I’m staring at a blank page right now. My editor’s assistant has finally forced me to write the one thing I have dreaded writing for my upcoming book. And that thing is the acknowledgment page.
As a girl, I dreamed of being an actress and like all little girls who do so, I practiced accepting my Academy Award in front of a mirror. I grabbed my hairbrush, held it like an Oscar, and tearfully thanked everyone I knew for supporting me on the road to movie stardom.
Writing the acknowledgment section of a novel is the writer’s equivalent of an Academy Award acceptance speech. Only there’s no orchestra leader with a baton to play you off the stage when you get too windy.
And unlike most actors, an author—if she’s lucky—will have many acknowledgments to write in her career.
With my first published book, I did what I’d done as a girl accepting my imaginary Oscar: I pretty much thanked everyone I’d ever met in my life. The result was an acknowledgment section that was as long as a chapter. So extensive were my thanks to all who had helped me along the way, that the reader must have wondered if I’d written any part of that book myself.
When I wrote the acknowledgments for ALICE I HAVE BEEN, I was coming off a period of true despair; a period when it seemed as if I’d never sell a book again, because my first one hadn’t exactly set the world on fire. I refer to those as my wilderness years; years in which I wrote many novels, each one a different genre, a different style (and different degrees of not-quite-good-enough). In retrospect, I was writing my way toward historical fiction, the genre in which I’m very optimistic that I will be writing for a very, very long time.
But it was kind of a tough time getting there, and so when I did finally sell ALICE and it appeared I’d have a second chance, I was so grateful that, again—the acknowledgment section went on and on. I believe I even thanked the woman who didn’t call the police the dark day I broke down in the supermarket because my favorite wine was out of stock.
So this time, with my newest novel, I’m determined to be professional and brief.
That’s much easier said than done.
Where do you draw the line? In any writer’s life there is a support system, those people who are truly, materially, invested in what you do—your spouse, your agent, your editor. It’s a no brainer to thank those people. But then there are the peripherals, the supporting cast, if you will. I get very anxious about them. Do I thank my editor’s assistant? Definitely. The nameless copyeditor? Not so sure.
Do I thank the close relative, a book-a-phobe, who walked into a bookstore for the very first time just to take a picture of my book on his cell phone and send it to me? Of course! Do I thank the close relative who has never once asked me about my career, continuing to treat it as some kind of whimsical midlife crisis that I’ll eventually grow out of? Um, well….
And so it goes. This isn’t an acknowledgment section; it’s a minefield. It’s a delicate matter of diplomacy. It’s a question of whether or not every family Christmas is going to be uncomfortable for the rest of my life.
It occurred to me, however, that every acknowledgment of every book really needs to thank only one person. And that person is, of course – the reader.
And not simply the reader of any of the author’s previous books, or the reader who picks this one up from the table when it’s first out.
Authors should be thanking readers, period. Every reader who has bought a book. Ever.
Agents and editors and support systems wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for people who buy books, people who have continued to make books relevant in the world today. Oh, sure, since the dawn of Gutenberg people have been fretting that the death of the book is just around the corner.
But it’s not; we’re still talking about them whether it’s Franzen and Oprah, or Kindles and iPads. Recently, the Wall Street Journal added a book review section. Now, when was the last time a major print publication has added space to cover anything other than reality TV and the cultural significance of Twitter?
No, the book is not dead and I, for one, am extremely grateful for that.
So I think, this time, I might just skip making those endless lists of people to be thanked. Well, OK – I won’t do that, because I’m Lutheran. I was brought up on church suppers consisting of one-dish entrees that must have either canned tuna or corn flakes as a major ingredient, and salvation through extreme politeness.
But I will remember to thank all you readers, too. Maybe even first and foremost.
Because truly, you’re the ones “without whom” there would be no need for an acknowledgment section. And I can never, ever, forget that.
Melanie Benjamin is the author of ALICE I HAVE BEEN, the story of Alice Liddell, the inspiration for ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND. Available in hardcover now, it will be released in paperback in December. Her second historical novel, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MRS. TOM THUMB, will be published by Random House in July 2011. Melanie also blogs at the Huffington Post; you can visit her at her website at www.melaniebenjamin.com.