Or, as I call it, the claps for the people who’ve helped you
“To give thanks in solitude is enough. Thanksgiving has wings and goes where it must go. Your prayer knows much more about it than you do.” ~ Victor Hugo
Sorry, Victor Hugo, I don’t agree. I want to thank people personally.
I always get sweaty-palm nervous when I’m writing my acknowledgements for my latest book. I’m terrified I will miss out someone who needs to be thanked, then massively overcompensate when I see them and give them an awkward sweaty hug.
So I take this part pretty seriously.
It’s not a tick-box exercise. It’s my opportunity to sincerely thank people who’ve made my life better — and to do so in a way people want to read.
You might be wondering if you have to include acknowledgements; if it’s compulsory. It’s not. Of course, it’s up to you. Your book; your rules. I won’t think any less of you if you choose not to include them.
But if even one person has helped you, wouldn’t you like to thank them? It’ll almost certainly be more than one person, too. It takes a village to write a great book.
The best place to do so, by far, is in the acknowledgements of your book. Take it from me: it’s utterly thrilling to open a book and see yourself thanked for helping. It’s a real privilege.
But how do you go about it? What really is the acknowledgements section, and where does it go?
What Are Acknowledgements?
Unsurprisingly, your acknowledgements are where you acknowledge anyone who’s helped you write your book, either directly (like an editor or cover designer) or indirectly (like a long-suffering partner who made you endless cups of tea and stroked your hair when you just wanted to set fire to the whole thing).
It’s your opportunity to thank people explicitly for what they’ve done.
I love to detail how people have helped me and tell a little of their story as part of my story. I want people to read my acknowledgements, so I make them interesting to read; it’s never simply a list of names. My thanks are part of my book journey so they need details to bring them to life.
My thankees are splendid human beings (and sometimes cats and TinySheeps) and deserve to be three-dimensional.
Who To Thank
You can thank anyone you like — most thanks fall into these categories:
- Family (your spouse, kids, parents, pets, brothers and sisters).
- Teachers and mentors.
- Editors, proofreaders, and beta readers.
- Designers and illustrators.
- Agents or managers.
- Contributors and advisors.
- Sources of inspiration.
In my books, I’ve thanked family, friends, mentors, colleagues, beta readers and proofreaders, designers, printers, advisors, and inspirations.
Where Do Acknowledgements Go?
You can put your thanks wherever you like — but they form part of the front matter or back matter. If there’s a lot of stuff in your front matter, you may want to balance it out by putting your thanks at the back; and vice versa.
I put my thanks at the front because it gives my readers an idea of how the book has grown and who’s contributed, and how and why. It’s a little background information that can help with reading.
If your book is research heavy and you’ve spent some space thanking someone or an institution in detail for their help, you may want to put it at the front to give some context to your book.
If your thanks are informal and don’t include material research, they may sit better at the back.
There are no rules. But there are some guidelines…
How To Write Your Acknowledgements
My best advice is this: every time someone does something — anything — that helps you write your book, note down who they are, what they did, and when. It’s easy to forget vital help you’ve received, and you will be mortified if you publish your book and discover you’ve forgotten someone important. Categorise people so you’ll be able to see more easily if someone is missing.
I use Scrivener to write my books, so I just open a document within the book file and call it “thanks”, and fill it with names, dates, and details.
If you’re writing in Word or Pages or similar, create a folder for everything to do with your book and open a document called “Thanks”. Save all your lovely helpers in there so you don’t forget them.
How many times have you read a book and skipped over the acknowledgements because they were dull? Because the author had obviously thrown them in there fast, without much thought to the story behind them? Wouldn’t it be fantastic if you could write some acknowledgements people treated as if they were as compelling as the rest of the book?
Check and double-check you’ve spelled people’s names correctly! Nothing says, “I don’t care about you” louder than getting someone’s name wrong.
Thank people specifically for what they’ve done. When you start writing, bring the story to your mind. Rather than simply list out names and deeds, weave your thanks into a story. What were you struggling with? How did your helpers help? What did you feel and what did they feel? Give us an insight into who they are, and help us step into your shoes.
This is not specific:
“Thanks to my husband Joe for all his help.”
This is specific:
“First and foremost: Joe Fraser, my ever-patient husband, who didn’t mind me going away yet again to “get some writing done”. I actually did the writing this time. Thank you for reading my Shitty First Draft and helping me make it better. Thank you for making me endless cups of tea and prising me away from my laptop with the promise of a delicious meal. Thank you for always being there and supporting me on my latest hare-brained scheme.”
This isn’t specific:
“Thanks to my beta readers.”
This is specific:
“Thanks so much to all my beta readers for taking the time and making the effort to not just read my draft book, but send detailed comments and feedback. This book is far better thanks to you. Special thanks to…”
Don’t Worry About How Long It Is
Like everything else, your acknowledgements should be long enough to cover everyone and everything you want to thank them for. They can be as long as you like. If your reader gets bored, that’s cool — they can skip ahead to the rest of your book.
But for the people you’re thanking — which is the whole point — they deserve the details. You can’t unprint a book that’s missing someone crucial, so thank everyone and don’t worry about the length.
Be Sincere Without Gushing
If you can’t be sincere in your thanks, don’t write acknowledgements at all because you’ll sound fake. Remember: you don’t have to include this section, so if you don’t feel like including it, that’s cool.
On the other hand, don’t go over the top, either. You’re not accepting an Oscar here, so keep it real.
Be meaningful. Be sincere. Be personal.
But a word of advice: if you’re not sure the person being thanked will thank you for including them, it may be a good idea to ask them if they mind, first. Especially if they don’t know you well, or at all.
Finally: have fun!
This is another chance for you to inject a little more personality into your book, outside of its content.
If you have any questions about writing, publishing, and marketing a non-fiction book, drop them into the comments and I’ll answer them.
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