I finished the copy edits on The Fault Tree this week and was ready to send it back to my publisher … but wait … there was one more small item to be done. And it’s not an easy task. The Acknowledgments page.
I stink at writing the Acknowledgments.
First of all, this book has had more incarnations than Vishnu, and I know I’m going to forget someone who helped along the way. Someone important. Like my editor. Or my first reader. Or the character I based the protagonist on.
Oh, sure, I made notes to myself as I worked. “Don’t forget Robbie!” Huh? By the time it came to assemble that thank you list on the Acknowledgments page, I had no memory of ever meeting or knowing someone named Robbie.
I could take the easy way out, and thank everybody I’d ever met. Just copy my whole email address book right onto the page. That would do it. But what about that guy in the bar who told the funny story that got me to thinking about …? Or the maiden aunt who praised my early attempts to write fairy tales? See? I told you I’d forget someone.
Spouses or Significant Others have a special place on the page, for their undying support of the writer. But how hyperbolic or treacly sweet can you get in your thanks before both the spouse and the reader throw up? Does the reader (or even the typesetter, for that matter) really need to know that I haven’t cooked anything but Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and haven’t done laundry for a year while writing this book? That, in all likelihood, my spouse’s cell phone number will be featured prominently in the D.C. Madam’s call logs? Maybe I should settle for the more vague “as always” or “my love and thanks for everything.”
And then there’s the issue of thanking your expert resources. I want to give them credit. Really I do.They’ve been a tremendous help to me. But if I include their names for teaching me how to poison sun tea, or for getting me all that great information on detonators and explosives, they’re likely to be getting a visit from the feds.
I should know. Just try explaining why your first two Google Earth searches were for up close and personal photos of Camp David and the Crawford ranch. Ruh-roh.
I can tell you who won’t be on the Acknowledgments page but probably should be.
• My tax guy, for making this all possible.
• The lady at the nail salon who has taught me how to say, “Yes, I’m still working on the same book” in Vietnamese.
• The guy who gave me directions to the signing, when I was late and lost in Los Angeles. (Sorry I was so rude. I thought you were a homeless guy looking to wash my windows.)
• My high school guidance counselor who said I’d “do well in retail.” Hell, I thought I’d at least have the choices from the jump rope song. (Tinker, tailor, cowboy, sailor … doctor, lawyer, Indian chief.) Come to think of it, those were supposed to be your potential spouse’s occupations, right?
• My dog Angus, who barks if I get up from the computer before Keith Olbermann comes on.
• Every great writer who put out a book this year. You make me spit-green with envy, but inspire me every day.
Let’s create the Ultimate Acknowledgments Page. What would you most like to include in yours (if your mother and your publisher weren’t looking over your shoulder)? And readers, what outrageous thank you would you most like to see?
The evil ex-boyfriend who’s in publishing, who told me while we were in the early stages of breaking up, “I don’t know why you want to be a writer. You’ll never make a living at it.” Take that, ya *&%$#@!
And my former secretary, defending me in the office against some charge of being antisocial or weird by saying, “But you should hear her tell a story.”
Wonderful, Lisa! I’d put the secretary’s name first. And I’ll bet that ex in publishing is making less money than you are.
The first agent I ever queried. I met him at a writing conference and revealed that I was terrified to query my novel. He said if I ever queried him to remind him of our conversation. (in which he said agents are just people and don’t forget that)
Eventually I did query him, mostly b/c I needed to see if I could get a response. I knew the novel wasn’t ready. I just wanted to know if the query process worked.
He responded immediately, asked for 50 pages, read them fast, and sent me the nicest letter telling me he loved the story and the characters but he felt the book needed more work before he could consider the whole thing.
He demystified the process, gave me confidence, and also gave me the thumbs-up to keep working on it.
Same thing with my first agent – I don’t know if it’s kosher to thank an agent other than the one who sells your book. But I want to.
On the nice side: I’d thank Sara Ann Freed every single time any of my fiction got published. She encouraged me at a time when I wasn’t sure I should continue trying to break into publishing.
Also on the nice side, I’d thank agent Jenny Bent who didn’t take me on as a client but encouraged me, suggested other agents to query and spent time making sure I pursued finding a NYC rep.
Finally on the nice side, I’d thank agents and editors who have asked to stay in touch because they sincerly are interested in my career.
On the evil, catty side, I’d thank bad published writers (or rude in public writers) everywhere. I learn so much from them.
Oh, I’d also thank the booksellers who had confidence in my ability early on — who asked me to sign books and didn’t return stock. Who offered real advice and showed such kindness.
Of course, my gratitude goes to every bookseller who has sold my works and encouraged me — but those early folks are the ones that stole my heart.
Geez, I guess I’m just a pretty grateful gal.
Billie, I’ll bet there are few people who would remember to thank “agents-other-than-my-own.” But your examples are great. It still astounds me that there are such helpful and gracious people in this industry.
I never knew Sara Ann Freed, Pari, and am envious of your time with her. What a remarkable woman she must have been.
And you’re right about remembering the booksellers, too. There are many I would thank, but especially Elaine Petrocelli at Book Passage for all her support.
Louise, this is tricky all right. I took a self-defense class from a friend of mine who has a black belt in kenpo. Tucker used some of the moves he taught me in my first book, so I thanked him in the acknowledgements. He was pleased but surprised, because he considered his contribution so small. I’ve also had sources tell me NOT to include their names. Unless I know them well, I always ask first.
An “outrageous thank you” that I would like to see? Can’t think of a darn thing. MAYBE if someone could find a way to thank everybody in a way that did not smack of “pro forma” routine–something unique, funny, “different,” entertaining? But who am I to tell a writer how or what to write?
Actually, my dedication to Julie got forgotten in Accidents Waiting to Happen and a lot of people (strangers) like to remind me of that.
Person I would include as a snotty acknowledgement…that would go to a junior high teacher who told my mum, “he’ll never use his brain to make a living.”
I’m finishing off the acknowledgements for a non-fiction textbook I’m working on. A wonderful cabal of about a dozen people have either kept me sane, or helped me above and beyond the call of duty (or both!) It is sooooo tempting, though, to include a sarky comment to one or two people, one of whom let me down badly at a key point, along the lines of “without whom all of this would have been so much easier . . .!”
Shaz, I love the idea of “without whom this would have been so much easier …” Ah, yes.
And Patty, I understand about some people not wanting the mention. In Forcing Amaryllis, I wanted to thank the guy who helped me so much with all the gun information. “Ah, Louise, these guns are unregistered, and I don’t want the expertise mentioned.” Oh, that.
Simon, you’ve got to find a way to “thank” that junior high school teacher. Maybe name a particularly dull character after her?
And Tom, how’s this for the best Acknowledgment: “To Santa Tom, for coming to all the signings, buying so many books, and carrying a Forcing Amaryllis bag with him everywhere!”
I have a ridiculously long acknowledgements page for my first book, simply because I wanted to say thanks to all the folks who helped me along the way. But it was hard to resist thanking everyone I’ve ever met, because somehow, someway, each person has influenced me.
On the catty side, a sarcastic thanks to the professor in college who convinced me I sucked at writing, which led to a fifteen year writing drought. If she hadn’t been so awful about it though, I’d never have quit, wouldn’t have taken the path I did. So in the long run, she was worth the pain.
The first round of submissions, before I knew any of the ropes, I always sent a thank you fax when I received a rejection notice. I think I hoped that somewhere along the way, one of the people who rejected me would see that I’d made it through a different path. So here’s a global thank you to everyone who didn’t want me, because I’d never be here if it weren’t for you!
What a fun day, Louise!
Simon and JT, I honestly think teachers/ profs like that should be shot.
My God, that burns me.
I’d like to thank the male stripper whom I’ve named my character after. Granted, I don’t know the man’s real name, but he was entertaining enough to be memorable. In a gross way.
Hey X,If you’re rounding up a posse, let me know. She’s teaching at a small lib. arts college in Cali, I believe. : )
Karen, you’ve got to mention that stripper! Somehow, somewhere, he’s going to see it and love it.
The rest of us all seem to have somebody, whether teacher or potential agent, we’d like to say neener neener to. Maybe that’s the perfect Acknowledgment page all by itself.
Not being a writer, but applying the outrageous “who would you like to thank” question to my own life I’d say thank you to the little voice in my head that told me I could do it no matter what (insert appropriate name here) said!
Interesting question, fascinating responses!
The head of the English Department at Roanoke College rolled over in his grave, I know, when I got published. I can hear him now: SHE got published? I was not a very good English major. I had serious issues with James Joyce and those other white dead Brits I had to read.
Janine, I’d be thanking that little voice too, except that it keeps telling me to eat chocolate.
Karen, don’t you love proving others wrong? What a righteously fine feeling. (Although I think Joyce would be the one rolling over in his grave to have been called a Brit!)
Yeah. That would work. Now I carry Patty’s bag too–yours in one hand, hers in the other; sometimes one inside the other, pulling it out at my destination so both can be seen. I alternate when I do that. I often carry Lisa’s too, putting the other two in that big one, again showing them all at arrival point. I do so enjoy plugging my friends. Oops! “Plugging” as in advertising, not crime, sense.
I’m tempted to thank all of those who said I’d never get published. If not for them – I might have quit trying.
Louise: I’m not sure I want to give my teacher any kind of fame.
Alex: You want to know about bad teachers, ask me about Ms. Clare…
OH, Simon, now I want to know the Ms. Clare story, too! And Elaine, you are indefatigible. You never would have given up because you have the strength of ten.
Santa Tom, what nice company to be in: Ms. Smiley and Ms. Scottoline. You have good taste in women and in writers.
A big shout out to Satan without whom none of this would be possible. The next round of appletinis is on me big S.
Oh come on, what would I do with my immortal soul anyway?
Mike, I’ll bet Alex would agree with you on that shout out.
I say, here’s to bad guys everywhere. Our work would be dull literary fiction without them.
I need to thank Miss Snark, for her blog! If the agent who has my full MS goes for it, I will. Seriously, there were some cosmetic changes to the MS before this last round of queries, but essentially, the book stayed the same. It appears that her advice on the query process is spot on, because I did a lot better this time!
In the neener neener section, I’d have to thank one of my brothers. He was the baby of family until I came along and he didn’t like it (or me!) one bit. Everything I’ve learned about deceit, lies, treachery and how to frame a sibling, came from him! Problem is, he’s a bit obtuse that way and would never see the sarcasm.