Indexing Career

For this indexing career profile, interviewed Carolyn Weaver from Weaver Indexing Service.

How would you describe the main functions of your job?

As the owner of Weaver Indexing Service, I manage the company and provide book and journal indexing services to clients.

What is indexing?

Indexing is the process of providing organized access to information in any form — books, journals, technical documentation, or websites. An indexer assigns subject headings or coding that will all information to be retrieved in a systematic fashion.

Interested In An Indexing Career?

Interested In An Indexing Career?

Photo courtesy of Stewart Butterfield via Flickr Creative Commons License

I personally specialize in health, behavioral, and social sciences book and journal indexes, as well as consulting on thesaurus and database design. However, an increasing market for indexers is indexing websites and technical documentation. Indexers are needed for virtually every subject specialty.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I tend to stick pretty much to a traditional 40-hour week, deadlines permitting. I’m up about 6 a.m. (the cats see to that!), tend to household chores, and am generally at my computer by 7:30 am. I always check email first (since most of my clients are outside the Puget Sound) and then start on the day’s project. When there’s an index in progress, I work until around noon (with a couple of breaks for email and to get the blood flowing), take an hour for lunch and a session on the treadmill, and then am back indexing until around 3:30. I’m typical of most indexers, in that I can’t do actual indexing more than 4-5 hours a day…the brain fries! So by mid-afternoon I generally switch to marketing, returning phone calls, or catching up on bookkeeping. I’m actively involved at several levels with the American Society for Indexing (ASI), so generally spend some time each week on ASI business as well.

When I’m on deadline, it may be necessary to work evenings or weekends to get a project out the door, but I now try to avoid that. I take frequent breaks for email and phone calls during the day; it’s a necessity since the majority of my clients are in other time zones. It’s also a necessary survival technique for a freelancer who doesn’t see many people in the course of the day — which is why I often schedule errands during the day. It gets me out of the house and in contact with live humans!

What do you like best about your indexing career?

First, getting paid to read stuff I would never encounter otherwise. If I hadn’t indexed it, it’s unlikely that I would have read many books on Chinese tongue diagnosis, weight lifting, Seattle architecture, the European political economy, or alternative life styles among Native Americans — not to mention (voluntarily!) neurochemistry, pain management, or genetics in the popular media. Second, the freedom to schedule my own day. I can work whenever and wherever I want to — including on the back deck, in a campground in the Cascades or in an RV with my husband at the wheel. As long as I have access to email (which is used for client contacts and delivery of indexes) and the Internet, I can work anywhere.

What are the most challenging things about your indexing career?

In no particular order,

  1. Marketing (I _hate_ cold calls!).
  2. Meeting unrealistically short deadlines. The index is the last piece before a book goes to press, and editors often fail to allow adequate time for a quality job. On the other hand, rush jobs often pay better!
  3. Indexing subjects that are not in my core specialties. Although I don’t accept projects which are totally outside my area of expertise (e.g., physics, mathematics, some very esoteric topics), it often requires homework to clarify concepts in peripheral areas before I can index them.
  4. The feast-or-famine aspects of freelancing: turning away jobs during very busy periods and agonizing when nothing is in the pipeline.

As a freelancer, how did you build your company?

I was a moonlighting indexer (in addition to a full-time job as a medical librarian) for nine years, before moving to full-time indexing in 2000. I did two large mailings in the early 1990’s, and since then have relied almost exclusively on word-of-mouth for marketing. I joined and became active in the American Society for Indexing in 1992, and much of my work comes from referrals from colleagues. I’ve gotten work from several online marketing tools and directories (including ASI’s Indexer Locator), as well as from my website.

My experience seems to be typical for most freelance indexers: it took about three years from the time I started marketing as a moonlighter until I started turning down work for lack of time. Since then I’ve had about all the work I can handle by myself. And networking with other indexers is definitely the best way to build business!

What was your professional background before you launching your indexing career?

I was a medical librarian for 35 years, which gave me a solid background for medical indexing. The last nine years of that, I also moonlighted as an indexer 15-20 hours a week.

What is your educational background?

I have masters’ degrees in Library Science and in Public Administration. I’m a “MEDLARS dinosaur” who was trained in database indexing at the National Library of Medicine. Although I’m self-educated in book and journal indexing, most indexers today learn their craft from the distance learning courses offered by ASI, the University of California-Berkeley, or USDA’s Graduate School. Many indexers also receive on-the-job training from publishers or database producers.

What skills are most important to succeed in an indexing career?

These skills:

  1. Analytical thinking – you have to index what the author means — not just what he or she says!
  2. Organizational skills – indexer’s spice cabinets and bookshelves are usually organized.
  3. Curiosity and a broad interest in a variety of subjects.
  4. Ability to see multiple viewpoints (indexes have multiple audiences).
  5. Attention to detail, including spelling and proofreading.
  6. Fanaticism about meeting deadlines.

What advice do you have for someone who wants an indexing career similar to yours?

Don’t give up your day job! It takes about three years to build a client base to the level that you can be self-supporting as a freelancer, so you must have sufficient resources (savings or another source of income) to keep you afloat until your business takes off. Invest in the tools and training to do the job right. Dedicated indexing software pays for itself with the first job, and it’s very hard to meet client expectations without it. And don’t undervalue your services. Even a beginner should be charging professional rates. Finally, develop networking relationships with other indexers. It’s the best investment you can make in building a business.

Are there any commonly held misperceptions about an indexing career that you would like to clarify?

Although some authors index their own books, a successful career as an indexer requires a substantial investment in training, computers and software, and office equipment and supplies. It’s hard work, requiring ongoing education (formal and informal) and a willingness to make whatever adjustments that are necessary in your personal life to meet deadlines. Freelance indexers usually don’t get rich, but they can earn a comfortable living working at home.

What is the income range for persons in an indexing career?

According to ASI’s 2009 salary survey, the average gross income for full-time indexers was $51,000/year; net income after expenses was $43,000. For part-timers, average gross income was $12,000 ($10,000 net). Hourly rates averaged $31 – $35. Per-page rates (the most common billing method) averaged $3.26 – $3.50. Length of time in the business is the biggest influence on income, with those in business more than two years reporting significantly higher income.

What are your long-term career goals?

I’m now on my second career, so freelance indexing is what I want to do for the rest of my life. Once my husband retires, I intend to index my way across the U.S., delivering indexes from every one of the 50 states!

Any other comments?

For further information about indexing as a career, visit ASI .

If you would like to hire Carolyn for her indexing services, you can contact her at:

Weaver Indexing Service
Phone: (206) 930-4348

Thank you, Carolyn!

Read more career profiles.