How many of you make your own indexes (indices?) for your books? Have your practices changed since the advent of Google books? (“Indices” just seems pretentious to me, although I usually go with the most correct usage advice. Opinions on this point are also welcome in the comments below!)
I’m not quite at that point with my new book, but I’ve been thinking about this because a friend of mine here in Southern California whose book will be out this fall was recently at work on her index. She’s making her own again, as she did for her first book, although she said she’s just going to do a very basic index because if people want to mine her book for discrete information, they’ll go to Google books and do keyword searches either to determine whether or not they should buy the book, or to use it as a finding aid next to the physical object itself.
At first I thought this was very sensible–why invest that time & energy in re-reading your proofs yet again, when few if any readers will get the benefit of the exercise? But then I reconsidered.
First, what happens if a dear reader is actively reading and using your book–perhaps taking notes and finding useful details for her own teaching and research–should we effectively force that reader to go online to find a specific passage or detail she wants to review? Good indexes make it easier for her to find what she wants again without expecting her to leave the print environment, and isn’t she the kind of reader you want to encourage and reward? (The slackers who want to mine your book for a few crumbs for a lecture or research point they want to make can always find your book online and do the keyword search anyway.)
I actually liked making the index for the first book. It was easy and even fun compared to the copy edits or the page proofs, and it allowed me to shape the way that some readers might experience the book. If we want publishers to continue publishing our books as material objects rather than pixels and electronic pulses, maybe we should think twice before giving people an incentive to leave the codex behind.
What do the rest of you think, as readers and writers? If there are any people in publishing out there today, I’d especially like to hear from you on this point. What is the use of a good index?