Starting An Indexing Business, Part 1: Training

Hi, everyone! For my last two columns, I would like to talk about how one goes about starting an indexing business. I believe that the skills needed to become a good indexer are partly innate and partly acquired. My indexing teacher, the great Kari Kells, says in the introduction to her Basic Indexing Tutorial that on her first day of an indexing class she took in library school, she knew she had found the perfect career as her teacher described the way she had always automatically sorted her photos by category, and Kari nodding and smiling as she recalled her own automatic sorting of M&Ms by color, and music by genre, then alphabetical, then chronological, etc. (Anyone out there nodding and smiling at this?)

As you could probably tell from reading my own introduction, from the first day of Kari’s instruction with me I knew I felt the same way. As a child I automatically sorted my comic books by color on my shelf and liked to create graphs based on which of my friends I had shared my candy with that month, and how many pieces went to each friend! (Looking back, I am quite certain they thought I was headed for the loony bin!) But loony as I was, it was great practice for my eventual career choice, and as I watched my daughters, who are now 6 and 3, automatically sort their M&Ms during snack time today (complete with heavy trading negotiations to be “fair” on color distribution!), am convinced that this trait is not only innate but hereditary! I later learned that my love of language and books, organization skills and obsessive attention to detail were just the skills needed to be a great indexer, and my self-discipline, preference of working alone and proficiency with computers were just the skills needed to be a great freelancer! Although many indexers have a background in English and many are part-time or former librarians, there are plenty also who arrive at indexing as a career in other ways.

Taking a course in indexing only sharpens these innate skills. Many library science graduate schools offer courses in indexing (which may explain why indexing and librarianship careers often intertwine), but in my particular case, this class was never offered in the three years it took me to complete my degree. The standard national indexing courses in America are Basic and Applied Indexing, which are given by the United States Department of Agriculture, and the American Society of Indexers also offers a course in indexing. As a teacher both of the USDA courses and of her own self-paced, e-mail-based correspondence course offered as part of her business, Index West (, which is the one I took and something that can be taken by anyone in the world (that means you, interested-in-indexing Israelis!), Kari Kells was the ideal choice when picking someone to chat with about the various indexing courses out there.

Shoshana: Hi, Kari! When did indexing courses come onto the scene and in what capacity?

Kari: I’m not sure when the first indexing course was taught, but I do know that the first indexing correspondence course in the U.S. was the Basic course offered by the USDA, which was created in 1984. Starting a few years ago, new correspondence courses have emerged in the U.S.

Shoshana: How many indexers do you think are self-taught?

Kari: A 2004 ASI survey states that 33% of its members are self-taught.

Shoshana: Of course, not all American indexers are ASI members, but that’s probably a good guess. Very interesting!

The second thing that is very helpful to have as a professional indexer, especially as a freelancer, is a membership in an indexing society. This is especially useful because indexing is such a solitary profession, and the nature of the internet has made it so much easier these days for indexers to keep in touch with each other and exchange professional advice and referrals. Also, these societies have Special Interest Groups, which bring together indexers who specialize in a variety of topics.

The major indexing societies are:

  • American Society of Indexers:
  • Indexing Society of Canada:

  • Australian and New Zealand Society of Indexers:

  • Society of Indexers [Britain and Ireland]:

For indexers who live in countries such as Israel, who do not yet have an indexing organization to call their own, there are other options out there to connect and network with other indexers (besides the obvious, which is to join Elephant and chat with me!). One of these options is joining the Editorial Freelancers’ Association (, which is for freelancers of every kind related to editorial professions, mostly comprised of American members but has many members from other countries as well, including Israel. Another option is to join some of the myriads of e-mail lists out there.

Here are a few of the e-mail discussion lists I am or have been a member of—from day one, I have found that all of these lists provide a wealth of collective information, advice and support from fellow members, each in their own unique way, and anyone is welcome to join and participate.

In Israel, the CIWI ( and COandPI ( lists are great to be a member of to get connected with those in the publishing industry. In addition to these lists, many of the indexing societies, Special Interest Groups and users of the main indexing software programs each maintain one or more e-mail lists. Makes for quite a full e-mail box, but any of these lists can be put on digest format (once a day or after a certain number of messages) and they are totally worth reading.

For my last installment of All About Indexing, I’ll continue the discussion on starting an indexing business by talking about marketing. Until then!

Shoshana Hurwitz
Hurwitz Indexing