Thursday, November 4, 2010

I'd Like to Thank the Academy

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    


  1. I loved this post and authors rarely talk about that thorny little task. I'd had hurt feelings over the acknowledgement section too and I won't even talk abut the dedication page. Tricky when you've written several books.

    But you get to the heart of matter.Love those readers.

  2. Love this, Melanie (and not just for the "Lutheran" comment!). The readers often have it all wrong--they thank us for visiting their book clubs and for our books and I just want to turn to them and practically kiss their feet for reading my book.

  3. Melanie, love the post. You've hit the nail on the head. It's all about the reader. Thanks for reminding me!

  4. You have articulated all the difficult aspects of this task that I am currently dealing with. The acknowledgement nightmare is right up there with the synopsis nightmare and the author photo nightmare for me. I moved it to the back of the book, as if hiding it might help.

  5. Melanie, I'm going to chime in and say, "Amen, sister!" So on the money. I never know what to do and, in fact, the easiest time I had with an Acknowledgments page was with The Cougar Club...when I forgot to write one.

  6. I always, always read the acknowledgment pages of books and have noticed: the more seasoned the author, the shorter the page. It seems, as time goes by, those behind-the-scenes people know they're appreciated and the thanks goes without noting. I recall one actress, who was chastised for forgetting to thank her husband at the Oscars, said, "He knows how much his support means to me" and to publicly thank those closest to her seemed a bit like mixing personal with professional. So, it's a difficult page, I can imagine. But whatever you decide, I'm sure it will be perfect.

  7. Wonderful post, Melanie, and true in all ways... I thanked everyone (including every resident in the state of Wisconsin :) in my debut book and only managed to cut the acknowledgments page of my 2nd book to 1/2 the length of the first... But readers -- you're absolutely right -- should be thanked above all.

  8. Nineteen books into my career, I can heartily empathize. These days I tend to do a shortened combo of the specific and the general, with the last Ack on my most recent book, The Twin's Daughter, reading "Readers everywhere." It can be a minefield but it's a grand occasion to practice gratitude.

  9. Well said. I thanked everyone the first time around, and this time, just did a dedication page. "Thank you for reading this book" should just be stamped on the title page, I'm thinking...

  10. Agreed! I like M.L.'s idea - a thank you to everyone who picks up our book, or any book.

  11. Love this post! It truly IS a minefield and it's so great to hear that other authors go through the same thing.

    And it's true-- the biggest thank you of all goes out to readers. All readers.

  12. Ugh, the acknowledgement page for my second book is getting really long. I'm finding that the more research I have to do, the more people I have to ask for help. It really does take a village. But I'd like to believe that even when I have ten books under my belt that my acknowledgement section will stay long. I mean my husband knows I appreciate him, but tell him I love you at least ten times a day never seems to get old for either of us. I say long live the acknowledgement section!

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