Sunday, March 08, 2009

no thanks to you!!! (or, the Acknowledgments page)

Jonathan Black wrote this article in the American Spectator decrying the Acknowledgments page many authors choose to include in their books. Mr. Black goes to town on authors big and small for such sins as respecting the memories of late influences and thanking your spouse for patience and loving support. Some choice sound bites: "The acknowledgments page cannot make a bad book better, but it can ruin a good one."

I have at least two cents to say about this. I work in publishing, and love acknowledgment sections. They help me find the agents of authors I admire so I can try to acquire similar books (yes, several of my own book contracts have come from acknowledgment sections). So you could say they're a form of career help pay-it-forward.

Besides, I know how much hard work goes into making a book, and lots of people are involved. Especially these days, when books are workshopped, polished, and perfected by many hands. I know that if I were to write a book, I literally wouldn't feel comfortable publishing it without giving a nod to the many, many people without whom the book wouldn't exist in its current form. As a publishing professional, I LOVE being thanked. I have a shelf full of books that have my name in them. I know I'm not the only person who likes being acknowledged. Why not let an author generate goodwill?

He quotes Sarah Nelson usefully:
"It used to be a writer spent 20 years alone in a room," says Sara Nelson, editor of Publishers Weekly, "and came out with an ink-stained manuscript and made a deal with Bennett Cerf. Now it's publishing by committee. Everything's sales and marketing and publicity."

A sad but true tale (don't get me started... the Committee is a topic for a different day). But since that is our world, the world of the publishing Committee, why can't we thank?

One of the thing Jonathan Black comes down hardest on is the style of many Acknowledgments pages, praise he calls "syrupy." Perhaps that's a matter of taste. I LOVE reading acknowledgments section of a book, regardless of whether it was fiction or nonfiction, and particularly when it's goopy and revelatory. I'm a big fan of the cult of author personality--I'm at least as interested in the author as the book, which some people would say is a bad thing, but there it is--and I love to read about what an author things about the people s/he loves. Sometimes I cry when I read them. Yes, it's true.

So anyway. So what if I have ulterior motives? That's only ONE of the points. It's not like a page in the back of a book is bothering anyone. I say, authors, acknowledge away.

56 comments:

Sarah said...

I like the acknowledgments page!

The best ones, though, are more specific, briefly, wittily mentioning the contribution. (Completely random, but I love it when I find one that mentions Miss Snark!)

Some acknowledgments do sound like a bad Oscar acceptance speech (a gushing list of names) but that's never stopped me from reading a book. Geez. Maybe Black was having a bad day.

Tez Miller said...

I get suspicious when authors DON'T thank their agent and editor.

Silicon Valley Diva said...

I'm glad I'm not the ONLY one who loves reading the acknowledgment pages. If someone is annoyed by it, why not just skip over those pages? IMO, a published writer can never show enough gratitude. People work like slaves to produce a book! I also agree it shows the personality of the author. (Ok, I confess, recently I wrote a pretend "syrupy" acknowledgment page, heh.)

Di Francis said...

I would feel like a complete asshole (pardon the language) if I didn't acknowledge the work and support of people who make me able to write a book. I mean, my family puts up with a lot. And then my editor--she is truly overworked and underpaid and she makes my books better. No matter how I rail when I get the editorial letter, I would hate if it was slapdash and I didn't know it and readers told me about it. Ug.

I figure that if you aren't interested, you skip the page. I used to skip them. Now I read them.

spyscribbler said...

Amen! I LOVE the acknowledgments pages! In fact, I actually enjoy pages upon pages of them, especially when it's full of the author's character and not a "bad Oscar acceptance speech."

In fact, if a book does not contain acknowledgments, I wonder what is wrong with the author, LOL.

And I've totally wandered the aisles just reading acknowledgments. :-)

Stuart Neville said...

I won't comment directly on the linked piece, but I will say that I agonised over my acknowledgements page - in fact, I think I sent two revisions to my editor, saying: "No, really, this is it."

A couple of people (if they ever see the acknowledgements page) might raise an eyebrow, wondering why they've been given a nod. In one case, it's a person I've never conversed directly with, but their blog had a profound impact on me when I was just starting to take this writing thing seriously. Another lifted my spirits with an unsolicited kind word when I was feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of being published.

While I agree that no one wants to see a "You like me, you really like me!" style acceptance speech, I don't believe I've ever actually seen one. Anyway, my acks only take up a page.

Charles Gramlich said...

We all owe debts to people. I think it's a good idea to acknowledge them. I've always tried to acknowledge someone who has influenced my writing, or supported it strongly, in all my books.

Nom de Gare said...

Like others have said, I like reading a good acknowledgments page - it can be a glimpse into the author's personality, and it's interesting to see who's worked on what. I especially like coming across books from 10 or 15 years ago and finding my current bosses/seniors named as helpful editorial assistants or agents' assistants etc.
But I HATE, when getting towards the end of working on a book, having to ask an author if he/she would like to include an acknowledgments page. I worry they'll think I'm fishing for a mention -- but if I don't prompt them, and they forget, will they be distraught when they realise they haven't thanked their mother/husband/dogs/etc?
Of course I have to bite the bullet and ask. But I always find it awkward :)

Christy Raedeke said...

Is Jonathan Black auditioning for Andy Rooney's gig with this? Seriously, read it with that Roonian whine and it sounds just like something he'd write. Petty and curmudgeonly.

I always turn to the acknowledgments page first! Sometimes just a great acknowledgment page can make me buy a book. It's a completely optional read, so why slag on it? Let’s revolt and write acknowledgment CHAPTERS!

jjdebenedictis said...

Couldn't he, like...not read that page?

cindy said...

what? what will they complain of next? the dedication? let the authors thank those who have guided them on this difficult and perilous journey to publication!

Marie said...

I love this. I was told to redo my acknowledgments because I was too sentimental. But that was the point. By the time I was writing my acknowledgments, I felt incredibly weepy thinking about how much work it had taken to get my book published, and I WANTED to thank everyone. I toned it down, but I'm still saying thank you.

Miriam S.Forster said...

Gosh, I'm an avid and addicted reader and I almost NEVER read an acknowledgments page unless it's amusing and uniquely written.

On the other hand, I can't imagine publishing a book and not acknowlaging the people who helped me along the way. Gratitude is never a bad thing.

Honestly, bothering to read an acknowledgment page when you don't like them sounds a little bit like shoving ground peppers up your nose so you can complain about your sinus pain.

ThePurpleOwl said...

I love and read acknowledgements pages, and I love the idea that my editing may one day help someone with their story enough that they want to thank me. :-)

Having said that,I if were ever to write a book and want to acknowledge people, I think I would do my best to check with those people that it would be OK to drop their names -- after all, I can envisage editing some works that I wouldn't necessarily want to be named as part of, you know?

Anonymous said...

works for nonfiction - without an acknowledgement page, I wouldn't have a career.

In fiction, however, it is rather atrocious.

cazet

JKB said...

This is a great post, Moonie.

Can you please, please please talk once about Committee? I would *love* to know more about this.

angelle said...

dude I DREAM abt my acknowledgments page. but we all know it's bc im a sappy goop to begin with.

Nom de Gare said...

PurpleOwl said: "I can envisage editing some works that I wouldn't necessarily want to be named as part of, you know?"

The etiquette of giving and receiving thanks is really interesting, I think. An editor friend of mine once deleted her last name (leaving just her first name) from the acknowledgments page of a non-fiction book she'd worked hard on, but had mixed private feelings about (on political grounds). She didn't mention this to the author - she just silently did it before the book went to print.

And (again, it was a non-fiction book with clear methodological failings) my publisher boss once said to me: "Has author XYZ sent you any acknowledgments? No? OK, good: don't prompt her for one, OK?" I didn't prompt, and she never sent any - I suspect because she was inexperienced. She was a first-time author, very effusive and grateful in correspondence - I think, if she'd been invited to, she'd have given the praise my boss was ambivalent about receiving. I did share his reservations, but it felt like trickery.

In both cases, deflecting/refusing an author's well-meant thanks felt mean and ungracious -- but at the same time utterly understandable in the circumstances. And, it felt cowardly - like we didn't have the guts to refuse to work on/publish a book we disagreed with, but also didn't have the guts to put our name to our decision to publish. If an author asked me directly for permission to mention me in an acknowledgments page, no way would I feel comfortable saying no -- it'd just feel too rude.

Moonrat, what do you think? Have you ever had to/wanted to avoid being mentioned in a book you had mixed feelings about? Or is this just utterly mean-spirited and ungrateful??

Dennis Cass said...

Black's piece makes sense . . . as a blog post. That a magazine would put money, time and trees into airing someone's not-very-interesting pet peeve strikes me as unfortunate.

Whirlochre said...

I'm no fan of needless syrup, but in a world of increasing formality and starch, I see nothing wrong in saying a heartfelt thank you — especially to your agent & editor if you're a writer.

I'd never heard of Jonathan Black till this morning, but I've filed him away under Probable Meanie should my hackles be raise by any future pronunciations.

eluper said...

My forthcoming novel is YA historical fiction. I would feel remiss if I did not thank all of the people that were so instrumental in putting the right information into my hands along the way. The book would not exist otherwise!

And when I thank all the other people, I always try to interject a little humor or cryptic little messages to keep things entertaining for the non-insiders.

For me reading the acknowledgments is part of the entertainment value of the reading experience!

Anonymous said...

It is a right of passage and if you get to that point, I'd imagine, it is a thwarting of sorts. Screw Black. If it bothers him he shouldn't read it.

writtenwyrdd said...

I admit, I hate the really long acknowledgements. Loathe them. Especially when people get all verbose and start with the "my beautiful wife and kids" or "my adoring husband" crap.

If you want to thank someone, just say thanks. Keep it simple, don't grovel and don't write a full fricking page! A simple "Thanks to my wife Jane for her patience/whatever, and thanks to my agent so-and-so, my editor so-and-so and the publishing team at X Publishing" is nice and succinct and does the job just fine.

writtenwyrdd said...

Oh, and I should say if the acknowledgements are at the end of the book, I don't care how long the acknowledgements page is. Because it isn't in my face. And I don't have to know about it until I'm done with the book.

Jill Myles said...

I read the acknowledgements and the author notes before I start the book. I'm sad when a book doesn't have one or the other!

WendyCinNYC said...

I like reading the acknowledgments page, but I always, always read it last. I prefer the glimpse into the writer's personality *after* I've read the story.

Not sure why. Maybe I'm weird.

Justus M. Bowman said...

It's okay, Moonster. I agree with you.

moonrat said...

JKB--for you, I will plan a special Committee post. It's been stewing angrily for awhile, actually.

moonrat said...

Nom de Gare--I confess, there is one book I deleted any record of myself from. It was a project that I had put my every ounce into, only to have the author not only reject all my suggestions--some of them upsetting on moral grounds for me, although we've put this project to bed so I won't elaborate here--but said some pretty mean things to me in the process. In the end, though, because of contract language, the author was allowed to keep all their points. So I essentially did what your friend did--struck my name in the last line of page proofs.

I hope I never have to be in a situation like that again--you feel powerless when you're forced to produce something you don't believe in. I learned a lot from this experience, though, and make sure now that I know an author as well as possible before acquiring a book so I can imagine what it's like to work together.

LindsRay said...

I don't really see how it's different from the liner notes on a CD. There may be an entire page of a rather small booklet filled with gratitude. Back when I used to buy CDs (iTunes has ruined CD notes), I LOVED reading the artist thank-yous. It told you so much about them.

Jen said...

I've been instructed by the great Jackie Doss that I must post my acknowledgments page here. So here it is. My book goes "live" tonight, hopefully, or maybe tomorrow.

Gratitude Page

Hey! Thanks for buying my book!

You have just paid for one-thousandth of my emergency oral surgery. As a sign of my undying gratitude (and as an excuse to brag about my fine and pricey new incisor), you have the unique opportunity to be memorialized forever on the Gratitude Page of my next book. If you would like to be included, simply send an email to me at jonssonjp@gmail.com and say, “Hi, my name is _______ and I bought a copy of No Accounting For Reality.” You can send your real name, your nickname, a friend or family member’s name, or even some name you make up; the name you send is entirely up to you. I’ll also let you know when the next book is out so you can go take a look at your name. I promise I won’t send you advertisements for Viagra, African investment opportunities or cute little chain emails about angels and sister chicks.

If you would like an autographed copy of No Accounting For Reality, print out the cover (color or black and white, it doesn’t matter) and send it to me at P.O. Box (I find the box number out later this afternoon), Dallas, TX 75__, with a self-addressed postage paid envelope. I’ll sign it to you, your best friend’s cousin’s sister, or just sign my name so you can sell it on E-Bay when I’m famous or dead. Please state your preference.

Again, thanks for buying my book. You rock!!

Heartfelt thanks are also due to:
• Suzie Eberhard, my brilliant and talented cover artist
• Kellum, Sally and Jackie, the members of WriteClub!, without whom I’d still be talking to myself about nothing in particular.
• Kellum again, for mythological advice, book lending and eternal patience.
• Joan, for excellent editing assistance and being a great friend generally.
• Caesar the Cat, a fine editor in his own right, though he seems to do it entirely with his butt.
• Chris Baty and the folks at NaNoWriMo, who kicked this off.
• The editorial staff at Time Magazine
• The gang at Lulu.com
• Uhura, Jimmy Stewart, Buddha, Loki and Thor

This is copyrighted material and should not be redistributed. Which normally means, don’t send it around to friends, but I live with a librarian and it occurs to me that if this were a physical book and not an ebook, you could lend it to a friend or even give it away and nobody would think ill of you for doing so. If I tell you not to do either of those things I stomp all over your right to do what you wish with something you purchased. And yeah, it’s a whole new digital age and all that, and lost sales due to bittorrent downloads and other strange things are killing the entertainment industry and blah blah blah, but I don’t get paid enough to be the book police.

So I’ll just say this: When deciding what to do with the book you now hold in your hands, bear in mind that a lot of work went into it, I’d like to see some sort of return on it, and I’m not out to get rich but my oral surgery was really really expensive. Then go forth and do as you will. No hard feelings, honest.

Jackie said...

Normally I don't read an acknowledgment page unless it's less than 2 lines long. But Jen's is an exception.

moonrat said...

Jen--you, personally, have just made my day.

Emily Cross said...

I like the acknowledgements, and sadly already have half planned who i'd like to acknowledge when/if i'm published.

How will Ms.Salmon, my english school teacher feel if i didn't thank her? The woman read six years worth of emo essays - she deserves a thank you lol.

Not to mention thanking editors, publishers, L.agents etc.

JES said...

Sheesh. I'm with the others who see here the earmarks of a tempest in a teapot.

I like the way the "about Jonathan Black" blurb at the bottom of that page appears twice, in two different font sizes. If you squint at it and tilt your head, the effect is of looking at him through one of those Victorian stereoscopes. In 3D, he is receding over the horizon.

Lafreya said...

I have been acknowledged twice for my research in two novels. and I cherish the writers who took the time to thank me.

Linda said...

It takes a village (or committee) to bring a book to market, so... thank the village.

That said, I like acknowledgments that describe the contribution made by the acknowledgee(s). So many times it's a list of names with nothing attached other than a 'thanks'. Authors who don't acknowledge others strike me as mean-spirited and narcissistic at worst, or extremely isolated at best. Both conditions receive my heartfelt compassion.

Personally, it is the daydream about what my acknowledgments page will say that often gets me past my writing and marketing slumps. Peace, Linda

Mimzy said...

I usually skip straight over the acknowledgments page straight to the story. If the book is really good and I'm desperate for more words I'll read it, but for most of the books I read I don't even look at it.

Anonymous said...

Ya know, if somebody doesn't like the acknowledgements page, he doesn't have to read it. It's easy enough to skip.

I like them myself for all the reasons you stated.

As an author, I do a lot of research (I write crime novels) and the folks who help me are civil servants who are generously giving of their time. It's a big deal to them to see their name in print in a published book. That's the least I can do.

I also thank my agent and editor. They don't have to help me meet my goals, but they do. I am grateful.

I intend to keep on acknowledging and the complainers can just skip that page.

Amy MacKinnon said...

Mine has the longest acknowledgment of any book I know of and I wouldn't have it any other way. The reason is simple, I'm grateful.

Amber Lough said...

I ALWAYS read the acknowledgments page. It makes me feel like I got a glimpse of the writer outside the world that he/she created.

Anonymous said...

I also despise the acknowledgment page. Sappy, boring, a stumbling block on the way to the story.

However, it seems the ack page is a requirement nowadyas. I fear if I don't put one in my book, my editor, agent, etc. will be pissed. What to do?

Jo said...

I like to read them, I like to write them and I think it's important to thank all the people who contribute to a book- and largely remain behind the scenes.

Anita said...

I am a complete sucker for an acknowledgments page...it's like an Academy Awards speech, isn't it?

Free to Hope - Free to Live said...

I just read Brent Weeks' The Way of Shadows, and loved the way he did acknowledgements. They were after the end of the book - clever, I think, as you've probably established a rapport with the author if you've read to the end and you're more likely to care about their acknowledgements at that point. Additionally, it was written in an entertaining fashion and took up a few pages. The author's voice carried through, telling little stories about how each person impacted him. It was interesting and entertaining.

Kim Kasch said...

My Dear Mom taught me the power in words and a few stand out in my mind more than others: (1) Please, (2) and (3) Thank You!

And if you want two more (4) and (5) You're Welcome!

Good manners never goes out of style.

writtenwyrdd said...

I just don't like tons of unrelated (to the actual book) stuff at the beginning. Forwards, introductions, acknowledgements--all that stuff gets in the way like having to part heavy, musty curtains to look through a window. If it's at the end of the story, it doesn't bother me at all. So call me strange, but that is how I react to long acknowledgements. Nothing against them, because saying thank you for assistance and support is the right thing to do.

Just not a big huge pageful at the beginning for me.

Kate Douglas said...

Thank you! I love the acknowledgment page--my own, and those of other authors. How else could I thank my husband for not murdering me during our almost forty years of marriage, and burying the body in the compost heap? (no way could I live with someone like me!) Or thank the wonderful beta readers who keep me from making a fool of myself? It takes a village to write a book (thank you, Hilary) and I really like to acknowledge mine. It also took a terrific agent to get me sold, and an editor willing to take chances, so yes, even if it irritates some, I'm going to shout their names to the rooftops.

Kelsey said...

I prefer acknowledgments at the end of a book. I think it means more then. In nonfiction, writers often thank folks that the reader would recognize after having read the book.

Writing the acknowledgments page is no fun: "Did I thank this person enough? Wait, if I thank this person and not this other person I'm going to be in trouble, right?"

My own acknowledgments page appeared at the beginning and, although I was happy with the page, I wasn't thrilled that the first words that the reader would encounter would be me thanking my wife.

Jen said...

Thanks!!
BTW, the book is out!
Here's the link:

http://www.lulu.com/content/e-book/no_accounting_for_reality/6377433

Thanks again!
Jen

Helen said...

I love reading the acknowledgements page, syrupy or not. It's actually one of my favourites parts of reading a book. I never tire of getting to see those who helped get the author to where he is now--and thereby helped get the book into my hands. The acknowledgements page certainly wouldn't turn me off reading a book.

Michelle Muto said...

I read them, too. As long as they don't go on for pages and pages.

I feel it's more personal. To me, reading itself is personal. A dedication page is a way to get a small insight into the author. A short dedication makes them more human in my eyes, less corporate, less all-business. The author with a dedication blurb is a person who is aware that many people helped them get where they are. A quick dedication gives the impression of warmth, sincerity.

Ello said...

THat's a funny article. but I object to the "never acknowledge a lawyer" quote. I object!!!!!

Seriously, though when I was not a writer, I never read the acknowledgments. Now I do and love to. So maybe it's an inside thing.

Glen Akin said...

Seriously. I mean, seriously. Is this real?
First of, you don't HAVE to read an acknowledgments page if you don't want to. It's pretty easy to skip it. Most times, I don't read them. Sometimes I do. There really shouldn't be any fuss about acknowledgment pages.
But I'm really not that surprised. After all, in an American state, a senator is trying to have Barbie banned, so I understand that there are some pretty stupid people wasting their time doing stupid things.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

I laughed out loud at his article -- not because it was funny, but because it was so . . . inane. Aren't there thousands of other publishing quirks loaded with hilarity that he could plumb rather than stretching for the acknowledgments?

Personally, I love those pages. I like seeing the bits and pieces that went into making the novel. Also, being a novelist, I KNOW that there are a lot of people behind the scenes, and when there is no acknowledgments page or a pitifully short one, it makes me feel like the author thinks it was a solo effort. I know, unfair of me . . .

Shannon said...

I get annoyed at the "thanks to my wife and kids who were so patient while I slaved over this book" line in every Acknowledgements page, because it makes me think that the author is a jerkwad who expects his wife to take care of everything around the house while he ignores his parenting duties in favor of navel-gazing and slaving over his own Deathless Prose. It makes me dislike the author immediately whenever such a line appears.

If my novel were ever published, I'd prefer to have a simple dedication and no Acknowledgements page--but I would be sure to send individual thank-you notes separately to my agent and editors. Maybe with chocolates. Hopefully that would make up for the lack of a printed acknowledgement...?