Secrets of the Acknowledgements Section
Writing acknowledgements is hard, at least for me. There are many people who have encouraged or influenced me in the process of writing, so who do I include? Yet writing acknowledgements is easy for me as well. There are certain individuals who have contributed a great deal to my work, and it is more a question of how to condense my gratitude into a sentence or two for each one. There is definitely enough material there, and being a writer, I suppose I can find ways to summarize while still being specific. Still, the acknowledgements section has been one of the trickiest pieces of writing I have had to put together, and I am sure there are others who would agree. For that reason, I want to take a closer look at this section of a novel and distill some principles that might help us, the “secrets” to the acknowledgments section, as it were.
Purpose of the Acknowledgements
Who are the acknowledgements for? The answer is not simple, really. They are for the people to whom they are addressed, of course, but then, they are for the reader as well, and in another way, they are for the writer.
We write acknowledgements to do just what they are stated to do-to acknowledge. As authors, we want to confess and appreciate that we did not create our work on our own. Sure, we were the ones who typed up each word of the manuscript with painstaking diligence, but there were many around us who helped us in the process by taking care of the kids, cooking dinner, brainstorming with us when we got stuck, reminding us it was worth it when we were ready to give up, helping us in the publishing process, and believing in us even when we felt every word we’d written was pitifully pointless. We want to tell these people thank you, and there is something about having it written down for the world to see that makes our gratitude all the more impactful.
Yet we are not writing the acknowledgements only for those whom we would like to appreciate but also for the reader. The acknowledgements are an insight into our process and into the forces and people that shaped us in our writing. By including details about the people who impacted us, the reader gains an understanding of the meta-story, the story of how the story in the novel came about. It might not seem like much, but it gives the reader a feel for who we are.
Scope of the Acknowledgements
Finally, the acknowledgements are for ourselves, the writers. In them, we recognize how we arrived at where we are and who we are as authors. The acknowledgements section is where we discover just what influences guided us in our process. It humbles us, as in it we confess our dependence on our spouses, our friends, our fellow writers, and our publishers. Novels are not written in a vacuum, and I would find it suspect if someone were to tell me no one helped or supported them in their writing. It is possible, of course, but for the rest of us who relied on aid and encouragement from those around us, writing the acknowledgements keeps us modest about our accomplishments.
Now that we know for whom we write the acknowledgements, it would behoove us to discuss which people we acknowledge. I am no expert on this, I confess, but I have some thoughts on the matter.
The first people I include in my acknowledgements are those who saw me through and were there for the entire process. For me, that would be my husband and one of my writing friends. These are the people whose contributions were greater, more consistent, and more varied than reading a draft to give feedback. These are the people who helped us brainstorm and gave us feedback, but not only that, they carried us when we felt like giving up, they took care of the house and watched the kids, and they believed in us when all we could see was pessimism.
The second group of people I would mention would be those who took part in the drafting process, the “beta readers,” as it were. These people navigated the treacherous waters of trying to give constructive criticism. Whether they are our friends or mere acquaintances, they had to ride the line between helpful and hurtful, and even if they did not do it well, they ought to be commended for trying. Beyond that, their comments could have been beneficial, for which we should thank them as well. Really, the fact that they believed in us enough to become a beta-reader should earn our gratitude.
Finally, I believe we ought to thank our publishers. Sure, they are paid for what they do, but that in itself does not require them to take us seriously. Our marketing team, graphic designers, and other team members take the time and mental energy to understand what we are attempting to convey with our tens of thousands of words and help us boil it down to a simple image or marketing concept. Our editors, like our beta-readers, have chosen their words and thoughts to be considerate as well as practical. These people deserve accolades, and it is only right that we note their contributions in our acknowledgements.
Content of the Acknowledgements
I cannot tell you what to write in your acknowledgements section. Only you know that information. What I can give is two pieces of advice, as a reader and as a writer.
First, be specific. Thanking everyone and their mother for “their support” does not tell anyone anything and can sound disingenuous. If you have nothing more particular to thank them for than their “support,” then how significant was their contribution? Being non-specific does not benefit any of the three audiences. The acknowledged party might have little idea what they did to “support” you, and even if they do know what you mean, they have no indication of how it impacted you. The reader does not gain a sense of what types of encouragement or help these parties offered you when they read non-specific acknowledgements. Finally, we as writers do not benefit from generalities. Vague descriptions in this section of our books allow us to write off the help we’ve received as incidental. We often cannot understand the depth of a person’s influence and the impact of their encouragement until we specify what it was that helped us and how it did so.
Besides being specific, the best advice I can give is to be authentic. If you are a plain person in real life, do not try to be overly flowery in your acknowledgements. If, on the other hand, you like to speak and write poetically, then do so. More than just style-wise, though, be genuine in what you are grateful for. If something someone did impacted you deeply, point it out. With my beta-readers, I have found their enthusiasm and belief in what I am doing to be just as beneficial if not more than their comments on my manuscript. Being genuine makes for a deeper and more personal read for your acknowledgements.
The Point of All This
Of course, you might see crafting the acknowledgements with such care as a waste of time. Who even reads those things? Yet I believe the acknowledgements are for those who will read them, not for those who will skip over them, and as such, we ought to write in a way that will impact those first readers. It is much like how we craft our novels. We write for the audience who will consider and enjoy our work. We are not writing for the portion of the population who will pick up our books, read a chapter, then toss them aside. Our novels are for those who would benefit from reading them, and likewise, our acknowledgements are for those who are curious about our process and who will glean insight from what we write in this section. Let us give them something from which insight can spring, something worth considering. By our authenticity and specificity, let us draw the reader into a little part of our world and share a bit of ourselves with them. We have bared our souls in writing the rest of our novels, so let us not be suddenly guarded and stingy with our sharing here. It will be worth it.