First, let me confess:  before I worked in publishing, I’m pretty sure I’d never read the acknowledgments in any book.  Now that I do, I read them only to see who edited the book and who sold it.  I’ve long assumed, actually, that acknowledgments are read almost exclusively by the people who think they might spot their names.  (And I while I admit that is vain, I have done multiple tours of the bookstores I worked at in college and grad school to revel in the glory of my name being in the books I’d once have been shelving.)  Why would anyone else even read them?*

Well apparently Sam Sacks does.  And he’s none too pleased about it over at The New Yorker‘s Page-Turner blog (link via @BookCourt).  He sees them as a symptom of the relentless buzz of promotion and self-promotion that swirls around publishing and makes a plea for them not to sully the books themselves.  I think there’s certainly an argument to be made that they’re silly and superfluous, but I’ve never thought they did the book or reader any damage.  They’re pretty easily avoided, in fact.

So, am I wrong?  Do you hungrily devour authors’ thank yous?  Or hate them with a fiery passion?


*My friend Rebecca recently said that they’re like the commentary tracks on DVDs, which is a delightful way to think of them, but I’d guess more people listen to those than read acknowledgments anyway.


22 Responses to Acknowledged

  1. I read them to see if I recognize any names. It seems to me to be simply ordinary decency–“Here are the people who helped me.”

    I don’t see the problem. A few paragraphs highlighting your supporters and you’re done.

  2. Rachel Olsen says:

    I actually read the acknowledgements. My theory is if the author managed to be interesting in the acknowledgements, the book has hope of being good.

    It’s not a one-to-one correlation but it’s a sure indication. :)

  3. When I was younger, and I’d get a new cd or *cough* cassette tape, the first thing I’d do was read the “thanks” section. I’ve always done the same thing with books and the acknowledgments, even before I became an author. I love to see who contributed support or the like to projects. Also, maybe I’m just nosy. :)

    • Lauren says:

      I used to love those. I always felt pretty fancy when I recognized that so-and-so was clearly the drummer’s sister or whatever. Maybe by fancy I mean “stalkerish”–but I still loved them.

  4. Ciara says:

    Funny I always read the acknowledgements…I don’t know why but I always have.

  5. Tom Badyna says:

    I read acknowledgements for a variety or varying reasons, and some are worth the reading and some are not, and I haven’t a general comment but that the acknowledgements of some novelists list so many, pages and pages of kind, helpful, illuminating, generous-with-time souls that I wonder what work the author did other than collate the wisdom of a veritable horde.

  6. Ang says:

    Well, I skim the acknowledgments. Occasionally they’re enlightening, usually having to do with a place used in the story, like a lodge, a hotel, a resort. I spent my teenaged years on a strict diet of Phyllis A. Whitney and other notable gothic romance authors, and so they were more or less obliged to say, “Oh, yeah, for your information no one was ever murdered at this beautiful hotel. I totally made that up. Really.” The morbid side of me found this amusing. Acknowledgments often contain a nod to hard-working librarians and museum docents who help a harried author find exactly what she’s looking for. This is good for a group not often thanked enough.

  7. Joelle says:

    I read them, but mostly to see if I know anyone in them. I never read them before the book anymore though because sometimes they say things like, “Thanks to the Albany Fire Department for all your expertise.” And then you’ve gotten all the way through to the last fifty pages and you think…hmmm…thanked the fire department, but no fire yet…guess I know what’s going to happen next.

    Writing the acknowledgments really is one of the funnest bits for the writer…at least for me, but my goal is to keep it to one page. I missed that with the second book (on accident), but plan to do better with my third.

    I give away almost all books after reading them, keeping very few, but I’ve kept the two who have thanked me and always will!

  8. Siri Kirpal Kaur Khalsa says:

    I love acknowledgements. I love reading them. I love writing them. Gratitude is the best, fastest way to happiness. I’m invariably disappointed if the writer leaves them out.

  9. Rowan says:

    I read them. I find them interesting, and they give an insight into the author.

  10. What I find hilarious about Sam’s article is that he starts it by mentioning, “a final scene followed by an elegant epilogue of a credit sequence rather than a blaring station promo or advertisement for Flomax.”

    An elegant epilogue of a credit sequence. Um, call me crazy (it wouldn’t be the fist time), but aren’t acknowledgements pretty much the exact same thing as credits after a film or TV show? I am thanking the people who helped to make the book, just like credits are acknowledging the people who made the film. How is one elegant and the other self-serving?

    I always stay for the credits of a movie, and I always read the acknowledgements of a book. I also get a kick out of fun credits and Easter eggs after the movie. So I like to spice up my acknowledgements the same way. Whether it’s making fun of my friend and mentor, James Dashner, or calling Michael Bourret, “the Literary Lord of the Night” in my Harper MG monster series, it makes it fun for me and the reader. I think some author, Joe Hill, maybe, actually hit a short story in his acknowledgements. Yay for him!

    And just like the movies, if you don’t want to stay for the credits, leave.

    • Joelle says:

      I always like to put a little French into Michael Bourret’s thank you because he methodically edited out all the French in my first book, bit by bit, comment by comment! So yeah, having fun with the thank yous is part of it. C’est magnafique!

    • Lauren says:

      Ha! Such a good point. I can’t believe I missed that.

  11. D. C. DaCosta says:

    I don’t mind it when an author tips his hat to one or two people (a loyal friend, perhaps, or a professional who has given technical advice). However, I like to preserve the fiction that the author actually knows something about his own book and has done most of the work on his own.

  12. jmrhu says:

    George R. R. Martin has some pretty amusing acknowledgments. I always felt like acknowledgments are a form of decency – you’re given space to thank those who contributed. I can, though, see the other side of the bridge and understand why it might seem superfluous or unnecessary; the tags on shirts, for example, don’t exactly thank all the child workers or the retailers or the sponsors, etc.

  13. Tamara says:

    I agree with what many people have commented (fun to see names, etc.) but above all else: It is gratitude, and we need more of that in the world, more acknowledgement that in fact we don’t do these things alone and that we owe so much to so many people.

  14. Kate says:

    Without the acknowledgements, it would be much harder to stalk the agents of writers I admire.

    And now I also read them to see if the author is a Hedgebrook sister. If she is, I can tell myself it means I will be published too.

  15. I love reading them!
    I love writing them!

  16. Lauren says:

    So it turns out people are far more fond of acknowledgments than I realized! Thanks for the lesson, all. The point still stands that Sacks is being curmudgeonly here.

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