Image: Matthew Loffhagen
I really mostly just want to thank my wife… she was the one who had to put up with me. That she did so with love and patience and encouragement instead of strangling me, throwing my remains into a wood chipper, and then pretending she had never been married to me at all is a testament to the fact that she is, in fact, the single best person I know. I love her more than I can actually express in words – an irony for a writer – and am every day genuinely amazed I get to spend my life with her. I try to let her know how much I appreciate her, as often as I can. This is me letting the rest of you know, too. You have this book because of her.
– John Scalzi, Lock In
Whoa! What a tribute. This is an acknowledgment that might actually improve your reading experience. How many times have you scanned an acknowledgment and then turned the page, uninterested? I admit I’ve done it more than once. If the writing or the tone doesn’t grab me, I rarely take the time to read every word. That’s a shame, because not only does it start my reading experience off with boredom, it also isn’t much of a tribute.
Unfortunately, the humble acknowledgment is often overlooked by authors. It’s a place to say a few thank yous or an item to cross off the publishing checklist, but what if it could be more than that? I love the way John Scalzi puts it; an acknowledgment as a way to let the rest of the world know who made it possible for the book to exist. Not only do I, the reader, enjoy this peek at the process, but it also makes me eager to enjoy what comes next.A good acknowledgment page begins a positive relationship between reader and text.Click To Tweet
You may not want to include an acknowledgment in your book, but if you do, wouldn’t you prefer to write a great one? In that case, let’s examine a few ingredients that add flavor to a bland message.
What makes for a compelling thank you note? Well, sincerity is the key ingredient. A great acknowledgment goes the extra mile to explain why an author is grateful. It communicates the spirit behind the support, rather than the act itself. It gives readers a little window into the lives of the people who made the book possible. Scalzi doesn’t just say his wife supported him; he goes to the effort of communicating (humorously) how much effort that took.
You can imbue your acknowledgment with sincerity by:
- Being specific. You don’t have to get too personal, but when they’re appropriate, those intricate details make even a short note compelling. After all, just because it’s true doesn’t men it’s not a story.
- Remembering this isn’t a soap opera. Putting your true feelings into words can make a big impression, but you shouldn’t go overboard.
- Avoiding ticking boxes. Authors can feel pressured to thank everyone they can think of (in fact, it can be something of a power trip), but this tends to dilute each individual acknowledgment and bore the reader. Remember, there’ll be other opportunities to fit people in.
However you do it, aim to make your acknowledgments page sincere. This is your chance to publicly thank the people who made your publishing dreams a reality! A sincere and thorough thank you in print is a huge honor, and one the reader understands, so make it count.
Variety takes an acknowledgments page from good to great. If readers encounter a series of formulaic notes, they’re unlikely to keep reading. And if your messages sound repetitive, how will they be received by those you’re writing about? Try to say what you feel in a unique way. Play with word choice, tone, or perspective. Consider these examples for inspiration:
To my friends and family: You all may be batshit crazy, but even if I got to choose, I’d still choose to be with you.
– Amelia Hutchins, Playing with Monsters
And also great appreciation to the crew at CAA: Cait Hoyt and Kate Childs, you epitomize strong sisterhood and could take over the world if you wanted.
– Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush, Sisters First
Jeff and Alice Richmond for their constant loving encouragement and their constant loving interruption, respectively.
– Tina Fey, Bossypants
You know what all these have in common? The writer went the extra mile to communicate their feelings in an unusual way. They didn’t get crazy, and you don’t have to either. As my dad always says, variety is the spice of life.
Why not think of the acknowledgments page as a place to flex your creative muscles? Here’s a chance to let your voice shine. Do you have a great sense of humor but you’ve had to tone it down for a more serious subject? Maybe the acknowledgments page is a place you can play it up a bit. Does all the love have you feeling sentimental? That’s okay; wear your heart on your sleeve. Do you have a clever idea to play on a theme of the book? Go for it!Your acknowledgments are a creative act, so make the most of the opportunity.Click To Tweet
No need to force something that doesn’t feel authentic. I’m just saying it’s okay to let loose and write from your heart. This page is about you and about the people closest to you in the making of your book. That’s a big deal, and it’s something to celebrate.
What to avoid
Your acknowledgments are personal, so there are few rules for what absolutely doesn’t work, but there are enough common quirks for me to offer some advice in this area.
First of all, try to avoid thanking the reader, either individually or as a group. Every author is grateful to have readers, but the thanks is so general that no reader is actually taking it as a compliment, so it’s likely to come across as white noise. There are exceptions, of course (self-help books have a different relationship with their readers, for instance), but if you’re planning to thank the reader, ask yourself if you’re really going to make them feel good enough to warrant the time it took them to read it.Thanking the reader is rarely necessary or appreciated, so save the space. Click To Tweet
Second, do your best not to throw your reader under the bus in favor of the person you’re thanking. By this, I mean be aware that this isn’t the place for in-jokes or references that exclude the reader. A little mystery is intriguing, especially if the reader can grasp the situation without needing fine details, but it’s irritating to begin a book with the author talking over your head. Jessie J’s video for Price Tag balances on the line here – some listeners found the opening words intriguing, while others found them irritating, setting up a nagging confusion that isn’t addressed by the song.
Okay, Coconut Man, Moonhead, and (points to self) Pea! You ready?
Finally, try to avoid using your acknowledgment to proselytize. After the subtle art of creation that goes into a book, some authors encounter the freer space of an acknowledgment and can’t help adding a frank note about their opinions or agenda. Not only is this jarring, since this is often the first thing the reader encounters, but it adds a context that wasn’t there when the book was written. Where possible, don’t let bonus content steal from or pollute the work proper.
Couldn’t have done it without you
In the end, there are a thousand ways to write an acknowledgment, but the point is that it’s an opportunity to communicate with those who helped you and with your readers, so don’t waste it. Like parenting, writing takes a village. Let your tribe know how much you appreciate them and what their support means to you.
What tips do you use for writing an acknowledgment that stand out? How do you write compelling thank yous that your readers will enjoy reading? Tell us about an acknowledgment that stood out to you, or check out How To Nail Your Non-fiction Introduction for more great tips on this topic.