The Well-Chosen Word

"Choice words and measured phrase, above the reach
Of ordinary men"
- William Wordsworth

Erin Hartshorn Indexer, Copyeditor, Proofreader, Writer

Professional Indexing Services

The value of an index

Why have an index? Libraries, schools, and individuals may all make decisions on which book to buy based on the index. The absence of an index may deter a librarian from adding a book to the library collection. The presence or absence of specific topics in the index may help individuals decide whether a particular book has the information desired. Inclusion of a thorough index may increase the value of a particular book, sales of that book, and the reputation of the publisher. A good index will also encourage users to read the manual to find desired information, rather than calling tech support to answer mundane questions.

Who uses indexes?
  • Researchers, who may pick up a book to find a single nugget of information.
  • Researchers, who may want to know whose work has been significantly used in a scholarly book.
  • Equipment and software users, who will try to find specific information on a feature.
  • Equipment and software users, who need help troubleshooting.
  • Readers, who want to re-read a favorite passage.
  • Students, who need to find information in their textbooks for a test or after finishing a particular class.
  • Anyone who wants to know if he or she has been mentioned in the book.

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Why use a professional indexer?

If you're an author, your contract probably requires you to provide the index to your book. Why should you hire a professional indexer to do the work for you? A professional recognizes the value of the author's words, and seeks to enable the reader to access the information with utmost ease. An indexer is a member of the book publishing industry and will work with you to produce the best index for your book in the time and space allotted.

A professional indexer is skilled in indexing concepts which may not be mentioned by name. (Many "automatic indexing programs" are simply concordance generators which cannot do this.) Indexers have knowledge and experience with many subjects and styles. A professional indexer will craft an index which follows specified guidelines for style, alphabetization, and cross-references, while still being flexible and accommodating to different potential readers of the book.

Above all, a professional indexer can save you time and money. With dedicated indexing software, alphabetization, sorting, creation and verification of cross-references, and creation of double-posted entries require a few simple keystrokes. Using a word-processing program or a spreadsheet program to mimic these functions falls far short of the power of dedicated software. An author might require several weeks to prepare an index, after having already spent months (or perhaps years) working on the book. Skilled indexers can index (read text, mark-up text, add entries to a software file, and edit the final result) at a much higher rate, which may vary depending upon the density of the text and the skill of the indexer in the subject matter covered by the text. If, upon discussion with his editor, an author feels he is the person best qualified to index his book, some indexers will accept "author highlights" of page proofs and generate an index from these (see below).

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Why use me?

I specialize in indexes for the following subjects: cooking and wine, gardening, arts and crafts, science and medicine, Catholic religion, travel guides, and biography. Upon request, I will work outside these areas. If you are interested in my background, check out my resume. If I do not appear to be the one for your book, I can refer you to someone else who does handle your area. The American Society for Indexing also has an online Indexer Locator.

I also perform various index consulting services. I am available to authors who wish to discuss cross references or double-posting, how to create the format they need with the software they have, how to edit an index to the space allotted by the publisher, or many other topics. I do accept "author highlights" of page proofs and will create the finished index with my software. Guidelines for marking page proofs are available upon request. If you are interested in any of these services, please email or call me to discuss details and fees.

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Indexes and copyright:

Section 101 of the 1976 Act provides that a work is "for hire" under two sets of circumstances:

"(1) a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment; or

(2) a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as a contribution to a collective work, as a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, as a translation, as a supplementary work, as a compilation, as an instructional text, as a test, as answer material for a test, or as an atlas, if the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed by them that the work shall be considered a work made for hire."

For a complete discussion of the difference between independent contractors and employees, see U.S. Supreme Court Community For Creative Non-Violence v. Reid, 490 U.S. 730 (1989). A good discussion of copyright of indexes is found on Nancy Mulvany's site, focusing on Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., Inc., USSC No. 89-1909 (1991). Oasis Publishing Co., Inc., v. West Publishing Co., US Eighth Circuit Court No. 96-2887 (1996) relies on New York Times Co. v. Roxbury Data Interface, Inc. (see below). The following quote is Note 12 from the judges' decision. (Thanks to Charles Anderson of for finding and sharing this case study with me.)

"Few cases address infringement by indexing. In New York Times Co. v. Roxbury Data Interface, Inc., 434 F. Supp. 217 (D.N.J. 1977), the district court denied a preliminary injunction against publication of a personal name index to the New York Times Index. Although the court determined the likelihood of success in light of fair use factors, it noted that the 'personal name index differs substantially from the Times Index, in form, arrangement, and function,' id. at 226 (emphasis added), even though it communicated the locations in the Times Index at which particular personal names could be found. The court greeted with incredulity the plaintiff's argument 'that a copyrighted work cannot be indexed without permission of the holders of the copyright to the original work.' Id. at 224-25. See also Kipling v. G.P. Putnam's Sons, 120 F. 631, 635 (2d Cir. 1903) (defendants 'were at liberty to make and publish an index' of copyrighted material)."

To sum up:

  • An index prepared by a freelance indexer is a supplemental work prepared by an independent contractor.
  • The indexer holds the copyright to an index until paid (work-for-hire), and only surrenders it if agreed upon in writing.
  • An indexer may create an index to a copyrighted work without obtaining permission from the copyright holder.

Protect your right to publish an index without copyright infringement by paying your indexer promptly!

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The Well-Chosen Word
Erin Hartshorn
3349 Green Meadow Drive
Bethlehem, PA 18017

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Last updated: April 18, 2019

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