Thank You. Thank You Very Much.

 

Book photo by Svetlana Lukienko/Canva

The other day I conducted an informal Facebook poll asking if people read acknowledgement pages in books. Because folks who respond to online polls are self-selecting, I wouldn’t make bank on the results. Still, they rather surprised me.

After a brief intro, my direct question was, “Do you read acknowledgement pages?” (Pretty tricky, huh?) All forty-some commenters said that they do. Some said so quite emphatically. Confidentially, I need to hire a better pollster because it wasn’t the answer I was looking for. I find writing out the acknowledgements for a book terrifying. There are writers who do it elegantly, and writers who don’t do it at all. Mine are never elegant, and I know I always forget someone important. (And anyone who helps even slightly with a book is important.) I was half-hoping I would learn that no one reads acknowledgements and they think they’re a waste paper. That way I could go on with other projects. It took me five days of dithering and starting and stopping before I finally got them finished. I write fiction for a reason. Acknowledgements are reality in a very pure form.

I like thanking people. I really do! I’m a regular thank-you note writer, and have been since the days when my mother stood over me to make sure I did them. For me, saying thank you for something is often easier than asking for help in the first place. But not in the case of writing acknowledgments. There’s something so absolutely final about writing acknowledgements. They’re there on paper forever–well, until it rots or the pixels die or we have a digital apocalypse, anyway. If I do it wrong, everyone will know!

I don’t have a system for writing acknowledgements. There’s a list in every novel’s notebook where I write down the names of people I mean to thank. But before I start writing what will go in the book, I always peruse my bookshelves to see what others have done. There are no existing rules that I know of.

Here are some random examples from my shelf:

Judy Blume, IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT: 3+ pages

Johnny Shaw, FLOODGATE: 1 page

Con LeHane, MURDER IN THE MANUSCRIPT ROOM: 1+ page

Elmore Leonard, BE COOL: A brief paragraph with song attributions and a line to Aerosmith and Steve Davis. Also a line in the dedication. All at the front of the book

Margaret Atwood, THE BLIND ASSASSIN: A paragraph with the names, only, of 50 + people, then copyright content notes

Rhys Bowen, CROWNED AND DANGEROUS: 8 lines thanking several people on the dedication page

IAN RANKIN, SAINTS OF THE SHADOW BIBLE: None

That’s a small spectrum of acknowledgements, but they’re all pretty much different. Is one better than another? I don’t think so. It’s a matter of style. Do I think that a writer who only thanks three people rather than fifty is an ungrateful person? Absolutely not. I doubt readers think so.

I confess that it’s gotten more difficult for me over time. If I had a quarter of as many books as Margaret Atwood, I would probably just starting listing folks as well. One can only extoll the amazing virtues of one’s agent so many ways. At this point I have to go back and make sure I’m not repeating myself.

The FB poll opened my eyes to how important acknowledgements can be to readers, as well as reviewers and bloggers. Acknowledgements give readers a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the writer’s process and the publishing scene. They also give us a glimpse into the personality style of the writer. Or maybe not. I’m not quite decided on that. I never met Elmore Leonard, and I haven’t met Judy Blume or Margaret Atwood, but their acknowledgements styles reflect what I imagine them to be (or to have been) like. And while I don’t know the rest of the writers in my examples well, I know them enough to find their styles compatible with their personalities. And they’re all lovely people.

There are two instances where I’ll go straight to the acknowledgements page. The first is if I know it’s a heavily researched novel. I love to hear about sources. The other is if I know the writer fairly well. There are few things more embarrassing than learning a year after the fact that someone put you in their book.

Writers–How do you approach acknowledgements? I’m dying to know what your process is!

Readers–Do you read acknowledgements? Do you judge the writer by what you read? What do you look for? Please tell us!

 

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This entry was posted in #writetip, #writing, inspiration, Writing and tagged , by Laura Benedict. Bookmark the permalink.

About Laura Benedict

Laura Benedict is the Edgar- and ITW Thriller Award- nominated author of eight novels of suspense, including The Stranger Inside (Publishers Weekly starred review). Her Bliss House gothic trilogy includes The Abandoned Heart, Charlotte’s Story (Booklist starred review), and Bliss House. Her short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and in numerous anthologies like Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads, The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers, and St. Louis Noir. A native of Cincinnati, she lives in Southern Illinois with her family. Visit her at www.laurabenedict.com.

26 thoughts on “Thank You. Thank You Very Much.

  1. You bring up a very interesting subject that doesn’t get discussed much.

    You mentioned: “Acknowledgements give readers a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the writer’s process and the publishing scene. They also give us a glimpse into the personality style of the writer.”

    I would add one other very critical component. Acknowledgements tell readers who the writer values.

    I almost always read the acknowlegements. Usually the only time I don’t is when, like the example you gave above where someone just lists a bunch of names–I skip over those. I want to know how people contributed (briefly) & I want to see the human side of that writer & how they personally connected with those in their acknowledgements. I understand you may have only talked to that historical librarian for 5 minutes on the phone, so how much connecting can you do? But often the acknowledgements I read are ‘business’ connections AND personal ones.

    In either case, it’s about personal connection for me. I actually often think about acknowledgements for my to-be-published books. It may sound crazy, but that’s one of my incentives to eventually publish–to eventually acknowledge the people I want to in print.

    • I think that’s a lovely incentive, BK. Personal connections are the best connections. Being thanked often means a great deal to people, and they get a kick out of being mentioned. I know I do!

  2. I read acknowledgements out of order. I read the book. If I liked it, then I read the acknowledgements for a peek at the writer’s personality. If I didn’t like the book, I just close the cover.

    • I’m with you, Priscilla. I really like the trend of putting them at the back of the book. That way, when I’m finished I can decide if I even want to know. Even generous acknowledgements can’t make me like a book I didn’t care for.

  3. Yes, I also like to read the acknowledgments. For the same reasons that have been mentioned–it humanizes the writer, you get to know a bit more about them and what went into the work, etc.. But not if it goes on for pages—in most cases, that seems like overkill, though some novels I do understand might require that. The ones I like most are when just one or two or three names are mentioned because I know these people meant quite a bit to the writer. Even if the only name they mention is their dog… because you know it’s heartfelt. You can really sense the heart of the writer–as in, you can feel when it’s coming from the heart in many cases.

    • You’re the second person this week to mention dogs. Suddenly I’m wondering if my dogs are feeling left out–they are my most faithful writing companions. Either they’re under my desk or outside with me when it’s time for a break.

      Acknowledgements do often get long when the writer has done a lot of research. They sometimes become their own story, which can be entertaining.

  4. I have a kind of weird reason I sometimes read acknowledgements and that is, as an unpublished author, I want to know who their agent and editor are for my own reference. But I do enjoy when there is a human touch in the listing – something that seems like a real person wanting to thank another real person, either for something specific they helped with or for the general support they gave. When my book is published, I look forward to getting a chance in print to express my appreciation to two writer friends in particular who have been with me through the entire process.

    • Maggie, that’s not a weird reason at all. Mining names of agents and editors is why I started reading acknowledgements years ago. Often the same ones kept showing up in books I liked, reaffirming I was on the right track in my hunt for representation.

      That’s not how I eventually found my (former) agents but it’s still a good starting point. As I look for new representation, I’m still studying acknowledgements.

  5. I usually read the acknowledgements, though now that you got me thinking about it, I’m not sure why, as it doesn’t really matter to me who someone wants to thank. It’s a personal matter, and each author has their own unique reasons for acknowledging folks.

    As a writer, I stick to people without whom this book would not exist. I’m not someone who spreads the manuscript around to half a dozen beta readers and I don’t have an agent, so it’s mostly the folks at my publisher who worked on the book with me. The Beloved Spouse as my First Listener. Someone who may have helped with research or gave me an idea on how to handle something. A short page is about it, but I also understand I’m more of a writing hermit when I’m working than a lot of others, so my list will naturally be brief.

    • Sometimes it’s nice to read acknowledgements because it means the book isn’t quite over yet. The voice changes and often becomes more intimate. Sounds like you’ve got a system that really works for you!

  6. I love the acknowledgement page, both as a reader and a writer. I have fun with my acknowledgement page. Here’s an example from CLEAVED’s: I spoke with other members of NH Fish & Game, too. You know who you are … thank you for dealing with a crazy crime writer who forgot to mention the deceased was, in fact, fictional when calling in a report of a body in the marsh. That situation could’ve gone a total different way!

    It helps to keep a spreadsheet of who you talk to for each book, especially if you do a lot of research. If something funny or embarrassing happens during the call, write that in the spreadsheet, too. Most experts have a wonderful sense of humor, and they love seeing their names in print. I mail or drop off a paperback to each expert after release, as a thank you.

    • Sending copies of the book is an excellent idea, Sue. Especially when it’s specially inscribed. I love inscribed books and keep them on my shelf forever.

      That’s a great tip about noting if something funny happens in a call. It becomes a bonus for the reader and the expert.

      In the acknowledgements I recently sent out I wrote an author’s note about the liberties I took with certain places in St. Louis. I also thanked everyone for not having me arrested as I took photos and sat a long time in my car making notes.

  7. Yes, back before I became serious about writing and finding an agent, I did read the acknowledgments, but I never understood them. I think I just read because I didn’t want to close the book. Now, I do what Maggie does and look for the agent, sometimes even before I read the book. Now, I’m disappointed when there’s no acknowledgments. I also grew interested in the dedication when I read Stephen King’s book and he says that he loves it when a debut author thanks their spouse.

    • Gosh, I can’t imagine not thanking my husband in every book. He always says to leave him out, but he is the one who has to deal with me both when writing is going well, and when I’m miserable. Even though he never reads my work until it’s published, he’s truly a partner.

  8. The first page of text of a paranormal mystery I read was the acknowledgement page. With just a quick glance at the contents, I discovered in the first sentence of the second paragraph a huge thank you for information on carbon monoxide poisoning.

    On the third page of the first chapter, a young ghost appeared with cherry red cheeks which is a classic symptom of carbon monoxide poisoning so one of the major mysteries of the novel–what killed the little girl and her family–was not such a mystery.

    So, the moral of this story is, if you have control of the publishing of the book, put the acknowledgement page at the end of the book, not the beginning. If you don’t have control, don’t spell out what your informants helped you with, unless you can be very general.

    • Marilyn, this is hysterically funny–but also horrible. It sounds like a mistake any author could make, but a very embarrassing one. Thanks for this!

  9. I always read them because the writer took the time to write it.

    So back when I (I’ll risk saying we) were happily married my husband wrote a technical book. I read and edited each chapter several times. I did so much work on the book I could have wrote one myself. When he received the books from his publisher he was so excited. Other than congratulations, I said nothing.

    He sent copies to his family and mine. A few days later he told me how happy my sister was he had acknowledged her encouragement and how disappointed his mother was for not being mentioned (she did nothing for the book, but give birth to him). Still I said nothing.

    FINALLY about two weeks later he came home from work and apologized. A colleague was looking at the book and said, “I can’t believe you wrote a book and didn’t thank Michelle.”

    I still believe it was an unintentional oversight, but reading this post, I have to admit it still stings.

  10. John Dos Passos, I think in writing 42nd Parallel, went to Mexico, hired a guide, then started north with him on horseback. All for the purpose of seeing if you could a village from atop a certain hill south of the village.

    I would not have known that had I not read it in the acknowledgement section of another book written by someone else. I have hung onto that bit of trivia as both encouragement and gauge as to how much research I should put into my own research when I write.

  11. Always write em. People who help you are important. I always make sure I thank the copy editors who’ve saved my butt more than once. And a couple times, I have gone out of my way to find out the cover designer’s name.

    Always read em. Excellent way to find a good agent.

  12. I was so surprised and honored when an author I had written a five star review for emailed me to look at the dedication page. She had dedicated her book to me! I still can’t believe it. Even though we’ve never met in person, we keep in contact and have become good cyber buddies.

    • That’s awesome! Reviews are so important for writers. Btw, folks, I’ve heard it’s important to get at least 50 reviews over at the big A (and they don’t have to be 5 stars).

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