Should an Author Index Her Own Book?

Should an Author Index Her Own Book?

On first look, the author seems the perfect person to index her book: Who knows that book better than the author? So, should an author index her own book?

It depends.

One factor is the publishing schedule. If the book is on a tight to-printer schedule then the indexing will likely be done at the same time the author proofreads the pages. Therefore, the publishing schedule needs to be considered.

Another factor to consider is how sick and tired the author is of the book by the time it’s ready to be indexed. The author’s job doesn’t end with writing the book. In the process of publishing the book, there is a string of responsibilities expected of the author, from securing permissions and art to approving copyedits and proofing pages. Does the author really want to read this thing yet again to index it?

And, of course, the author’s indexing skills should be taken into consideration. Some authors are natural indexers, creating clearly worded entries and building the web of connections and relationships that bring an index to life. Other authors are indexing dunces, perhaps entering “quick fix” under the As as “avoiding the quick fix” (true example).

Consulting editor Alan Rinzler is a man after my own heart with a post titled Every non-fiction book needs an index: Here’s why in which he interviews indexer Sylvia Coates on the topic of authors indexing their own books. He explains the reasoning behind authors paying for indexes and how the cost is applied to the royalty account. Then he leaves it to the indexer, Sylvia Coates, to deliver the kicker:

An amateurish or poorly executed index can damage the credibility of an otherwise well-written book.

On the other hand, a well-written index will enhance any book. Nancy Mulvany’s classic Indexing Books, published by the University of Chicago Press, is very readable; it’s one of the textbooks used in indexing courses. The University of Chicago Press are the people behind the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), which the index will likely need to conform to. The CMS is currently in its 16th edition. The indexing chapter in the CMS is sold as a stand-alone publication, Indexes: A Chapter from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th Edition.

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