Contracting With Indexers

Jump to:  Locating Indexers |  Choosing Indexers |  Questions to Ask Indexers | Questions Indexers Will Ask

Locating Indexers

While searching the web is a common tactic to find indexers, there are two approaches that provide very useful info from the get-go: are these indexers reputable and do they write useful indexes?

  1. Ask for referrals from colleagues or other indexers.
    • Talk to other editors, writers, and publishers about indexers. They will probably be happy to tell you who they’ve worked with in the past and who has (or has not) worked out for them. Having a list of names of people who are out-of-the-running is just as important as starting a list of indexers to consider.
    • After making contact with the first indexer, let them know that you’d like to talk to a few additional indexers before deciding who to work with, and ask them for names of indexers they’d recommend you contact. Legitimate professional indexers are happy to refer people to additional indexers. In fact, most indexers do this as a matter of course when contacted about projects for which they’re not available or for which they think the indexer needs a different subject expertise.
  2. Use directories of indexers.Browse through directories like those listed below. Remember, though, that most of these only include indexers who’ve paid for inclusion in their directory.

Choosing Indexers

While it’s tempting to contract with the first available or cheapest indexer (or proofreader, editor, or illustrator) you contact, an open schedule or low fee shouldn’t be the highest priority. These are certainly important issues, but consider two important questions:

  • Why is this indexer’s schedule so open? Is she chronically available or did you just get lucky and call when she’s between projects?
  • Why are her quotes lower than others? Is there some reason for her to charge fees that are lower than her colleagues? Perhaps she works so fast that she can fit 3 indexes into the time it takes other indexers to write 1 index. This might be handy, but also might introduce questions about the quality of her work.

It’s a great idea to find 3 or 4 indexers who are available and whose fees are in your price range, and then ask a few important questions. Chatting for just a few minutes on the phone can provide enough useful information about an indexer to make a choice about whether you want to work with her.

Two details to determine when finding out about indexers:

  • They have practical indexing experience. Having read a book about indexing or having written an index or two doesn’t mean someone can write useful indexes any more than reading a book about how to write novels makes you into a marketable author. Creating an end product with value takes much more than following a prescribed process.
  • They are interested in indexing. People who see indexing as a way to make a quick buck probably create very different end-products than those who really care about creating useful tools for accessing information in documents.
  • They’re professional and friendly. One very important quality that tends to be overlooked is how well indexers get along with their clients. Granted, you won’t be working the indexers day-in and day-out, but you do want to feel that you can communicate openly with them, especially if you have a question about the final product. As you talk with them, ask yourself how comfortable you would feel asking these indexers why they handled a topic a certain way in the index. If they’re abrasive before they’ve landed a contract with you, it’s not likely that they’ll be less abrasive after they’ve signed a contract.

Questions to Ask Indexers

Below are the kinds of questions that provide information useful for deciding between several indexers.


  • How did they learn to index? The most common responses you’ll hear are either the correspondence course offered by the Graduate School (formerly the USDA course), one- and two-day workshops, and courses offered through local colleges and universities. Remember that indexing, as a form of writing, isn’t something that can be learned simply by reading about how to do it or by listening to a lecture about how to do it. Can you imagine taking a one-day class in editing and then walking away with all the skills it takes to edit professionally? Indexing requires skills that must be learned, internalized, practiced, evaluated by a working professional, and practiced again.
  • How long have they been indexing? New indexers have a lot to offer, so you don’t need to necessarily shy away from them. But I do think it’s important to ask about what kinds of practice and feedback they have gotten from their instructors. (When learning indexing, feedback on practice indexes is absolutely vital.) There’s nothing uncouth about asking new indexers for the names of their instructors so you can find out what the instructors think about their work. If green indexers have been working with mentors, doing pro-bono indexes, or subcontracting with other indexers you know they’re dedicated to making this into a true career. Their seriousness can also be revealed in their participation in conferences, meetings, indexing organizations, and in other professional development opportunities (seminars, workshops, etc).
  • What is their background in your subject area? This might not always be applicable. In fact, if a text is for an audience with little or no experience in the discipline it might be a good idea to work with an indexer who can relate to this audience. If you’re looking for indexers with subject expertise, ask if they have work experience, personal experience, or degrees in that discipline. Also, if it’s important to you, ask if they have a background in information science (the study of how information is produced, organized, and used) or knowledge management.

Quality of work

  • Will they give you a few professional references? Even if you don’t have time to actually contact their references, getting this information can be useful. Simply find out who’s on their list: clients, other indexers, former instructors? If you do have time, ask their references about whether they’d contract with this indexer if they were looking for one. Also consider asking if they finish indexes on time, follow required style guides, have professional attitudes, and are easy to work with.
  • Will they send you samples of their work? If you have time to evaluate their work, ask for samples.


  • What kinds of continuing education or professional development activities have they been involved in recently? If you’re looking for people actively involved in their profession, ask about recent publications, presentations, or other professional activities either in the indexing community or in their area of specialization.

Questions Indexers Will Ask Potential Clients

  • Who is the audience? It generally takes a lot less time to create indexes for people who are new to the concepts covered in the text. If it takes more effort to read a text for more advanced experts, then it will also take more time to analyze  and write highly structured, detailed indexes for it.
  • If I find corrections or typos in the text, shall I let you know immediately? Some clients want corrections sent at the end of the project, with the final index and invoice. Others want to know immediately.
  • Whom in your office should I contact if I have questions about indexing-related issues? Managing editors are usually our contacts, but sometimes authors is willing to answer indexers’ questions.
  • How big is the text? Although the number of pages is important, what indexers need to know is anything that makes the words on the page fewer or more than usual: size of the page, typeface, amount of illustrations, etc.
  • Do you have any limitations on the index size? Common limitations include the number of lines or pages reserved for the index, total number of entries, or number of characters per line. If there are any limitations, let the indexer know immediately. It’s easier to fit indexes to a certain size as we’re writing them. If indexes need to be reduced before they’re published, it is best to have indexers make the changes so they can make sure index structures wont be compromised. For example, if an entry is deleted or reworded, cross-references to it will also be revised.
  • Will I receive a portfolio copy of the text? Many of us like to have final copies of the works we’ve indexed.
  • Will credit be given to me as the author of the index? Many publishers give indexers credit on the copyright page or in the acknowledgments, alongside names of illustrators, editors, and other contributors. Some publishers place the indexer’s name on the first page of the index.