On Friday, author and poet Tracey S.Rosenberg posted on the tricky subject of acknowledgements. Today she gives some practical advice to help you thank people without being twee.
I had a pretty full acknowledgements slate with my debut novel, The Girl in the Bunker and I could have included more. In general, categories include (but are not limited to):
- Personal thanks. Family members and friends, also known as ‘the people who believe in you’. While I didn’t go back as far as kindergarten, my favourite high school English teacher (who I’m still in touch with, and who still thinks I’m awesome) is on that list. These people likely never saw your book until publication day, but they helped.
- Professional thanks. This includes people who read and commented on drafts, agents who declined to represent me but who went out of their way to be incredibly helpful, the person at the Society of Authors who looked over my contract, and a university professor who used a draft of my book as a case study in her publishing course. (I also included a general ‘thank you’ to her students, who came up with marketing ideas.)
- Book-specific thanks. For a novel about the Third Reich, I didn’t just want to rely on libraries, so my gratitude in this category includes the curator of a World War II propaganda collection, as well as one of Albert Speer’s daughters, who responded to a letter I wrote her. If you do use a library extensively, it’s also nice to mention them.
- People who worked on the book nearly as much as you did. My publisher and my editor. If I had an agent, they’d be listed here too. A general ‘everyone at PublishingHouse’ is sufficient but do namecheck anyone who bent over backwards for you.
- Funding bodies. If anyone is so kind as to give you money, they darn well deserve a thank you. (In some cases it is a requirement of the award that you acknowledge their financial assistance; in this case, check with them in case they have any specific requests.) In most cases the institutional name is enough but if anyone at the organisation was particularly helpful, do thank them.
There is often a particularly special acknowledgement – namely, the dedication. Often this is the writer’s partner, who had to deal with all the side benefits of your quest for literary success. This can be a contentious issue: books take a long time to write and get published, so what if your relationship goes sour by the time you’re turning in the final manuscript? Do you still give your ex the pride-of-place mention? Well, that’s a personal decision, but given my ex-boyfriend had to deal with me walking into his office and asking ‘if you were Hitler’s bodyguard and you pulled a gun on a twelve-year-old girl, what gun would you be using?’, I felt he deserved some public recognition for putting up with me. Of course, you can dedicate the book to anyone you like – parent, child, teacher. Be personal and heartfelt, but try not to be too twee about it. And if you don’t want to dedicate it to anyone, that’s fine too.
My future novels won’t have an entire laundry list, and when it comes to publishing my debut poetry collection my acknowledgements will be particularly sparse. At the moment, my list contains my husband, the editor who mentored me during my New Writers Award, and the administrator for said awards. The dedication will be a cryptic single letter and an obscure quotation, and I doubt that person will even understand why. But then when it comes to poetry, you need to leave a lot more space than for prose, even in the matter of who you want to credit for their help in your creation.
So while you’re dreaming of your debut novel winning the Booker, keep a running list of the people you couldn’t have done it without. You don’t want to omit anyone simply because you weren’t thinking of them when your publisher asks you for the front matter. And do be sure that you spell your dental hygienist’s name correctly. The same thrill you’ll get from seeing your name on the book’s front cover will be matched by the people who open your book and see their own.
Above all, never let the thought of acknowledgements keep you from thanking someone now – right this minute – okay, as soon as you’re off the internet. Especially if that person is making dinner while you write.