In the olden days (maybe ten years ago), indexing required the indexer to create a list of indexed entries (words or items) and then, once the final page proofs were done, to undertake the painstaking process of reading every page and identifying which entries appeared on each page. Indexers charged $1.50 to $3.00 a page, partly for the expertise it took to create a good list and partly for the time it took to walk through the book page by page. If a book were to have an index, usually a professional indexer did the job.
With the advent of publishing software like Quark and Adobe InDesign, indexing is easier. Somewhat. While someone still needs to create the list of indexed entries, the computer can keep track of which indexed entries are referenced on which pages.
However, there are three problems with the new system. First, the temptation is there to skip the professional indexer in favor of a DIY index compiled by the author or editor, which can mean that the list of indexed items is not very good. Second, the computer tracks actual words more easily than concepts, which is more limiting than the old human-reliant system. Third, the new system still relies on brute force, though the procedure is opposite to what was followed ten years ago. Instead of going page by page and identifying which indexed entries are referenced on each page, the new indexer (who is more apt to be a graphics or production person than an editor) goes indexed entry by indexed entry through the entire book with the "find" tool, clicking "add" every time a suitable use of the entry appears and skipping any uses of the entry that shouldn't appear in the final index. In the old system, the size of the job was determined mainly by the number of book pages--and so indexers charged per book page. In the new system, the size of the job is determined mainly by the size of the indexed list--and so I charge per each entry indexed.
What does this mean to you?
- Refine your list of entries. Sometimes, a focused list makes sense. For example, some books benefit from an index of names. Or an index of locations. Keep your list shorter rather than longer. Remember, you'll probably be charged for each entry on your list.
- Wait until all your other pages are done before you build your index. That much hasn't changed. Under the new system, you don't want your indexer to have to cycle through your entire list of entries more than once. Or expect to pay for it.