When to start on the index?

Something I have also been recently asked is:

I have not yet started compiling an index for the book. Should I begin doing that already (a rough version), or can it wait for the time being? If I should start doing it already, how much space do we have for it and what indexing method do you suggest?

An index may be unassuming, loitering at the end of your book with not a lot to say for itself. It is also one of the last things to be made, usually by the author, and often under great time pressure at the same time as the vetting of the second (paginated) proofs.

Nonetheless, the index is perhaps the most-used pathway to searching a book, accessed far more times than the table of contents. A poor index signals to the reader that this is an inferior book. Do not fail your book at this last hurdle, mere days before it goes to the printer.

Indexing need not be a last-minute affair. Here are a few suggestions:

  • You can prepare in advance by producing a mind map of the book that identifies elements you wish to include.
  • From this, you could draw up a list of index entries (and sub-entries) minus the page numbers.
  • If you feel confident that the text sent for typesetting will change very little during typesetting, you could even create a book file from this text in your word-processing program and begin entering index tags. (This is indexing method 3 – see my next post.)

Just how much space is available for the index is really not clear until after the typesetting is well advanced. Only then will the book’s final extent begin to be firmed up. (If, however, you are interested to try calculating the book extent, then you might find it worthwhile taking a look at my earlier post on this subject.)

As for choices in indexing method, see my next post.

(NB: A substantially revised treatment of this subject can be found here.)

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One Response to When to start on the index?

  1. […] on the book production process, the first post of which is here. This is a complete reworking of an earlier post on the same subject.) Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)When to start on the […]

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