Indexer–author relations—Enid Zafran (ISC conference 2014)

Enid Zafran is a past president of American Society for Indexing and served on its national board for over six years. Among the books she has co-edited are Starting an Indexing Business, Index it Right! Advice from the Experts, and a couple of titles in the Indexing Specialties series, including one about legal texts and one about scholarly works. In 2010, Zafran’s contribution to the indexing profession was recognized with the Hines Award from the ASI. That same year, she became a certified indexer with the Institute of Certified Indexers.

Zafran runs the business Indexing Partners, which has clients ranging from academic presses, professional and textbook publishers, nonprofit associations, and authors. At the Indexing Society of Canada conference, she drew on more than thirty years of experience to tell us a bit about how to main good indexer–author relations.

Her talk focused on the times the indexer interacts directly with the author, as opposed to a publisher. These clients may have publishers who have asked them to find an indexer, or they may be self-publishing. “Self-publishing authors need a lot of hand holding,” said Zafran. They may be caught off guard by what’s involved in the indexing process, as well as how much it costs.

When an author first approaches you to do an index, ask for details of the job, including topic, word or page count, schedule, length limits on the index, and, if they’re working with a publisher, the publisher’s style. Ask to see some sample chapters before you commit; knowing the title and word count of a book may not be enough to tell you how dense the text will be and how much indexing it will need.

If an author supplies you with a list of terms, Zafran suggests including them in the index as a matter of course and importing them directly into your indexing software. “It’s easier to be agreeable and accept author lists,” she said. Further, when discussing a potential job with an author, “express some enthusiasm,” said Zafran. The author has put a lot of time into writing the book, and as indexer, you’re one of its first readers. A little enthusiasm goes a long way to establishing a good working relationship.

When discussing schedules and deadlines, explain your process and stress that you’ll need to work from final pages. Be sure to build in time for the author to review the index. Zafran tells her clients that her fee covers two hours of editing; additional changes would be charged by the hour.

This is also a good time to see if the project is big enough to warrant breaking it down into several milestones, both for author review and for payment. Zafran will sometimes ask a new client for a 25 per cent deposit before the job begins. “If they’re not willing to pay, you might have trouble getting money later,” she said. Zafran expects payment within thirty days of invoicing and charges a 16 per cent late fee. For rush jobs, she also charges a rush premium fee. Having worked with academics on scholarly books, she warned us about universities, which may require you to be registered with the them as a vendor. If you invoice without being registered, your payment could be delayed.

If the author is overseas, the bank may charge for a wire transfer. Inform clients that you’ll be adding that fee from the wire transfer to your invoice.

Once you firm up the job with the client, make sure you have written confirmation where they agree to the terms. Stay in touch before the job begins to make sure everything is still on schedule.

When indexing starts, explain to the author that you’ll need to go away and work—and tell them when you’ll have an index ready for them to review. “‘Can I see a draft?’ is one of the most dreadful things you can hear an author say,” quipped Zafran. No matter how much you try to explain that the draft is not the final index, the author will always have some reason to be unhappy with it.

When it comes time for the author to review the finished index, Zafran said that if she’s had good relations with the author thus far, she’ll send them both the indented and run-in styles. At this stage, four common complaints may surface:

1. The index doesn’t have all of the names I had in my book.

You’ll have to explain to the author that, in standard indexing practice according to the Chicago Manual of Style, names in front matter, acknowledgements, and notes aren’t included in the index. “With authors, when you cite the Chicago Manual, the discussion is over. You’ve invoked the word of God,” joked Zafran.

2. The index doesn’t pick up every occurrence of a term.

Zafran suggests using Sherry Smith’s term of “lesser mention” to explain why a term wasn’t indexed rather than the harsher “passing mention.” Also explain that an index differs from a concordance and that the indexer’s job is to lead users to substantive, helpful information.

3. Sometimes the index uses cross-references for acronyms; sometimes there are page numbers. Why the inconsistency?

Explain that entries with only one or two page numbers warrant double-posting rather than cross-referencing. Double-posting saves the user time, whereas cross-referencing saves space. With only one or two locators, there is no net space savings.

4. The topic of the book is barely indexed.

As tempting as it is to respond with, “Well then the whole book would indexed under that one heading, so what good would that be?” you’re more likely to get a favourable reaction if you explain “how the metatopic merits special treatment in the index,” said Zafran. Today, it’s considered a best practice to mirror the book’s chapter and subchapter structure under the metatopic heading, and most authors appreciate that this approach reflects the way they’ve dealt with the topic in the book.


Once you’ve submitted the index to the author’s satisfaction, send an invoice that includes the due date and a reminder of your late fee. Zafran will waive that fee if the client is only a bit late or is making a clear effort to comply. Make sure you have distinct numbers for each invoice—otherwise some clients (like universities) may not process payment. Once a payment is overdue, start calling. The client may not answer, but seeing you on call display may be enough to remind them that they owe you money. Finally, said Zafran, don’t be afraid to assert your copyright on your index to prompt late payers to pay.

If a job has gone well, remind the client that your business is built on word-of-mouth referrals and ask them to recommend you to other authors who could use your help.

One thought on “Indexer–author relations—Enid Zafran (ISC conference 2014)”

  1. Iva, thanks for so effectively sharing Enid’s advice on this important topic. Editors can also use that advice to “express some enthusiasm” to help build a good relationship with the author.

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