Thursday, September 27, 2012

How to write an acknowledgments page.

And I really do mean "page," and not "chapter!"

We'd talked in the comments section of last week's Friday post about people's acknowledgments, and a lot of you admitted that you've already written yours, whether or not the manuscript is actually finished.

There's been a lot of discussion recently about acknowledgment etiquette, with a general consensus being that acknowledgment sections are getting out of hand. A few links:

The New Yorker (August 2012)

The Guardian (2010)

The Paris Review (2011)

I tend to agree with a lot of what all three of these writers have to say: acknowledgments that run on for pages and pages and pages are rather tedious.

Here are a few pointers on people I think should be thanked in your acknowledgments. Note that I think this applies mainly to first books, as there may well be people on this list who don't merit a mention in each subsequent work.

1) Your family, especially your parents, your significant other, and your children. Siblings and extended family should be thanked if they directly contributed to the book's production in some way (read drafts, came up with the original idea, watched the kids while you wrote). Don't include them just because they're related to you, and please, please do not include pets. I have seen acknowledgment sections where the author's dogs received a more lavish thank-you than the book's editor. True story.

2) Your professional publishing "team:" your editor, your agent, and probably anyone else you've been in direct contact with at the publishing house. It's nice to thank the agent's and editor's assistants, if they made significant contributions, but whenever possible, try to err on the side of "and everyone else on the Publishing Imprint team."

3) Your non-professional* publishing "team:" your writing group (just call them your writing group rather than listing them individually by name, if possible), the volunteer at the small-town historical society who devoted hours of her time to answering your incredibly specific question, the endlessly kind man at the British Museum who always took your phonecalls. (*non-professional meaning they don't make their living in book publishing)

4) Anyone else who was directly involved in the book's production. I leave this a little open-ended, because some people will want to list everyone who read an early draft, and others will already be worried that the acknowledgments are getting too long. Err on the side of vague, if you can, and remember that the shorter you can make the acknowledgments, the less room there is for casual friends to be offended if they don't get a mention.

5) That's basically it. Don't rattle off your Facebook friends, your Twitter followers, the names of all of your elementary school teachers, or the members of your fantasy football league. If someone will be horribly offended not to be included by name, or if you'd feel really badly were you to leave them off the list, then go ahead and include them. If you think they would be placated by receiving a signed copy of the book, with a personalized note from you, I encourage you to go that route instead.

What did I leave out? Do you like reading acknowledgments? What's the weirdest thing you've ever seen in an acknowledgment section?


Giora said...

Practical and comprehensive list of what to do. For a few weeks I followed the blog of a literary agency representing books for the Christian market. Reading the comments there, for these authors you left out to thank God for the inspiration to write the book. I read acknowledgments to find out who is the literary agent and the editor of the book. Others like to read them to learn more about the author. I have the paper version of The Hunger Games beside me and there are no acknowledgments there. But if I recall correctly, they were some in the original version. I wonder if they delete acknowledgments for the paper versions to save space.

DustySE said...

I find it curious when people *don't* mention their agent and/or editor. But a fair number don't... Any thoughts as to why? Is there a significant number of publishing types who prefer not to be named? I'm always disappointed when agent/editor aren't named!

Jessica Brockmole said...

I really love reading acknowledgments. Sure, some pull out the same stock phrases of thanks, but it only makes the ones that don't that much more interesting. Is it weird that I have favorites when it comes to acknowledgment pages?

Courtney Miller-Callihan said...

Jessica, I'm with you: I like reading them (and not just when I'm included, hah), especially the more unusual ones!

DustySE: I'm not sure. I've been thanked as "my agent" with no name before, but it strikes me as bad form not to thank editor and agent at all. If you don't want to acknowledge those involved in the work's publication, don't have an acknowledgments section! I have never heard of a publisher requiring an author to include acknowledgments, so I'm assuming that it was the author's decision not to thank agent and editor.

As to whether people prefer not to be named, I haven't taken a straw poll of everyone in the industry, but most people like to be included, as far as I know. It's a tough industry, and agents and editors work relatively anonymously; while not mandatory, that small bit of public thanks is really gratifying. And of course it's one of the best possible resources for new authors looking for agents and editors... I LOVE it when people mention that they found my name in the acknowledgments of one of my clients' books. Shows you've really done your homework for the query process!

Jessica Brockmole said...

Acknowledgments are exactly what led me to you, Courtney!!