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By Susan Pierotti AE, ANZSI Liaison Officer

Editors, especially freelance ones, can attract more work if they add related skills to their portfolios. Indexing is a natural fit for those who mainly work on nonfiction books or reports, whether in print or online.

IPEd members Kerryn Burgess AE and Juliet Richters AE gave us insights on their editing and indexing experiences at the Australian and New Zealand Society of Indexers (ANZSI) conference in October 2023.

How did you become an indexer?

Kerryn Burgess: I fell into indexing while working as an editor at Lonely Planet, where it was standard practice for editors to index the books that they had copyedited. All training for this was done in-house. I learned to index using InDesign. It wasn’t until I worked as a managing editor, supervising a team of seven editors and checking their indexing work, or editing their indexes, that I realised that perhaps indexing came more naturally to me than to some other people. It’s natural to me to think in terms of sets and subsets, categories and subcategories. That seems to be how I organise information in my brain even when I’m not indexing.

How do you get work?

Kerryn: I thought of myself very much as an editor, not an indexer, as I had no formal training in indexing. But then a publisher asked me to do a few cookbook indexes, and that spurred me to read everything I could find about indexing, such as Nancy Mulvany’s Indexing books (University of Chicago Press, 1994). That gave me the confidence to put my hand up to index books other than cookbooks, and my work as an indexer has grown from there. So I would never have become an indexer if I hadn’t been an editor first.

Juliet Richters: I get indexing work from publishers (or authors) I edit for, and vice versa. I can do a better job that is not only cheaper for the client but earns me a decent hourly rate for the index because of what I already know before I start.

Why do indexing as well as editing?

Juliet: When indexing, I can pick up typos and editorial inconsistencies in the page proofs and bring them to the attention of the author or publisher, which strengthens their trust in me. The best example in my own experience was when I was indexing a tertiary textbook aimed at the Australian and New Zealand market and found they had spelt Māori as Maōri (with the macron on the o) all the way through. Their proofreader had missed that, and they were very grateful! (The flipside is that it can be hard to turn off my editor brain and concentrate on the indexing if there are lots of mistakes or grotty editing decisions in the proofs.) The skills of indexers and editors overlap a lot: meticulousness, awareness of styles (US spelling, publishers’ punctuation preferences etc.), familiarity with a wide range of topics, and imagination. Some people think indexing is drudgery. But the essential skill, the ability to see something from the reader’s or user’s point of view, is imaginative. How will this phrase sound in the reader’s ear? What terms might the reader (or reader-to-be) try first when searching for a concept? And what might they be looking for when they look in the wrong place?

Kerryn: I like the variety. Some indexing jobs pay better, on an hourly basis, than most editing jobs. I can turn around a cookbook index in one or two days, and then the hourly rate is quite attractive. Then I use jobs like that to subsidise the indexing jobs that don’t pay well but that I really enjoy – typically, biographies. Being able to offer both sets of skills – editing and indexing – says that I’m serious about this publishing business.

If you would like to know more about indexing (how to begin, how to train etc.), visit the ANZSI website or contact ANZSI’s liaison officer, Susan Pierotti, at for more information.