Non-Fiction Books Needs Indexes

All non-fiction books – and I mean all – should have an index. It stands to reason. They contain information that readers want to find. If they didn’t, well, they wouldn’t buy the books in the first place, would they? They will probably read the book cover to cover initially, but later may well want just to dip in and retrieve certain facts that they remember coming across, but not necessarily know exactly where. It’s infuriating having to thumb through half a book for ten minutes, desperately seeking something.

Books are underindexed. Why? Because publishers won’t pay for them, on the whole. That’s left for authors to do. One of three things happens. 1. The author doesn’t bother with an index, and that’s the usual outcome. 2. The author does the index him or herself, but not terribly well. (Sorry, authors, but it is a skill.) 3. The author pays an indexer to do the job.

I’m an accredited indexer, as well as editor and author, and I do several indexes a year. As a rule of thumb, I charge around one euro per page of text that needs indexing. So the majority of those I work on come in at around 250 euros. That’s quite enough for an author to find, but nothing for a publisher who can spread it over a large print run. The publisher will have spent an awful lot more on editing, artwork, cover design, publicity, promotion, possibly molly-coddling the author. I simply can’t fathom why they won’t invest a tiny bit more and add an index, making the book so much more user-friendly. It’s ridiculous.

For that reason, coming across an index unexpectedly is a real joy. I’ve been reading a lot of living-in-France books (see my book reviews section). And at last one has an index. It’s La Vie en Rosé by Jamie Ivey. (Review coming imminently.) And it’s not a bad one at all. My main quibble is that the usual recommendation is not to have more than five page references per entry. This has up to a dozen in places. Really, there should be more subheadings. Also, there are a few not-so-brilliant entries. For example, there’s an entry for ‘City’ (p.16), but it should be to ‘London’, and ideally you’d put a separate entry along the lines of ‘City, see London’. But I’m so pleased to see an index at all, I’ll let them off!

Caiti's delicious cake

So this month’s Unexpected Index Award goes to – La Vie en Rosé. Keep up the good work please, Jamie! What’s the award? One of the fabulous cakes the Chef in Wellies (my daughter Caitlin) regularly rustles up which, um, we’ll eat on the winner’s behalf.

(OK, so I might have to rethink the prize …!)