What can enhance the value and utility of a book, especially a Nonfiction book? A good cover, an enticing title, a blistering blurb, a lovely outer cover, or a Bata-price tag of X99 rupees? None of these, methinks. Index, be it subject index or name index, is in my mind the most important enhancer of value. A good index can make you curiouser about the book you are about to buy – and even after you have bought, it makes it worthwhile to ration your time to it in a world of unending attention-grabbers. I have been reading books since third standard, buying books on my own since sixth standard and building up massive collections with moonlighting income from writing and copywriting from my Intermediate. Having seen books galore for a lifetime, I find it puzzling to see why so many book publishers especially in India miss the golden rule of indexing. I can understand why indexing is not worthwhile in Fiction books –who wants to read names you are about to get introduced in racy narrative? But for nonfiction books, Indexing is well in order. And even in case of a memoir or an autobiography, one can introduce a subject index if no name index is desirable in the eyes of the author.
For busy folks and executives who thumb through many titles of professional interest, from architecture to markets, from bitcoins to espionage – an index can be a life-saver besides being a time-saver. Yet, I find that Index is amiss in the multitude of books that are coming out of India, by Indians and by Indian/Global publishers. It tells me that there is some uneasy reluctance or sheer laziness by both the authors and publishers about indexing the books. Let me give some concrete examples of why a good index can ensnare a browser of books at a bookstore to buy the book. Look at some of the books released in Non-fiction category recently. James Crabtree’s “Billionaire Raj”, Monika Halan’s “Let’s Talk Money”, Rasheed Kidwai’s “Ballot: Ten Episodes that have shaped India’s Democracy”. Only one book by James Crabtree carries an Index Page. The book is actually rotten in content, and rubbished by the reviewers but the index page has references to Andhra Pradesh, YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, and an entire chapter on Andhra Industrialists. It becomes easy to cite the book and quote anecdotes and insights from the book when you have an index which runs to half-a-dozen pages. Remember, Index for a book also means respect for reader’s time and hence, professionalism. You may have reasons for not including an index – when you feel the contents are explosive and may lead to a lot of backlash and defamation suits, but those are exceptions like a Lewinsky report or a Rajneesh Chronicle.
Seymour M Hersh, a reporter par excellence just released his book of memoirs. Lovely book but sans Index. On the contrary, a book of memoirs by AnandBazar Patrika’s impeccable reporter Suman Chattopadhyay - “My Date With History” is intricately indexed and makes you want to read fast and furious. What stumps me is that even global imprint publishers like Harper Collins and Penguin skip an Index when it comes to books by Indian writers. Take the case of the riveting book by a career intelligence officer Vikram Sood’s latest book on Insights on Espionage called “The Unending Games”. The book reads like a John Le Carre or Tom Clancy book full of irreverent digs into the world of spies from the Mossads to the KGBs of the world. But alas! No index! Giving an index means not just a big thumbs up to the visibility of the contents of the book but also aspiration to make it a global bestseller – to be lapped up by millions of readers outside the Himalayas. From what little I understand, most times, the decision to have an index page is either that of the author or both the author and the publisher. For the author, the reluctance comes not from shyness to put the referenced names in the Index page, but some contribution that is coming in as royalty from the publishers gets deducted from the author to the extent an Index is done. For example there are professional indexers and indexing software which cost a bomb and unless the author does the job herself or himself, the publisher may think it is an extra line item to the litany of expensing like marketing, promotion events of the book. A typical contribution from the author for indexing the book comes to $1000. So, one understands why there is a reluctance from Indian writers to index their works of non-fiction. But as much as you buy a good index service from professional software, nothing comes closer to having a good one than having the job done by the author herself – because the author (and the publisher) know best what is worth indexing and referencing. Cindex, Sky or Macrex are good index programs but despite that if one doesn’t know what to highlight in a book, even the best of such programs can hamper the credibility of a book, if the index is poorly done. Since I have a lot of publishing friends and writers in my feed, I wanted to highlight this aspect which is grossly under-exploited in the overall marketing and promotion of books. The next time you see a good book of non-fiction, remember to look up if it has an Index page after the acknowledgements page. If the publisher is serious about reaching a global audience for the book, chances are eight out of ten that there is a good index page in the book. Having an Index Page, sells a book. In this age of #hashtags and #keywordsearches. I rest my case.
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