Acknowledgements: The Long and Short Of It

Welcome to the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza! What’s that, you’re wondering? Well, you can either go and read this post or read the next sentence. In a nutshell: Distress Signals was out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. on February 2, and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this post. (If you’re in Ireland or the UK, you can download Distress Signals for just 99p for a limited time.)

Let’s talk about acknowledgements.

You know, that page – either at the very start or very end of a book – where the author thanks a load of people for fear of never being spoken to by any of them again.

Or, you know, because they really helped the author and the author is really nice.

My personal preference (and note, personal) is that acknowledgements should be kept as brief as possible, for two reasons.

The first is the most important: coming after the end of a novel, every paragraph of acknowledgements is a sledgehammer to my imagination, reminding me that what I just read was completely made up.

We’ll come back to this in a minute because, like I said, it’s important.

The second reason is that I think you should only thank the people who actually had something to do with the creation of the book. Not all the people that you like having in your life because they make it better in some way. Those two groups of people are not the same.

For instance, there might be a teenage girl who comes to your house on an occasional Saturday night to babysit your kids while you go out and have a good time. This is help, because those nights out keep you sane and you wouldn’t be able to go out on them without her. But this is nothing to do with your book.

Now, if you were writing about teenage girls and one Saturday you asked her to come over a bit early so you and her could have a chat and you could pick her brains about what all the cool kids are doing these days, and then some of that detail went into your book, then yes, by all means: put her in there!

But just because someone is in your life doesn’t mean they have to be in your acknowledgements.

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My own acknowledgements from Distress Signals (UK/Ireland). 

People who probably should be in your acknowledgements:

  • Agent
  • Editor
  • Other people associated with its publication, i.e. cover designer
  • Early readers
  • Experts you consulted re: research
  • Particularly supportive writing friends, especially those who sent alcohol
  • Immediate family/partners/bestest best friends who always believed.

People who probably shouldn’t be in your acknowledgements:

  • Every person you’re related to
  • Every friend you’ve even known
  • Every writer you’ve ever met
  • All English teachers, from age 5-18
  • The names you’re including because you think that, if you do, the person will buy the book
  • The names you’re including not because they helped but because you think it seems impressive that you know them

If this seems a bit mean or nasty, spare a thought for your book. Remember what I said a minute ago?

Coming after the end of a novel, every paragraph of acknowledgements is a sledgehammer to my imagination, reminding me that what I just read was completely made up.

This is the worst thing about eight pages of acknowledgements that thank everyone who ever said to the author, ‘How’s the book coming along?’ (or maybe not even that). I get to the end of a novel, perhaps an utterly brilliant novel that has completely sucked me in, taken over my life, put me through the ringer emotionally and has now left me, broken but also somehow renewed, right at THE END. The characters feel real to me; I am convinced now that they are out there somewhere, carrying on their lives even though there are no more pages. I’m thinking of books like The Reader by Bernard Schlink, We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver, Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. They all left me in such a state, I can still remember where I was and how I felt when I finished them.

And then you turn the page and there are the Acknowledgements. A page, a page and a half, two… Okay. The fiction spell hasn’t been completely broken and maybe you even learned something – a personal detail about the author’s life, or that the idea came from something that actually happened – that has only made the impact of the book even greater. But what if there’s ten pages more that are just a list of names, and those names are basically everyone the author has ever met? By the end of them I’m back in the real world, and I’ve been brought back there with a bang.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: why not just close the book, and don’t read the Acknowledgements at all? They’re not for you, they’re for the people being thanked. And maybe the author has spent years and years and years trying to get this book published, and maybe it won’t happen again, and he/she wants to take this one moment to express his/her gratitude for all the people who kept her sane along the way, and if you don’t like it then it sucks for you and black, dead heart.

And that is a valid opinion. But this is my blog and so right this minute we’re talking about mine. And in my opinion (a) when acknowledgements are at the end of the book, you can’t help but read them, especially if you loved the book and you’re not quite ready to close it up yet, (b) everything in the book is for the reader – the book belongs to the reader and (c) acknowledgements should be short and sweet.

I do think there’s an exception: debuts. Debuts are usually the culmination of years of trying and wishing and hoping and crying and being sick with jealousy and rejection letter bonfires and then more crying, so I think a bit of a longish thank you list isn’t the world thing in the world on that occasion. (I mean, it’s hardly the worst thing in the world anyway, but you know what I mean.) Still, I think you should try to keep it shortish, which I’m surprised to learn is a word and I’m just assuming it is because the WordPress spell check thingy isn’t putting a red squiggly line underneath it.

What do YOU think? Long, short or doesn’t matter? Do you even read them? If you do, do you think sometimes they’re in danger of breaking the fiction spell at little too violently? Or do you think a 20-page list of mild acquaintances is the author’s right?

Let me know in the comments below….

Remember: there’s a super sexy hardcover edition of Distress Signals (the American one, out February 2) up for grabs, signed to you from me. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post or any post published here between January 5 and February 2. One entry per post, so comment on more than one and increase your chances. Open globally. Good luck!

dsbb

Quick reminder: leave a comment on this post to be in with a chance to win a copy of Distress Signals. Also, it’s just 99p to download right now! 

13 thoughts on “Acknowledgements: The Long and Short Of It

  1. clairehennessy says:

    I *adore* this post. I must admit, I read acknowledgements pages obsessively – often before reading the book itself – and they don’t take anything away from the enjoyment of the book, but I do get weary of the ones that seem to be about Thanking Everyone Ever rather than manuscript-specific types.

  2. willifordsdw says:

    Catherine

    I am a ghostwriter with sales of several million copies. If you want to have a dialogue, I’m happy to do that. Otherwise, good luck and take me off your list.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  3. Joel D Canfield says:

    I flip to this kind of stuff first, get it out of the way, and then go immerse myself. That way, no spell-breaking.

    While I think there’s a time to include someone for personal reasons, I’m with you: if they helped with the book, they’re in, and if not, send them a Starbucks card if you want to be nice to them.

  4. Kirstie says:

    I only read them when they hint at a story – you know sometimes it’s basically just a list of names, but other times there’ll be a bit of context that makes you wonder what exactly Jane did that was so fantastic… those ones are interesting! If they’re interesting I don’t mind if they’re long, and if they’re boring I stop reading. So it doesn’t matter how long they are in that case either, I suppose!

  5. K.L. Murphy says:

    I love the acknowledgements, but that being said, shorter is better. I also read them first because I feel like it tells me a little something about the author and possibly even their process. Who are they thanking and for what?

  6. gwrinc says:

    Good to hear that you have a list for the acknowledgements that should be included, but then why did you include…….
    Yes, brevity is best.
    Andy

  7. Widdershins says:

    Oiiiiiii! Acknowledgements and interminable ‘one line’ pats-on-the-back from slightly or non-famous people/ reviews, before I get to Chapter 1!

    No no no! I’m there for the story.

    I’ve occasionally read the acknowledgements if they’re at the END of the book and I enjoyed the story. But mostly I’m looking for the authors website/blogsite so I can tell her/him how much I enjoyed their work.

    I understand that the author wants to thank the people who made the book possible because it’s very rare for them to have had no help at all, ever. But I question, rather emphatically on occasions, 🙂 the need to have it in the book. Wouldn’t a far better, and more lasting legacy of their help be recorded on the afore mentioned website/blogsite? A ‘dedicated’ page for the dedications. Then, if a reader wants to browse the lists of names, (and lets be honest, more often than not, it’s to see if we recognise any of them) then they can do so there at their leisure.

  8. Jennifer Barricklow says:

    I often find acknowledgements extremely annoying because if they are done well, they are brief (you are absolutely right there) and do not offer the information that nosy me is hoping for. Sometimes it’s worse than that, and they drop tantalizing hints (like “gin-laced” in the above example) and I re-read them ten times before slamming the book shut and screaming, “I want details! Juicy details!”
    Ahem.
    Once in a while, though, I do get great ideas for resources from acknowledgements, especially when extensive background or period research has been involved.
    So even though they frequently frustrate me, I always read the acknowledgements, just as I always sit through all the credits at the end of movies. Both remind me that it’s simply good manners to tip one’s hat.

  9. Chris says:

    I agree with what you’re saying. However, as a reader, I usually put a book down after reaching The End. Then I’ll pick it up again a day or two later to check out the acknowledgments.

  10. office mum says:

    I adore reading acknowledgements, I’m very nosy, and I’m curious about the author. Also if I’ve loved a book, I want to keep reading – anything at all that comes at the end of the book is good. But yes, if someone just mentions everyone famous they’ve ever met, I can see how that would be counter productive. (Happily I don’t know any famous people, so not going to fall down that rabbit hole). Great post and really helpful!

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