My book manuscript of ca 250 pages was accepted by a publisher. The book contract obliges me to either prepare an index myself or to delegate the task to the publisher, who in turn would hire a freelancer at my expense, which the publisher estimated at GBP 300 (Eur. 340, USD 400).

I have never compiled an index before. Now I am wondering if it is worth it to compile the index myself or if I should rather have it made for me. Of course, this is quite subjective. But those with pertinent experience may know:

  • How much time and effort does it usually take to prepare an index?
  • Are there any tools or methods to (partly) automate the task and that still yield an acceptable outcome?
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    @Maybe, but not if I spend more than, say, two weeks of my working time on it, which is worth more than $400. May 9, 2018 at 12:52
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    In LaTeX it would be trivial with correct use of for example the glossary package... (one could possibly even use a find/replace in this case). Writing a script might be possible too - if you have experience in bash/grep/other Linux utilities.
    – DetlevCM
    May 9, 2018 at 12:58
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    @DetlevCM: please consider converting your comment into an answer.
    – aeismail
    May 9, 2018 at 13:23
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    You just have to skim through the whole text and somehow mark each mention of relevant topics, and then the index with page numbers should be generated automatically. You should ask your publisher what exactly they need from you (LaTeX source? some word processing file?) as this will dictate the actual tools to be used. But I don't think the actual work should take you more than 1-2 days, perhaps less. May 9, 2018 at 13:36
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    @aeismail Well, we don't even know if the poster used LaTeX... - And I am pretty certain that re-typesetting the entire document is not an option.
    – DetlevCM
    May 9, 2018 at 14:20

2 Answers 2


Several text formatters, notably LaTeX (e.g. the texlive suite) and Lout, have good tools to make or compile an index. See this explanation about adding index to a LaTeX formatted document. And many word processors have indexing capacities.

Of course, you need to do the real indexing work: knowing what words are important in your book (and, if the word is common, knowing which occurrences of that word are important), and adding \index markup in the LaTeX source (that work is needed whatever technical solution you use to write your book, e.g. with other text processors like LibreOffice or Microsoft Word, which also has indexing capabilities). With other word processors, you also need to do some action to add a word occurrence to the index. Specialized indexing software also exist.

Obviously, some utilities could be helpful in that (e.g. Unix grep with LaTeX, the find menu of LibreOffice or Word text processors, etc..) - to find every occurrence of some word (but you still need to decide if that occurrence should go to the index and act accordingly).

I am wondering if it is worth it to compile the index myself

Yes, because you already know quite well your book. And that could take one or a few days of your time. Someone else has first to read it carefully, so would spend a lot more time than you.

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    Yes, that is why I mentioned it. The bulk of the work is the indexing work May 10, 2018 at 4:51
  • Oops, I missed that you had mentioned that option also. Am deleting my comment. May 10, 2018 at 12:04

Coming from the perspective of a former publisher, the publisher requires you to prepare an index because otherwise the author might have unreasonable demands. A typical example is "index the word 'inflation'". The problem is, 'inflation' might occur at many, many places throughout the text, and the publisher has no way of knowing which occurrences are worth indexing. Indexing every occurrence is possible but time-consuming, and also results in a bloated index.

The other possible issue is that some closely-related words are difficult to index. For example, with the word 'inflation', do you also index 'inflationary'? If you also index 'inflationary', do you index it as 'inflation'? What about second-level indexes?

We had instances where we spent hours on the index and then the author kicked up a fuss and wound up doing the index himself, which was an obvious waste of time.

My suggestions:

  1. Doing it yourself is the most time-consuming but makes sure that you'll end up with the index you want.
  2. If you don't want to do it yourself, ask the publisher if you can highlight the words you want indexed. Give extra instructions as necessary ("index this word 'inflationary' as 'cosmic inflation', as a second-level index under 'inflation'"), then check through the index during proofs. You'll likely find the index is messy, but you can still correct it then.
  3. If the publisher refuses to do #2, then I suggest doing it yourself, especially if you're using a preparation software that allows you to do it easily. If you do pay a freelancer, remember that the $400 will likely represent a substantial chunk of your author royalties. If your book sells poorly, it could even make the book a net loss.

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