Book indexing: The writing career you didn’t know existed


Is this a gorgeous bookstore or what? It’s Livraria Lello, in Porto, Portugal. Image courtesy of Ivo Rainha, Unsplash.

One of the nice things about being a writer in this day and age is that much of your work can be done from virtually anywhere with an Internet connection. You’re not limited to being in an office 100% of the time, unless you choose to be. You can write at home, a coffee shop, a library or anywhere else.

Lately, I’ve been following this particularly fascinating discussion thread on LinkedIn. One person asked about viable options to continue her freelance writing career, and someone else mentioned book indexing.

I’d never heard of this particular writing career, and I was intrigued. I never imagined that you could make a living from freelance book indexing, but you can.

It makes sense. Someone has to write those lengthy indexes at the back of books, so that readers can sift through them and find the pages that contain the information they’re looking for.

It also takes an analytical mind and the ability to work alone. Plus, it wouldn’t hurt to have some expertise in the topic of the book or at least the ability to understand new concepts. And…’s the catch… have to LOVE books. 😉

There are even professional organizations dedicated to book indexing and training fledging indexers. The Australian and New Zealand Society of Indexers is one such site. There’s also the American Society of Indexers, the Indexing Society of Canada and the Society of Indexers in the U.K.

In a way, book indexing reminds me a bit of search engine optimization (SEO). You’d have to understand the search terms that people would use, whether they were beginners or experts.

But still, it’s nice to know that there’s another career for writers out there. We get to enjoy professions such as bloggers, journalists and book reviewers and can work in a variety of fields. Lucky us.



Filed under Writing

18 responses to “Book indexing: The writing career you didn’t know existed

  1. Thanks for enlightening me on this topic.

    • You’re welcome! I thought I’d heard of just about every career there was for a writer like me, but book indexing was a new one. I thought other writers might like to be aware of this option as well. 🙂

  2. I worked with a part time book indexer. Somewhat precise and organized in approach, which makes sense. As much as I love books this aspect wouldn’t appeal to me—it would similar to scrutinizing the brownie’s ingredients to understand why it tasted so delicious. The mystery and delight would vanish.

  3. Servetus

    and software. The people I know who do it use software.

  4. I used to index every book I wrote. I had a part of the Adobe package designed for both indexing and cross-indexing through various chapters AND multiple books. I couldn’t understand why books were so badly indexed and I finally realized that most people looked through their own personal lenses at what a word meant — and then didn’t bother to enter it alphabetically Since many people using the index (it’s the first part of the book I look at, assuming it is non-fiction.

    If you come across anything like that which I could do from home, THAT I could do. My back is SO bad now that I can’t do much physically, but my brain (mostly) still works. I still maintain that to properly index a book, you have to first carefully READ the book or you won’t understand the context. Everyone wants to index mechanically or by AI — but without context, it means very little — even to the author. Oh, I also wrote the books I indexed. which helped the process along.

  5. Just one more note: “Framemaker” which was originally its own company was bought by Adobe, but it was still basically a book design system and included a lot of stuff for not only indexing, but also other kinds of referral material. I do not know if it is even available anymore. It was a professional — and really EXPENSIVE piece of software (around $850 twelve years ago!) I hope someone else has taken over that small but critical part of the non-fiction writing world. MSWord is unstable for cross-indexing and other referencing.

  6. Answer: Yes, Adobe still makes it. You can buy it for $1000 or rent it for $30/month. It is the only software designed for big and multi-volume manuscripts. Difficult to learn (not quite as bad as Adobe for photos, but bad enough and useless for non-professionals, though I used it to design my book). But good to know it’s still available because it was and still is the ONLY professional tool for non-fiction BIG volume documents.


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