Acknowledgments: Front Matter That Matters When Writing a Book
Despite what anyone says, writing a book is never a solo endeavor. As a self-publisher and e-book author, I’m especially aware of the amount of help that goes into writing and publishing a book—and the thanks owed to each contributor. Which is why including a section for acknowledgments is so important.
That said, writing acknowledgments doesn’t necessarily come easily or naturally. Common questions include: How do you begin? Where should you place the acknowledgments? Who do you include? And will the section even get read?
For answers, follow these guidelines, and make this purposeful front matter, well, matter.
Who and What to Include in Acknowledgments
Before you begin writing the acknowledgments, reflect back on all the people who assisted with the book project—librarians and researchers, subject matter experts, other authors who offered opinions or direction, editors, critiquers, printers, publishing consultants, mentors, friends, and family members. Jot down everyone who helped. You can always go back and cross off those who played a small role. A brief note or word of gratitude may be enough thanks for minor contributors.
Now think of any organizations or other resources that played a part in writing your book. Maybe you spent a lot of time looking up records at the county historical society. Perhaps you visited the police department or another government agency for advice. Obviously, a bibliography might be the best place to credit books and periodicals, but it’s possible some held enough value that they deserve a spot in the acknowledgments section of your book too.
One word of caution: If you’re unsure whether a particular contributor wants to be mentioned in the acknowledgments, ask him or her first. Respect privacy concerns for anyone you interviewed or consulted who might not want the public exposure.
Organizing and Writing Acknowledgments
Once you have a list of all who contributed to your book project, it’s time to start writing. Here’s where you have to decide how you want to organize this section. There are no set rules. You can begin with the indispensable helpers—those you couldn’t have written the book without—or you can work your way toward the most important contributors.
When writing acknowledgments, some authors draft a collective thank you while others create separate descriptions of each contributor’s role. Either way is fine, as long as the section doesn't drag on for pages. Begin with a brief introduction followed by heartfelt, succinct gratitude. Avoid flowery language and rambling sentences. Instead, offer simple, straightforward details of how the contributor helped you. When it comes to writing acknowledgments, less is more.
Front Matter or Back Matter?
Traditional publishers typically place acknowledgments with the front matter, after the table of contents and preface but before the introduction. When the acknowledgments are exceptionally brief, they can even be included within the preface.
Of course, if you’re a self-publisher, you don’t have to follow traditional publisher guidelines. You might choose to place your thanks at the back of the book, before the other back matter. If your book already contains many pages of front matter (i.e., a lengthy preface and/or introduction, dedication, epigraph, etc.), putting the acknowledgments at the back of the book might make more sense.
A Book Section That’s Overlooked?
So do readers really read this section? The answer is yes—and no. Some readers don’t miss a page; others skip over front and back matter. If you want your acknowledgments read, make them stand out. These tips and reminders can help:
Place the acknowledgments where they’re most visible or likely to be read
Keep the section short, personal but professional, and to the point
Use an easy-to-read font
Edit, using another set of eyes
Read acknowledgments written by other authors for style and techniques that work
Without question, writing a book takes more than just the author to pull off successfully. The best way authors can express their gratitude and give back to all who helped—many of whom may not have been paid—is to include them in a section of acknowledgments. Done right, it’s a thank you that will never be forgotten.