Starting An Indexing Business, Part 2: Marketing

Hi! Since this is my last column, I hope by now I’ve gotten some of you interested enough to think about indexing professionally. You’ve taken a course, joined a few groups of like-minded freelancers, and brushed up on your M&M-sorting skills. Now what? It’s time to learn about how to get clients.

First of all, who are the clients you are looking to market towards? As I said in my first column about my own freelancing business, my clients are either authors or publishers. (Clients can include others, such as book packagers—people who navigate the creation of self-published books using the help of freelance editors, indexers, typesetters, etc.—but for the sake of simplicity for this discussion I’m going to focus just on authors and publishers.)

Some authors find me through their publishers, and some publishers find me through their authors—which brings me to the best method of getting clients: networking. Once you make yourself known in the publishing world as an indexer, and most importantly, as a great indexer, people will hear about you and the contacts will come. Another great source of referrals comes from fellow indexers, which is where your participation in indexing or publishing societies and on those e-mail lists comes in handy. I was very lucky to get quite a few new clients in the beginning of my freelance career on the referrals of the very small group of indexers out there specializing in Judaica, and some of those have led to regular work.

But in the beginning before you are established and known in the indexing and publishing worlds to get these referrals (very small worlds, I might add!), direct marketing is what you need to focus on to get your new business going. These days, when most publishers have websites and many of them would rather receive communication via e-mail than postal, the enormous task of going through a seemingly endless list of publishers is made much easier than it once must have been.

The gold standard guide to publishers is, in my opinion, a giant book called Literary Marketplace which is updated once a year and available in most libraries—they also have a website which provides partial publisher information for free and full information if you subscribe (the website is There are thousands of publishers on this list and it can be mighty hard to keep track of them all! So here’s where the organizational skills that make you such a great indexer come in handy.

I keep a file in Word with the name of each publisher and divide the list into categories: publishers I haven’t contacted yet, contacted but no response yet, contacted and interested in getting more information from me, contacted but don’t need my services or publishers that specialize in topics I’m not familiar with, and YAY!! They liked me and sent me work! Your initial contact with a potential client doesn’t need to be long or detailed; just a quick e-mail (or phone call if you’re more comfortable with that) asking if they use freelancers and who you can send more information to will do. The “no/wrong specializations” list gets kept so I remember not to repeat my inquiries to them, the “no response” list gets re-contacted after about six months in case my e-mail got lost in cyberspace (and it happens more often than I’d like!), the “send more information” list brings me to my next topic, which is methods of marketing, and as for the “haven’t contacted yet” list, I can tell you that after being in business for a year I still have a long way to go on that one, thanks to my days more often being spent these days focusing on indexing jobs for the YAY!! list than on new marketing! But even on weeks that I have spent mostly on jobs, I still make sure to carve out some time one day a week to either contact prospective clients or follow up with existing ones or publishers who I have sent my information to a while ago. This ensures that you won’t run out of work and that your client base will continue to grow.

In the beginning, however, most of your time will be spent marketing in hopes of landing that first client who will hopefully provide you with regular work. No marketing, no clients—as you probably know already, it takes a lot of self-motivation to be successful at freelancing! So, how do you wow those publishers who want to hear more about your business so that they end up on the YAY!! list? The two main marketing tools I think are essential to be able to provide publishers with are a polished resume and a business website.

Your resume should highlight your experience relating to why you would make a great indexer, as well as any subject-related experience that would make you a good fit for a particular publisher specialty. My resume is set up CV-style, summarizing my background in publishing and librarianship and how it led to indexing, skills that help me in my job, work experience, education and professional memberships. I am not often asked for a cover letter for “applying” to publishers’ freelance lists via e-mail, so my resume really has to shine!

Branding yourself through your website is also essential in these days of internet-based business. Setting up a business website can be easier than you think—no learning HTML or web design needed anymore. My website (check it out at contains five pages:

  • Home Page: summary of what Hurwitz Indexing does and why indexes are important.

  • About Us: contains a modified version of my resume.

  • Rates and References: just that!

  • Samples and Accolades: I’ll talk about that in a minute.

  • Contact Me: E-mail and mailing addresses (I no longer list my phone number due to the abundance of “phone spam”, which is even more annoying than e-mail spam!)

One of the main things that publishers look for when thinking about using a new freelancer is what kind of experience they have and what their current clients think of them. I keep a list on my Samples and Accolades page of every book I have worked on as a freelancer, divided into two categories: books I have indexed and books I have done other editorial work on, which includes editing, proofreading and bibliography creation. By the time this column is published, I will have a category for writing credits as well! As each book is published, I change the title of the book in the list to a link which goes to the book on the publisher’s website, or another website where more information about it can be found. While you are building up your portfolio, samples made up of books you have worked on for practice works just as well. Another great way to gain experience is to find and do a few jobs pro bono. One of the first books I indexed was a volunteer job for the Editorial Freelancers’ Association—it gave me great experience and I was glad to have done them a favor!

My accolades list is comprised of quotes I have received from my publishers and authors whenever they are particularly pleased with my work. Not only is it great for potential clients to see this, but it is great to have something to look at times when I feel frustrated or otherwise underappreciated. A quick glance at this list puts all those worries to rest! This is a great tip I received in library school which works in pretty much any profession, not just in freelancing.

The next question that is sure to come up when starting a new business is how to price your services. This is also something that is based on experience, both experience in the service you are providing and business experience—knowing how to negotiate fees with clients without going too low or too high. (I can’t resist plugging Elephant here for the great job they do making sure its members participate in its freelance Salary/Rate Survey so it is known what the going rates are!) In my experience, I have found that I have had to go about pricing with each client separately and the rates I quote are merely starting points for negotiations. Some clients or potential clients say my rates are too high, some admit to taking advantage of my low rates, and still others have a policy of setting the rates and not the freelancers. There is also the matter of not every job taking the same amount of time to complete—I’ve had $1200 jobs that took me three weeks and $1200 jobs that took me two days, with the first-case publisher offering more per page—so a lower per-page rate does not always equal lower pay when considering the complexity of each book. So this is not a black or white matter, but remember that if you have confidence in your product and your worth, so will your client.

Once you get clients, developing a good relationship with them is the key to ensuring that they continue to send them work. I have found more than once, especially since the index is usually the last part of a book to be written and usually the indexer is the one whose time is compromised, that being able to help clients out in a jam will brand you their best friend for life. This is one reason why I am pretty much glued to my e-mail box; my clients can count on me, but at the same time make sure to let them know when I am not available to take on new jobs. I try not to overbook myself in order to be able to take on emergency jobs, as they do come up fairly often and once again, it takes those excellent organizational skills that make you a great indexer to deal with the inevitable delays that come with book production. And if you end up with some free time while waiting, you always have that handy-dandy neverending list of publishers to market towards!

That’s about all for my column on All About Indexing—hope you learned something from it, and feel free to contact me at ]]