that the freelancer sets and to which you have mutually agreed. Remember, even if the index is a work-made-for-hire, it’s not yours until payment is received by the indexer. Copyright is vested in the creator of the work. You’ll gain a valuable business partner if you pay a competitive rate and do so promptly. Preferential scheduling for prompt payers is common among freelancers.
One more thing: Expect to pay around $1/pg. extra if you need any special indexes in addition to a general subject index (e.g., an authors-cited index, a name index, a scripture index). While not intellectually difficult, these are time-consuming indexes to write (and some require special skill/knowledge). Bibliographies and references are consistently full of unresolved differences in spellings, which must be checked by hand (or eye). There are often thousands of authors cited in a textbook or scholarly book, and these require much tedious effort on the part of the indexer to find and include. Other indexes that can increase the page rate: scripture, title, geographic, and first line.
Scheduling the Project
While the independence and flexibility of the freelancer’s life certainly has benefits, it has its drawbacks too. One of these is scheduling. There’s either too many or too few projects in the hopper at any given time and only rarely are things just right. Here’s the problem. You can see how this happens. Freelancers are trying to fill all the holes in the schedule and that means overlap. Then, a project comes along that pays better than the one you’ve already taken for that slot, so you accept it and work overtime. Then, a favorite client calls with a special “last-minute” request to save them. And on and on.
There isn’t really a lot that can be done about this. It’s part and parcel of freelancing. But it gives rise to the subject of lead time for indexing projects. Invariably, when I’m contacted more than a month in advance of an indexing project, it slips to a later date. If even by a few days, this can cause quite a few problems (see “schedule, overcrowded,” in The Book of Life). Neither is it a great idea to wait until the day you have proofs in hand, ready to ship. You can usually find an indexer, but you might not get your first choice. A good lead time seems to be about two to three weeks. It’s close enough that everyone concerned knows there won’t be any slippage. And it allows the indexer to do some creative scheduling to meet all his commitments.
Of paramount concern to the indexer is that projects don’t slip. This is little more than wishful thinking on his part, of course, since indexing comes along so late in the book-making process. But if you can speak with some confidence and certainty that the project won’t slip, bumping into another project, that indexer will always look forward to your call.
Okay, how much time do you need to allow the indexer with the pages? Because of the way freelancers work, he will probably not be working on your project the entire time he has it. He may have one or two other concurrent projects that he is moving between (see previous discussion regarding scheduling projects). The type of book has a lot to do with time needed (and rates). Here are some guidelines:


Type of Book     Pages Business Days

Academic/Scholarly     < 300 10
Academic/Scholarly     300+ 15-20
Textbooks     300+ 15-20
Trade Books (Light)     < 300 7-10
Trade Books (Light)     300+ 10-15
Trade Books (Dense)     < 300 7-10
Trade Books (Dense)     300+ 15
Technical/Business < 300 10
Technical/Business      300+ 15

Expect to pay a premium to the indexer for requests that deviate substantially from this outline. Indexers’ rush rates vary between 25-50% more than standard rates.

Dan Connolly operates Word for Word Book Services in Barrington, Rhode Island. E-mail: dan@wfwbooks.com; Web site: www.wfwbooks.com; phone: 401/246-3303.

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