Your Book Index: DIY or Farm Out?

When you write a nonfiction book, the chances are good that you will include a book index. If you publish through an established company, you will probably end up paying for someone to create it. Do you find the indexer yourself and pay upfront? Or do you trust the publisher to be sensitive to costs they’re going to pass along to you anyway?

Taking Responsibility for Your Book Index

I prefer to handle the cost on my end to better control both cost and quality. That said, I don’t do the work myself. I farm it out to a professional indexer of my choosing.

Roughly speaking, a trained indexer will charge $3 to $4 a page for general trade books and $4 to $5 a page for scholarly books; and complete a 200- to 300-page book in a week (if no overlapping projects are competing for time). Do the math. Your index will likely cost between $600 (lowest rate, fewest pages) and $1,500 (highest rate, most pages).

If you want to do your own book index, a regular license for the three main indexing software programs — Cindex, Macrex, and Sky Index — costs up to around $600, depending on what bells and whistles you’re willing to purchase. Free trials are available for all of them; and Cindex has a student version for under $100.

A newcomer to the field, TExtract, comes in standard and professional versions for around $400 and $600 respectively. TExtract also offers single-publication author licenses for both versions.

If you’re new to indexing you can count on needing two weeks to finish it.

Hiring Someone Else to Do It

If you cede that responsibility to the publisher but agree to eat the cost — which either will be paid up front by you or come out of your royalty, based on your negotiating skills with your publisher — insist on some version of the phrase “going rate.” That phrase should find its way into any other clauses that obligate you to pay anything, such as to review proofs or format illustrations.

Do you live near a university that has a college of library and information science (formerly called library school)? If you do, ask the college dean if the faculty might include a professor who is passionate about your topic and would love the challenge of creating your index.

Or ask for referrals to any Masters-level students whose livelihoods one day will include creating indexes for pay. They’re looking for experience to build their portfolios. You can help one of them. It’s a win-win.

Cost depends on your negotiating skills with your indexer and your indexer’s love of your topic or need to build a portfolio. What service can you offer in exchange for your index?

In any case, I would feel confident in the ability of any professor or student whose name I obtained through a recommendation from the college dean.

For more on indexing software or finding a professional indexer, check out the website of American Society for Indexing (formerly American Society of Indexers) at

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This piece was adapted from Ken Wachsberger’s You’ve Got the Time: How to Write and Publish That Book in You. Ken’s other books may be found here and here. For book coaching and editing help, email Ken at [email protected].

Schedule your complimentary 30-minute coaching and editing session now.

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