I just finished my 11th (to be) published non-fiction book, and the good news is that I didn’t have to make an index for it.
The bad news is that I didn’t have to make an index for it.
My dirty little secret: I like making indexes. The old way. With a pencil and index cards. I know there are software programs for this, but I agree with the Chicago Manual of Style when it states that a computer-made index “cannot in any way substitute for a real index prepared with the aid of human intelligence.” (Thankfully, degrees of human intelligence are evidently not an issue.)
The crux of it is that indexing requires a sifting process to decide exactly what is pertinent to the subject at hand, and that process is at least partly subjective . If a book is about strange creatures, “phantom pigs” is probably a pertinent entry, but its exact location in the obscure Welsh hamlet of Pentrefoelas may not be considered index-worthy. At least I didn’t think so when I prepared the index for Hunting the American Werewolf. A software program set for proper nouns might have beeped to differ.
Besides, I find the process relaxing. You get the galley in the mail and look at how the pages have shaken out and how the designer has arranged things. That’s always enlightening. Then starting at page one, you write the words you choose on the indexcards, alphabetizing each. And don’t forget the page numbers. Several packs of cards will be required for most books targeted above kindergarten level. And that Chicago Manual of Style will be invaluable for the picky parts.
Along the way you pick out any lingering typos that can still be fixed without disrupting design flow. A favorite beverage and snack is mandatory. The only tedious part is the data entry after you reach The End, but you could also enter as you go.
I’ve done this for five books — the others provided professional indexers at their cost – and this last one is part of a series with detailed chapter entries up front. But an index is normally a lovely and necessary thing to any researcher (or purchasing librarian — I’ve been one), and in my opinion no NF book should suffer the indignity of an indexless rear end.
I will add that I would never sign a contract for a book that required ME to pony up for a professional indexer. It would be like paying someone else to pet my dog or do my crossword puzzles. Genre NF advances are meager enough as it is.
And in the end, literally, a non-fiction tome without an index is just, er, book-naked.