Dear Agony Editor,
A friend of mine says you can tell a lot about an author by their book’s acknowledgements. She then called me a “cold fish” after reading mine. When I asked why, she said my acknowledgements were too brief and business-like and that I should’ve expressed more gratitude and emotion. I feel terrible now. What are the guidelines and protocols when it comes to writing acknowledgements?
Dear Frozen Trout,
First off, your friend is wrong. While an author’s acknowledgements page (or pages, in some cases) can provide insight into the author’s life and process, your acknowledgements are exactly that: yours. That means you’re free to write them in whatever way is meaningful to you.
In terms of your friend’s judgment about your (lack of) emotions, I’ve read the gushiest of acknowledgments that seemed, to my eyes, to be more about performance than sincerity. It’s not called a “display of emotion” for nothing. That said, publishing a book, especially your first, can be overwhelming and it’s perfectly fine if you want to thank your elementary school teacher, your extended family (including second cousins), and your mail carrier. Again, they’re your acknowledgements.
Publishing a book is truly a team effort. There are editors and copy editors and designers and publicists. And there are supportive family members and friends, first readers, and the writers who have inspired you. All of these people should be – and deserve to be – thanked. The question is whether all of them need to be included in your acknowledgements section.
Your friend is right about one thing: people do read the acknowledgements. But that doesn’t mean you’re under any obligation to pander to a reader’s expectations. How a reader interprets those acknowledgements and what they say, or don’t say, about an author is completely subjective.
While it’s nice for someone to see their name in print, what’s more meaningful – a name on a page or a personal thank you? The most important thing is to ensure that everyone who played a role in the creation of your book is properly recognized. The public or private means you take to express that gratitude is entirely your business.