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How to Hire an Indexer

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Getting Started in the Hiring Process

The nice thing about hiring an indexer is that you can ask for a work sample and verify that the caliber of the index matches your needs. Of course, if the person you are considering has a list of publications a mile long from highly regarded establishments (especially if the work is in your subject area), you might need to go no further than that person’s resume. If you are dealing with someone newer to the field, however, request a work sample and call the person’s references, asking specifically about timeliness and efficiency in delivery of the project.

Items to Negotiate

There are a number of items to iron out, including agreeing on a schedule. Here’s how to proceed:


  • Price.


      This is usually quoted as a page rate based on the average number of indexable items found on each page. For instance, if there are approximately three items on every page worthy of indexing, I charge three dollars. Indexers will vary in their prices, and texts certainly vary in their level of technicality (not to mention readability when using the smaller point sizes!). But whether your indexer quotes you a

page rate

      or a

line rate

      (line of index, that is, corresponding to each entry), you can apply the formula and come up with a price agreeable to both.


  • Software.

Although WordPerfect should be perfectly importable to all major desktop programs like Quark, your indexer will probably be working in Word or a specific software program designed for indexing. Ask the name of the program and release number so you can verify compatibility. If there is any doubt as to whether the index will import (complete with formatting), ask for a test disk.

You will also want to go over how the index will be delivered. On a floppy? If so, ask about the indexer’s hardware (Mac or IBM) and drive size (three or five inches). These days, it’s often easiest to send the project by e-mail. It’s a good idea to run a test (while there’s still time to get a courier) that deals with the publisher’s ability to pick up an appended document from e-mail.


  • House Style.

If you have no formal document for index specifications, agree on the following topics beforehand.


Is the primary level of entry capitalized or lowercase? Lowercase is becoming more common because it conveys more information. Then, when a word is capped, it is obvious that it is actually a proper noun.

How many levels (two or three) of subentry are allowed? This is entirely up to you and the typesetter who must make sure that, if there is a third level, the indents are deep enough to distinguish one from another. Both work very well, but on extremely technical books, the third level imposes a much-needed hierarchy.

Are you clear on the numbering system?The Chicago Manual of Style method (required for academic documents) is not only unnecessarily complicated, it’s darn hard to read. Ask your indexer to make the numbers inclusive, which means a three-page discussion would be 172-174, not 172-4 or 172-74.


  • Schedule and Delivery.

Make sure that the indexer can accommodate the arrival of the index. Most indexers can process 100 pages a day and require an extra half-day to edit and style the finished project. Stick to the established schedule, and apprise your indexer whenever this changes. Remember, your indexer may have tightly scheduled his or her time to work on another project.



  • Method and Date of Payment.

Do you need the indexer to include your Purchase Order number on the invoice? Do you accept invoices by fax? Also, tell your indexer how many days net you need before payment. Is this two weeks or 30 days or more?


Reviewing the Index

At this point in the process, you probably know whether you would like to hire this person again (good indexers do not miss deadlines, and they learn to operate their computers efficiently). The biggest question, though, is whether the index itself is adequate. If you liked the index in general, but have a few suggestions in style, take the time to go over these issues with the indexer so that future indexes will more closely match your vision.

Janis Paris can be reached regarding her indexing services at 510/237-5817.

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