#SecondThoughts: 6 Tips for writing Acknowledgements

While realising it’s getting way ahead of ourselves, I know there are a number of people to whom enormous gratitude is due, from both David & myself, for their support & encouragement of our co-authored work November Deadline. I’m not going to attempt to list them now, for I dread missing anyone unintentionally, and I not only hope they already know how we feel, but that we’ll get the chance to thank them properly in future.

This train of thought started when I read an article about acknowledgements – for the real question as far as I’m concerned is – does anyone read the acknowledgements?

I know I don’t, for I’ve always considered it a bit like that boring bit in an Oscar acceptance speech – you know, when winners get to name check all those people who don’t usually get the chance of being acknowledged – by name – to a TV audience of over 25 million.

Most viewers mentally switch off during the list of names being recited by rote, and I presume any reader who actually does check the acknowledgements, does so while allowing their eyes to skip over the names, or while keeping a look out for the unusual or the famous. Sometimes an author will even dedicate a book to someone who’d normally be included in the acknowledgement, although – in my experience – dedications tend to be family members or loved ones, sometimes even a secret one.  Again, unless a dedication named you, can you remember the dedication in any book you’ve read?

But back to that article I read recently entitled “Pretentious bores make me want to burn every book: why can’t a single novel end without acknowledgements to every ‘darling’ from George and Amal to the Middletons?” in which Giles Coren expresses his frustration, nay loathing, of this particular practice. So strong is his feeling, he believes this is what’s wrong with the modern novel. Certain of his barbs made me literally laugh out loud, including this one about authors rushing “to kiss the completely irrelevant arse of everyone they’d ever met …” or name-checking famous people such as Zadie S and Phoebe W-B (you know who you are) for just being there on the end of a phoneline from NY or SoCal when I couldn’t find the mot juste” – and yes, I did embolden than particular bit for making me positively hoot and snort. The article is well worth a read, even though it’s behind a paywall on The Times (you can register your email address for a free peak every now & again) for it didn’t just make me laugh, it made me stop & think.

You see … I’m certain the author genuinely feels gratitude and means the heartfelt thanks they are expressing, and hopefully, those on the receiving end get – at the very least – a degree of warm feeling.

So, what can we learn from this? Well, what I came away with was this – do write an  acknowledgement, but …

  1. Use it to make your professional thanks – editors, beta readers, publishers & the like.
  2. Don’t use it to brag about the famous people you know, unless you want to to be on the end of eye-rolling, or to incite Giles-Coren-like rage.
  3. Don’t bore the pants off readers by naming Every.Single.Person you know (it’s not a radio show shout out).
  4. Don’t name a vast amount of people, or it will turn in to one of those Oscar-like mind-numbing recitations, instead limit it to those who made a significant contribution (and by that I don’t mean financial).
  5. If you’re going to thank your loved ones and/or family members for putting up with you, make it brief.
  6. Make sure you give thanks to everyone who is due it – do it in private, and do it properly.

As I see it, we should all bear in mind this final bon mot from the pen of Giles Coren: “when I pick up a novel in a bookshop, I shall no longer flick through the pages to see if it sounds like my sort of thing. I shall turn straight to the acknowledgements and if you sound like a dick, it’s going back on the shelf.”


What’s your view on acknowledgements? Do you have any tips you’d add to my list?

© Debra Carey, 2020


Author: debscarey

Tweets @debsdespatches My personal blog is Debs Despatches, where I ramble on a variety of topics. I write fiction on co-hosted site Fiction Can Be Fun, where my #IWSG reflections can be found; and my Life Coaching business can be found on DebsCarey.com.

6 thoughts on “#SecondThoughts: 6 Tips for writing Acknowledgements”

  1. I used to work in an academic library – the sort of place where it was (at one time) more important to be a graduate than a professional librarian and the test of ‘professionalism’ was the number of papers that you had published. It wasn’t necessary that they should be papers on librarianship or books either. When I was questioned about my modest number of publications I used to point to the shelf-full of books where the author had acknowledged my help in their research. So yes, your scale is about right: you do need firstly to thank all those who haved helped in your research, especially the frontline staff that you interact with.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Alan, I was surprised when I sat down to actually write the piece to discover I had quite such strong opinions on the subject, so it’s a relief to hear I wasn’t too far off the mark.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Also, I forgot to add – make sure they know that you have acknowledged their help. If you can’t sent a copy of the monograph at least send a photocopy of the acknowledgments page. And, having re-read the post I see very little virtue in reams of acknowledgements in novels.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I should probably have been clearer that the focus of the piece was on fiction, but your addition is still very valid regardless of academic or fiction.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Sometimes it is way too much. I like the ones that mention their pets. That really needs to be written out loud. I do check it out for the ones you mentioned. If I see that name in a number of books (in publishing), I write it down for future reference. Or to avoid working with so and so if the book was a proofreading nightmare +.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Now that’s a very good idea Stu – I shall scan them in future for gathering names of potential contacts, both to pursue & to avoid 😀

      Liked by 1 person

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