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Wednesday, November 26, 2003

I'd like to thank... 

Sam Roberts gets cranky about the acknowledgements section of a book, a part that started off as a mere throwaway dedication and has evolved into pages and pages of thank-yous. I wouldn't have it any other way. Frankly, before I start to read a book, I first turn to the dedication page and then to the acknowledgement list. Why, you may ask? Well, when an author has written several books over a long period of time, acknowledgements are a great window into which people were important to him or her--or even better, which people stopped being important as time went on. Take the case of a bestselling author whose first novel came out about three or so years ago. She thanked six different published authors for help with hearing her gripes and generally acting as advice-givers and a sounding board. With novel number two, there were still six authors thanked--but one was dropped and replaced with another. By novel three half the original cast was gone. What happened? Were there falling-outs, disputes, old friends dropped and new ones made?

One thing I've especially learned from acknowledgements is who said author cared about at the time. Again, over a long career, significant others, loved ones, spouses, they don't always stay the same as time goes on. The person who might have been gushingly thanked for their love, support, generosity or kindness may not be around in the next book. Or what happens when someone who is front and center in the dedication then gets relegated to the back pages?

Never mind that the acknowledgements section is important to aspiring authors for one very good reason--it gives a clue as to whom the editorial staff was, who the agent was who sold the book. If you're looking to sell a book and you think it's akin to an established author, or you want to find out who agents or edits your favorites, there is no better place to look than in the acknowledgements. That and a little research and suddenly you've got a three-deep list of people to send your manuscripts to, theoretically. And again, such casts change with time. Those very pages of names might give a clue as to why said author left a publishing house, why he or she switched representatives.

Acknowledgements unlock the key to making a book a success, if you know how to read them and what to look for. Granted, perhaps they shouldn't be so unwieldy as to take up pages and pages of text, but I'll never miss looking for them. And I'm always disappointed when authors don't thank anyone. Much as writing is a solitary activity, it involves the help and guidance of so many people. So why not thank them all?

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