Most clients I’ve worked with, whether they were involved in self-publishing projects or producing content for a large publisher, had a pretty good understanding of the basic process of putting out clean, professional work. By and large, they knew all the different components readers expected out of a book, and what they needed to do to put that together. There’s a good amount to keep track of, of course, and if you’re new to the process, it’s not uncommon that some of those things will be overlooked.
One such element I’ve noticed that authors forget or omit is the acknowledgments section. While technically optional, the acknowledgments section should be considered common courtesy, a way of recognizing the fact that no one makes a book entirely in a vacuum, and that a whole host of people helped you with your project along the way.
Why do I need an acknowledgments section?
Think of the acknowledgments section the way you would think of leaving a tip. Sure, you don’t have to do it, but your ears are likely to burn from some behind-the-back invectives if you don’t. People like to be acknowledged—and they especially like to see their names in print.
When you include a person in the acknowledgments section, you’re letting the world know that you appreciate their contribution to your work, no matter how big or small it might have been. After all, each person who helped you with your project is a potential promoter for your book. Show them that you care and they may just reward you by suggesting your book to their own networks of friends, family, and colleagues.
I like how Donald S. Passman said it in All You Need to Know About the Music Business (though his was in all caps). He not only knew why the acknowledgments mattered, he made sure his readers did too:
Please read my thank-yous. I know it’s a bunch of people you’ve probably never heard of, but think how much you’d want other people to read it if your name was here.
Who should I include in my acknowledgments?
It’s like If You Give a Mouse a Cookie: you thank one person, then you’ve got to thank someone else. How can you justify including person x and not person y? Do you have to thank everyone? Probably, but it’s important to cover a few kew bases.
- Readers/Advisors/Sounding Boards: These are the people who helped you develop your work during the drafting phase. These people usually help you out of the kindness of their hearts because they want to see you and your book succeed. They read the early pages and helped you iron out trouble areas. They helped you solve the third act, just when everything felt like it was about to fall apart. Thank these people first.
- Mentors/Teachers/Professors: You know, the people who taught you all the tricks you leaned on to get through your first book. Often these people don’t know how much we appreciate them. After all, for every grateful student among us, they have to deal with three or four ungrateful ones (not an actual statistic). Go ahead, make their day.
- Who greased the wheels?: Was there someone, or perhaps a few someones, who were somehow key in getting this book made? Was it an enthusiastic agent? A connection you made at a conference? Your dear old grandmother? Whoever it was, they deserve a very special callout from you. They’re the reason you’re even puzzling over who to include in this section in the first place.
- Book Team/Publisher/Editor: And so on. Who was directly involved in the actual process of getting your book ready for press? Your publisher and editor absolutely deserve recognition, but don’t forget anyone else who helped you here—whether it was getting you coffee, working your interview schedule, or helping you with your research.
- Extended communities/important networks: This one is true more for the nonfiction writers I’ve worked with. The success of many business or self-help books is directly related to the kinds of networks and communities you build around your area of expertise. If you want to keep good allies, make sure to give them a mention.
- Family and close friends: These people may not have helped directly in the production of your work, but how can you not thank your friends and family? Your mother would never let you hear the end of it.
- Significant other/kids: I doubt I really have to explain this one.
What if I forget someone?
This question paralyzes many of the authors I’ve worked with. In fact, I’ve had to coax one or two of them out of omitting this section entirely simply because they feared the politics of the whole thing. The potential accidental omission of one or two people is no excuse for deliberately omitting everyone. That’s just silly.
Look, if you forget someone, just call them up and start a conversation about it. Unless they’re just not very understanding people, I’m sure the two of you could have a good laugh about it. In fact, the phone call might even end up being even more memorable to them their inclusion (or lack thereof) in your book.
This is also why you should plan ahead, however. An acknowledgments section deserves your attention, and it will take time to build it. Keep a list somewhere of all the people you would like to thank once you begin the publishing process. That way, you’ll have at least a few weeks to remember everyone that you should, making you far less likely to leave anyone important out.
Do you have a project in need of some writing, editing, or project management assistance? Tell me all about it.