by Jennie Jarvis
As Brad stated in his great post last week, this month we here at 5 Writers are getting into the spirit of Thanksgiving and talking about paying tribute in our work. For me, this topic feels very timely since it was only a few short months ago when I turned into my editor the Acknowledgements for my new textbook, Crafting the Character Arc: A Practical Guide to Character Creation and Development.
This being my first full length published manuscript, I had no previous experience with writing this kind of document. There were no special thanks included with my published short fiction. In the film world, the “Special Thanks” part of the credits normally come from the producer and not the writer. So, I had to dig deep and really think about what should and should not go into this section of my book.
I came up with a list of the ten things to consider when writing my Acknowledgement section:
1. Start with those most directly involved with the book.
This seems like a really obvious choice, but it’s well worth stating. The Acquisition Editor of the book and anyone else at the publishing house who helped with the production of the book really need to be included – and first! These are the people whose existence (and great taste!) lead to the book’s publication, so make sure they deserve the credit. Yes, you may have written it, but if they didn’t agree to publish it, then it wouldn’t matter. Obviously, if you are self-pubbing, then here is where you want to mention anyone you hired to help you along the way (content or copy editors, graphic designers, etc).
2. Move on to those who are most directly related to your writing career.
If you have an agent, a lawyer, a publicist or anyone else actively working to help you in your career, don’t forget about them here! They are more important than your cousin Bob who read your book or your best friend who helped you with your query letter. Even if these industry professionals weren’t directly involved in this project, they are a part of your professional team so be sure to thank them. Remember, the Acknowledgements is a part of your book that will live forever as an example of your writerly priorities, so make sure you show that your priorities are in the right place.
3. Expand outward to include those who support you as a writer.
After those industry professionals, move on to the people who have been there to support you emotionally through the process of writing your book. This might include members of your writing group or – as in my case – your blog mates. Even if it is your writing, you would not have made it as far as you have if it weren’t for those other writers who have helped you grow. Make sure you tell them thank you in print. Not only does it show your appreciation, but it also helps to promote them as well.
4. Include those who specifically assisted in early stages of the book.
Did you interview anyone for research? Or maybe someone recommended a book that helped develop your idea? What about a teacher/critique group leader who gave you feedback to make the piece stronger? It’s really easy to forget about the people who helped you at the very beginning so dig back into your memory banks and make sure you remember everyone. It can be a hard thing to do, especially when it can take years for a book to go from idea to shelf. This is why I will often keep a running list of acknowledgements for each of my works in progress.
5. Make sure you include family and other “politicals.”
I’ve heard many stories about writers who don’t feel supported by their families but trust me when I say, you may want to consider thanking them anyway. If for any other reason, you don’t have to worry about getting a call from your mother: “Why didn’t you thank me in your book?” That thank you might be the only thing between you and a cold greeting at the Thanksgiving table.
For me, family falls into a category I call “politicals.” Basically, those people who might get pissed off if they aren’t included. So think about how many of those exist in your life. You might hate including them now, but you’ll save yourself a headache later on.
6. Remember the “little people.”
Oftentimes, writers will have quiet supporters who have silently and subtlety helped along the way. Sometimes, these are avid readers who are always willing to take a look at pages. Sometimes, it’s a spouse who is smart enough to get the dog to leave you alone during your writing time. Sometimes, it’s a barista at a coffee shop who knows to bring you a refill when you are hard at work. By remembering all those “little people” who helped you along the way, it not only helps you stay in an “attitude of gratitude” but it also shows them how much you appreciate the little things they have done – which encourages them to keep doing it!
7. Who inspired you to write?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you should thank William Shakespeare or anything, but it’s important to keep in mind those people who first encouraged us to pick up a pen. I found this to be a really important thing to consider since some of the really influential people in my life haven’t been a part of my daily routine for a long time. For me, these special thanks were mostly teachers who gave their heart and soul to their students, and so a lot of what I write today is a direct result of their hard work.
8. If you never have another book sale, who matters?
It’s a sad truth, but we are never guaranteed another sale. So, sometimes, the only chance you have to say thank you is in that first book. Don’t save your deepest thank you’s for “the next book” since you never really know if it will happen. Even if you plan on self-publishing, the sad truth is that you could pass away before that next book is written, so don’t hold anything back.
9. That being said… Don’t make it longer than the book!
If your acknowledgement section is as long as one of your chapters, you need to go back and cut some. Keep in mind, the people you thank don’t need personalized notes published for the world to see. You can always hand-write those notes when you give them a signed copy (yes – GIVE them a signed copy. If they are in your Acknowledgements, they shouldn’t have to pay for one!).
Also, if you include too many people, then it takes away from the impact of your including them in the Acknowledgements. People don’t want to feel like they are just one name in a long list. They want to feel special. Choose your names wisely.
10. The general reader of the book most likely won’t care about this section, but remember it’s still a part of the book!
Let’s be honest. The majority of people who buy books don’t read the Acknowledgements section. This is because the readers who don’t know the author personally are on the outside of that world. They don’t know the majority (or any) of the people being mentioned, so they don’t bother. In fact, I’ve had people that I gave thanks to who didn’t even realize it until I told them to look in the back of the book. Make sure you don’t take this personally. It’s nothing against you or your writing – it’s just how people are.
That being said, this is still a formal section of your book, so don’t use this fact as an excuse to pay less attention to the Acknowledgements. You should still use proper grammar and correct spelling. Don’t insult anyone or do anything that could hurt your career (i.e. I advise against you saying “F*** all those people who screwed with me in High School!” or the like). Always be professional because anything you put out into the world will be there forever.
Have you given thought to who you will thank in your next Acknowledgement Section?