Book review: Starting an Indexing Business

You’ve taken indexing courses. Read the indexing chapter of the Chicago Manual of Style and Nancy Mulvaney’s Indexing Books. Bought yourself indexing software.

Now what?

For most would-be indexers hoping to start their own freelancing business (as many of us are now aware), the actual indexing work isn’t the biggest challenge. Getting that work, not to mention managing the financial and administrative details of self-employment, is the tough part, and it’s one that gets very little attention in most indexing reference books. Starting an Indexing Business, edited by Enid Zafran and Joan Shapiro, is a rare exception, offering people who are launching—or considering—a career as a freelance indexer some insider wisdom about running their own business.

The fourth edition of Starting an Indexing Business was published in 2009, but it was recently released as an ebook. With chapters about moonlighting as an indexer while holding down a full-time job by Melanie Krueger, the business of being in business, by Pilar Wyman, and liability and exposure issues for indexers, by Enid Zafran, this book tries to answer a lot of questions that a freelancer just starting out might have. It’s a quick read, and it’s packed with tips from indexing veterans who have spent years in the trenches. Seeing the issues from different indexers’ perspectives is helpful, and the diversity of contributors shows that, despite having similar traits that make us good at what we do, different indexers take different approaches to running their business. Particularly interesting is the debate about whether to invest in disability insurance, with Wyman advocating for it and Zafran saying she didn’t see the need.

Zafran’s chapter about liability has a lot to offer, spurring the reader to think about how best to protect their business and to assert their copyright to make sure they get paid. A sample letter of agreement for indexing services also appears as an appendix to the book, and it serves as a helpful tool for freelancers to communicate clearly with a new client and start off their working relationship on the right foot.

Although the book has plenty of solid advice for new indexers, much of it will be old hat to people who have had a few projects under their belt. Being five years old, it also needs an update. I suspect that cold calling and mailing out brochures to prospective clients, as marketing strategies recommended by a few of the contributors, have largely given way to email enquiries and websites. I would also hope that a fax machine is no longer a must-have in the home office. Workflow and file transfer technologies have also evolved dramatically since the book’s publication, and ebooks and self-publishing have exploded. Further, the book is geared toward a primarily American audience, with references to health insurance and U.S. taxes that wouldn’t apply to Canadian indexers.

New freelancers may find Starting an Indexing Business helpful, although I wouldn’t call it a must-read. For those with a few years’ experience already, there isn’t much in this book that you won’t already know. And beyond the sample letter, I don’t see much in this book that you would refer to time and again, so I’d be inclined to borrow it from the library, if you can. If you do want to add this title to your collection, I’d suggest waiting for an updated edition, so that the advice better reflects current practices and technology.

3 thoughts on “Book review: Starting an Indexing Business

  1. Thanks for the constructive feedback, Iva. Indeed, this title is at the top of the list for new editions ASI is planning to release in the near future. You nailed it, though: the content of the cold calling and other marketing communiqués is the same, but the media have changed. Witness my posting to you online now.

    Also, having suffered a wrist injury since I wrote about disability insurance, I have more to add. … Stay tuned.

    1. Hi Pilar!

      Yes, well, it may have been a touch unfair for me to review a five-year-old book, but ISC wasn’t sure if it had been changed when it was released as an ebook. I look forward to seeing the new edition! Still a lot of good stuff in this one.

      1. Not unfair, at all, Iva!

        As you know, we’ve been working to convert our top print sellers to ebooks, and this title was certainly on the list, though it is 5 years old. I’m glad it is useful, regardless. There is much to update, and I am looking forward to getting more timely information out there for all of us. Your feedback is extremely useful to that end.

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