How to Write Your Debut Book’s Acknowledgments Section

Start with “Aren’t we all essentially alone?”

“I t was traumatic.” “I had nightmares.” “It set me back six months in therapy.” Debut authors report struggling to compose acknowledgments, those seemingly endless strings of grateful-fors and without-whoms. While writing acknowledgments for We Love Anderson Cooper, my debut short story collection, I, too, wrestled with questions. Thanks to this no-nonsense guide, you won’t have to.

The number one problem you’ll encounter writing acknowledgments is running out of ways to say “thank you.” Might I suggest any or all of the following alternatives: I’m much obliged to A; shoutout to B; I’ve added C to my will; I’ve promised my first born to X; I’m planning to tongue kiss Y, and might already have.

The next obstacle you’ll face is deciding who to include. For example, do you mention your fourth-grade teacher who hung up your poem rather than Stacy Goodman’s? (Yes.) What about the lactation nurse who fact-checked a detail in chapter three of your novel? (Definitely.) Arianna, the member of your writing group who never returned comments because her computer was always “broken”? This is a tricky one. You’ll be tempted to leave Arianna out. But the answer, again, is definitely yes. There is frankly no one you shouldn’t list in the acknowledgments. Make sure to mention it casually to them all, and they’re sure to buy copies of your book.

Do you mention your fourth-grade teacher who hung up your poem rather than Stacy Goodman’s? (Yes.) What about the lactation nurse who fact-checked a detail in chapter three of your novel? (Definitely.)

But what about Famous Author who blurbed the book? Should she be included, too? Won’t people realize she said those nice things only because she’s your sister-in-law? They will realize that, but too late! By the time they read the acknowledgments, they’ll already have purchased a copy.

Another dilemma is in what order to list people. Is naming someone early in the acknowledgments a greater honor that naming someone later? No doubt that’s true, but my God, what do people want from you? Isn’t it enough they’re listed at all when all they did was hang your stupid poem? At this point in writing your acknowledgments, you should see what mood stabilizers you have in your medicine cabinet. Fix a nonlethal combination and chase it with Glenlivet. Work on your next book for a day or two before returning to the acknowledgments.

“What if I dedicate the book to my partner?” you might ask. “Should I include them in the acknowledgments, too?” I guess you weren’t listening when I just said no one should be left out. Or maybe you don’t love your partner enough to list them in both sections.

Is naming someone early in the acknowledgments a greater honor that naming someone later? No doubt that’s true, but my God, what do people want from you?

Finally, the tone of your acknowledgments should match the tone of your book. If the book is light, you might begin, “It’s a glorious day as I sit down to pen these thanks, the dog napping on my shoe, the cat smiling at me from the top of the Hanukkah bush.” For a heartfelt work, “I’m positively overwhelmed with gratitude. I’ll need a minute.” If the book is dark, a different approach is warranted. Try, “It will be a miracle if I live to see this thing in print,” or, “Aren’t we all essentially alone?”

I hope this guide to writing acknowledgments has been helpful. If it has, maybe you’ll include me in the acknowledgments of your next book. I hardly think that’s too much to ask.

About the Author

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