How To Create An Index Or Glossary For Your Book | Self-Publishing Relief

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How To Create An Index Or Glossary For Your Book | Self-Publishing Relief

There are moments when writing and self-publishing your book can be fun, like coming up with plot twists, creating a world for your characters to inhabit, and seeing cover design ideas become reality. Other elements of your self-published book might be less fun: proofreading, editing, formatting, and creating an index or glossary. But at Self-Publishing Relief, our experts know indexes are a staple of nonfiction and are found in almost every nonfiction book. And in nonfiction books or fiction where the world you’ve created has its own words, phrases, or creatures, a glossary can help your readers stay engaged instead of scratching their heads in confusion. Here’s how to create an index or glossary for your book.


Create An Index Or Glossary For Your Book

First, let’s clear up what an index is…

What’s an index? Typically found in the back pages of a book, an index is a list of topics found within the book. Each topic is marked with the page number or numbers on which it can be found in the book itself.

Is an index a table of contents? No. A table of contents (typically found in the front of the book) only notes the beginning of each chapter. An index covers the entire book, whether or not a given topic is found on the first page of a chapter. And yes, your self-published nonfiction book should have both!

Is an index a glossary? If you’re writing an elaborate fantasy world or a book exploring a certain culture that includes a high volume of foreign-language terms, you may find it helpful to build a glossary for your book. Rather than locating topics within the book, a glossary serves as a brief and focused dictionary, defining terms specific to your book’s world.

Why Your Nonfiction Book Needs An Index

Self-publishing is a great option for nonfiction books, and nonfiction books of any subgenre should also have indexes. It’s such a standard of the genre that readers will question the quality of your writing or research if one is missing. Here are three important reasons to organize your book’s information with an index:

  1. An index helps readers “preview” a print copy of your book. If prospective readers are looking for certain topics, an index will tell them at a glance whether it’s covered in your book. If the topic is listed in your index—hooray, you just made a book sale! If not—also hooray, because you likely just prevented a bad review from a disgruntled reader who paid for the book but couldn’t find what they wanted!
  1. The index helps readers revisit information. Perhaps readers will use your self-published nonfiction book as a central research or educational text, or make your recipes over and over. An index allows them to easily return to information they’ve found interesting or helpful before.
  1. Your index can help with marketing. You can use your index to tease the information that’s in your book and get readers excited about its release! For example, consider sharing elements of your index prior to publication in your newsletter or on your blog. And if you’re selling your self-published book via Amazon, be sure to include your index in the “Look Inside the Book” preview.

Tips For Creating The Best Index For Your Self-Published Book

Organize information alphabetically. Indexes are traditionally arranged in alphabetical order when building your index. Following this format will make your index more user-friendly for readers.

Check and double-check your page numbers. This one may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how often it’s a problem with published books—and how tricky it can be to get right. Readers will become very frustrated if your index lists certain topics as appearing on particular pages—and those page numbers are incorrect. Once you’ve made your list of topics and confirmed their locations, make sure you check—and recheck—the information.

Use categories and subcategories. Consider breaking your book’s key topics down into subgroups, rather than having one big list. For example, in a self-published cookbook, consider organizing your recipes by meal type (breakfast, dinner, snack, dessert, etc.). You can get even more specific and have an entry in your index for every recipe that features chicken, or chocolate. In a biography, you might find it helpful to group your subject’s contributions by separate fields of study, like astronomy and mathematics.

Consider the differences between a print book and an e-book. If you’re self-publishing in both print and digital formats, each medium requires a different type of index. While listing the page numbers where topics appear works well for printed books, you may find that an index with direct links to relevant topics will work better for an e-book.

Get feedback from early readers. When you have beta readers offering input on your book’s content (especially from other experts on your nonfiction topic), be sure to have readers look over your index too. Ask them if using the index feels intuitive or if there are topics included that you don’t need. See if your readers have any suggestions for different categories and subcategories you should have in your index.


An Example Of An Index Entry

Say, for example, you’ve written a cookbook on creating the perfect Thanksgiving meal. Your index might include an entry that looks like this:

Turkey, 45, 75-85, 120

It may also include subcategories within a category:

Side dishes, 50-75

            Stuffing, 50-55

            Mashed potatoes, 56-60

            Cranberry sauce, 61-65

            Vegetables, 65-75

If a commonly sought-after term doesn’t appear in your book, but a similar term covers that same topic, you can have an index entry that redirects readers:

“Brining,” see “marinating,” 80

Creating a glossary or properly indexing your nonfiction book can be tricky to navigate. You could consider hiring a professional indexer, but that might be expensive. If you have questions, the American Society for Indexing can be a great resource. You might also try using indexing software to help you build your index.

By following these tips, you’ll be able to create a useful glossary or index and give your readers all the information they’ll need to fully enjoy your self-published book. And when your manuscript is ready, you can trust the experts at Self-Publishing Relief to guide you through every step of the self-publishing process. Schedule your free, no obligation consultation today!


Question: Do you refer to indexes or glossaries when reading? Why or why not?


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