Think Before You Thank: Writers & Acknowledgments

I learned something recently that I thought I’d share…because it saved me from doing something nice that could have turned into something uncomfortable.

If you’ve ever finished a novel and gone on to read the acknowledgments pages in the back, you know that authors are frequently thankful to lots of people. We thank our editors and agents, our copy editors, publicists and cover designers.  We thank experts who helped with research and gatekeepers who may have granted access to research opportunities. We thank our partners and friends and writing buddies, and sometimes, we thank booksellers, teachers, and librarians who have been champions of our work.  And all of that is lovely, but…

An acknowledgment in the back of a book is different from a quiet thank you note that arrives in a mailbox. It’s a very public thank you, and in some situations, it might not be comfortable for the person being thanked.

A museum employee or zookeeper who granted unusual access to records or an exhibit, for example, may have bent some rules in doing so.  A public thank you could make for an awkward conversation with that person’s boss.

A teacher or librarian who enjoys an author’s work might be delighted to see his or her name in the back of a book.  But what if that reader wants to be on a state or national awards committee and the author’s book shows up in the pile of titles to be discussed?  Suddenly, having that public thank you in the book is awkward at best and at worst, could create pressure for the person to resign from a great opportunity.

I’ll be honest – I wouldn’t have thought of any of this until a friend brought it to my attention recently.  Because what could be wrong with saying thanks?  Nothing…as long as the person has a heads up.

Here’s what I’m going to do from now on…  There are certain people I know are happy to be thanked – my critique partners, my agent and editor, my family.  But for others– individuals who have helped along the way by assisting with research or spreading the word about my books – I’ve decided it’s probably best to fire off a quick note first. Something like this…

Dear awesome person,

I wanted to drop you a note to say thanks again for (awesome things that you did).  If it’s okay with you, I’d like to say a more public thank you by including your name in the acknowledgments for (title of book that is awesome because of you).  Please let me know if that’s all right, and even if it’s not, know that I’m so very grateful for your help.

Best,

~Kate

 

So I’m curious now.  How do other writers handle acknowledgments?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in comments!

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55 Comments

  1. Mike Jung
    Posted September 26, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    I never even thought about these things, Kate, but they make a lot of sense. I’ve only got the one book, and I thanked a huge, teetering stack of people, but I don’t THINK any of them would be compromised by it. I intend to keep this post in mind if I get another opportunity to write acknowledgments, however. Thanks!

    • Posted September 26, 2012 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

      In all honesty, it had never occurred to me before this recent conversation either, but I thought it was eye-opening enough that I wanted to share.

  2. Posted September 26, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    Whoa. I never considered how publicly thanking someone in my books might compromise them professionally. Going to take your advice from now (book 5) on… Thanks, Kate!

    • Posted September 26, 2012 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

      Oh good! I’m glad this was helpful – I know I appreciated the person who brought it to my attention, too.

  3. Posted September 26, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    Kate, this is a thought-provoking post. Honestly, I had not considered how acknowledgements could be uncomfortable or awkward. I sure will think differently now, though. Great suggestion about getting the go-ahead.

    • Posted September 26, 2012 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Gigi! It’s not something I’d considered before either.

  4. Posted September 26, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Great perspective!
    Who would have thought that publicly thanking could be problematic.
    Will bookmark this for future use.

  5. Posted September 26, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    Interesting post! I was on the fence about who to include in the acknowledgements for my debut. I was worried that I’d embarrass them if the book got panned (It hasn’t yet. Phew!). I also wanted to thank an editor friend from another house who was very supportive, but I wasn’t sure if that was kosher. It all worked out, but in the future I think I’ll use your note for anyone outside of the immediate book circle.

    • Posted September 26, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

      Oh, that’s another great example of a situation that could be tricky – but I do think touching base with that editor friend will let you know for sure if it’s a comfortable thing.

  6. Posted September 26, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    So true! I’m so glad I asked our Little League coach if I could thank him in the acknowledgments–he’s a lawyer!

    • Posted September 26, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

      He’s one of those you ESPECIALLY want to check with first. 🙂

  7. Colby Sharp
    Posted September 26, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Such an interesting topic. Thanks for sharing, Kate.

  8. Posted September 26, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    I never thought about this either. Great post!

    • Posted September 26, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Pam – I hadn’t thought about it before until this recent conversation. Glad it was helpful!

  9. Posted September 26, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    One of the people I’d probably thank is a children”s librarian who very well might be affected the way you mentioned. Thanks for the heads up!

    • Posted September 26, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

      You are welcome – glad it was helpful!

  10. Posted September 26, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    I had this come up once. My decision was to go with initials, so he got the public thank you, but some privacy, too.

    • Posted October 2, 2012 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

      Oh, that’s a great ideas, too – thanks!

  11. Posted September 26, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    Wow, never even thought about that. I’m working on my ack. right now. Thanks for the post!

    • Posted October 2, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

      You’re welcome – glad it was helpful!

  12. Posted September 26, 2012 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    Thought-provoking and most helpful, as always, Kate! Aloha!

  13. Posted September 26, 2012 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    Hadn’t thought of any of that before. I pretty much thanked everyone I’d ever met. Hopefully they’re all okay with that.

    Great post, Kate!

    • Posted October 2, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

      I think MOST people are happy to be thanked, but I know there are just a few situations where it could be sticky – I figure better safe than sorry.

  14. Posted September 27, 2012 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    Timely post! As I just recently wrote a couple dedications and thanks in two upcoming books. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

    • Posted October 2, 2012 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

      You’re welcome – I’m glad it was helpful!

  15. Posted September 27, 2012 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Good point. I’m not yet published, so I never had to write an acknowledgment page, but it’s good to keep in mind. Thanks for this post!

    Whenever I think about who I should include once my book is published, I’m concerned about forgetting to mention someone that helped me. This can also be a problem, right? Someone who expects to be in the acknowledgments but who’s not?

    • Posted September 27, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      I worry about forgetting someone every single time. And I’m sure I have. My acks pages tend to be pretty short, the usual suspects (agent, editor, copyeditors, cover designer, kids, husband…).

    • Posted October 2, 2012 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

      I worry about this, too, but I don’t know that anyone really expects to be thanked – so I suspect this is more a writer-worry than an actual issue.

  16. Posted September 27, 2012 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Great post and something to think about. Because my first book was about hoarding and family secrets, I was really aware of this issue and made sure that the people who shared their stories with me were okay with having their names in the back of my book. I hadn’t thought about the awards issue though – going to pass this one around!

    • Posted October 2, 2012 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

      That’s understandable with DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS (such a great book, by the way!) Glad this post was helpful.

  17. Posted September 27, 2012 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    One of my CPs felt she couldn’t write a review on Amazon or Goodreads for me because I’d mentioned her in the acknowledgments.

    Thanks for this, Kate.

    • Posted October 2, 2012 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

      Interesting – I wouldn’t have thought of that either.

  18. Posted September 27, 2012 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Wow, Kate–another writer here who’d never even thought about this. I’d like to publicly thank you for bringing this to my attention. If that’s okay. 🙂

    • Posted October 2, 2012 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

      Shhh!! Thank me quietly instead. (You’re good at that, right? ; )

  19. Posted September 27, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for your thoughtful take on a deceivingly simple yet important element in book publishing, Kate. I will certainly keep in mind for future books ;-)!

    • Posted October 2, 2012 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Edna – glad it was helpful!

  20. Posted September 27, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Oh, you can thank me anytime, Kate. (Kidding!)
    Yes, I did think about this, just as I tend to over-mull over everything. You make all the excellent points I thought of and many more. I never even considered the librarian on an awards committee (too much to wish for?) or the employee who bended rules. I just know some people are not public, and don’t want to be.
    What others said^, great post.

  21. mima tipper
    Posted September 27, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Very thoughtful and helpful, Kate. Thanks:)

    • Posted October 2, 2012 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

      I’m glad it was helpful, Mima – thanks!

  22. Posted September 27, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    Nice reminders, Kate. Truth is I try to never mention another person’s name in this manner or similar manners without their permission.

    • Posted October 2, 2012 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

      I think some people are way ahead of me on this – it truly hadn’t occurred to me before recently. Thanks!

  23. Posted September 27, 2012 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    I’m so glad there are smarter people than me that I can learn so much from! Thanks!

    • Posted October 2, 2012 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

      (And I will turn around and thank the smarter-than-me person who brought this issue to my attention recently, too!)

  24. Posted September 28, 2012 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    Thanks Kate, this came at a perfect time. I’m currently drafting my acknowledgments page and realized after reading your post that there’s one person outside my immediate circle that may want that heads-up. THANK YOU!

    • Posted October 2, 2012 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

      Oh, good! I’m glad it helped you.

  25. Posted September 28, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    I love an author who wants to help other authors! Thank you, Kate for this sensitive and important post. May we all need to use your advice in the future.

  26. Posted September 28, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    This is a GREAT reminder! Thank you!

  27. Posted September 29, 2012 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    I come to this from both sides: as person who had to worry about this as a member of the 2008 Newbery Committee and as a forthcoming author.

    ALA and ALSC, the two organizations that oversee many well-known awards (e.g. Newbery, Caldecott, Sibert) have very strict conflict of interest rules. And so it is very, very, very important to check in with anyone you wish to recognize who might be looking to serve on one of these committees. Recently an author did ask me about including me in her acknowledgements which I greatly appreciated. I was, frankly, terrified the year I was on Newbery that someone would acknowledge me, thinking it would be a fun surprise for me. It hadn’t been on my radar until that year when someone else had to step down from another committee for this. I had other problems too. I was working on a book and was told I had to withdraw it from the publisher (even though I didn’t yet have a contract) or the committee. Much later I was told I wouldn’t have had to, but at the time I suspended work on the project until my Committee work was done. (Unfortunate as this happened the summer before my Newbery year and I had planned to delve into the ms. Life events meant it took a few years till I got back to it.)

    And now as I have a book out next year I had to write my own acknowledgements. Since there is limited space available for anything that is not the story and art I kept it very brief in order to maximize space for other back matter that I felt was important. However, I think it would have been brief even if more space had been available. I’ve worked on this book for over a decade, many people have supported me in it and if I started to name them all it would have gone on and on and on. I hope to perhaps do so on my blog, but not in the book. I think/hope they will understand.

  28. Posted September 29, 2012 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

    Yup. “A teacher or librarian who enjoys an author’s work might be delighted to see his or her name in the back of a book. But what if that reader wants to be on a state or national awards committee and the author’s book shows up in the pile of titles to be discussed? Suddenly, having that public thank you in the book is awkward at best and at worst, could create pressure for the person to resign from a great opportunity.”

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    […] Think Before You Thank: Writers & Acknowledgements by Kate Messner at Kate Messner […]

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    […] I hope, for the benefit of all the aspiring authors out there, that there is a guide to author etiquette. […]

  • […] of us that including someone in your acknowledgments might be a BAD thing. Kate Messner explains how a public thank you might in actuality compromise you helpful friends. On the other side of the Thank You, a librarian tells of her reaction on seeing the names of […]

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