back to the Black Table
  Look, no one is denying that writing books is Hard Work. And no one, least of all me (I'm an editor), is denying that a lot of people are involved in the making of a book, a lot of gratitude-deserving people at that. In many cases, it has taken a near-literal village of agents, editors, publicists, designers, production managers and sub-managers, angelic hand-holders all, many of whom have actually been more instrumental in the writing of the book than the person  

whose name is on the spine. So what I'm saying here is not that these people don't deserve to be thanked. Far from it. I'm saying that they sure as hell don't deserve to be thanked stupidly, floridly, incoherently and just plain badly.

To appease the geeks and industry insiders who really need to know who agented, edited, publicized and so forthed the book, I propose a straightforward film-style list of credits on the last


page. No adjectives will be necessary. No author will ever again burst through the fourth wall, effusively praising and faux-modestly protesting and thanking and thanking like a weepy Gwyneth Paltrow in ill-fitting Ralph Lauren, because it just won't be the thing to do anymore.

Also, a rainbow-maned unicorn will fly me to work each morning.

OK, so acknowledgments will continue to exist. I suppose all I can do is provide a list of DON'Ts to help make sure that they do not continue to suck as ridiculously and egregiously as they do now.

When I first thought of this helpful list, I planned to spend days canvassing Barnes & Nobles, tracking down only the most heinous examples of Bad Acknowledgments to share with you here. But then I realized that:

  • Two recently published books encompass in their maudlin thank-yous everything that's wrong with acknowledgments today.

  • I am lazy.

So, sorry, Chuck Klosterman and Steve Almond, but you guys are taking the fall. Don't feel too bad for them, people: They sooo asked for it, and also they have more money than you do.

Rule #1: Don't Thank A Dead Person.

This one is fairly straightforward. Unless you personally knew, say, Spalding Gray (Chuck) or, more improbably, Abraham Lincoln (Steve), it is not appropriate to thank him. I don't care if he inspired every single word on every single page. Thank him in your prayers, in the pages of your diary, in a post on your little-read blog. He does not care about being thanked in your acknowledgments, because he is dead, and to everyone else, it just looks like you are name-dropping a person who you can safely assume will not deny knowing you, and that's just tacky.

Rule #2: Don't Thank A Deity.

I don't know what is up with people who have found God, but they seem really insecure about God's continued approval, like He is their quasi-abusive boyfriend or neglectful Dad or something, so they have to keep thanking Him every five seconds. Klosterman thanks God for helping him to write a shortish, go-nowhere, cutesy book about a brief road trip he took to rock stars' death sites. This is kind of like R. Kelly thanking God for helping him to write a song called "Sex Weed," except less hilarious.

Rule #3: No Nicknames.

Seriously, this is not the place for the creative little made-up monikers that people have always hated and have only tolerated because you are a famous writer. The only reason anyone wants their name in the acks is to help them get jobs in the future, and if you refer to them only as "Young Bull Patterson," (Steve) their goals will not be furthered, unless their goals are rodeo-related.

Rule #4: Don't Namedrop.

OK, you are a famous writer. You probably know some other famous writers. This is not the place to randomly list all of them and then exhort your readers to "find and absorb" their work " immediately . . . [it] will cure you." (Steve, unfortunately).

Rule #5: Don't Nickname and Namedrop Simultaneously.

"Tommy Perotta." (Steve again. Steve doesn't quit!)

Rule #6: Don't Thank People Hierarchically.

Chuck first thanks the people without whom "the book could not exist," and then, some page-distance later, he thanks another list of people without whom the book "could still exist, but it would be substantially worse." This begs the question: How many more people would it have taken to make the book good?

Rule #7: Don't Swing Madly From Throwaway Jokes To Forced Gravitas.

OK, this is the part where I basically have no choice but to quote the latter half of Steve Almond's acknowledgments, which, incidentally, appear in his short-story collection The Evil B.B. Chow and Other Stories, the other 232 pages of which are intermittently good and entertaining. I can't even critique this shit because really, there are no words. Steve goes from thanking:

"Playboy . . . [who] have yet to extend me an invitation to the Mansion, not that I am bitter," to thanking "anyone -- I mean anyone -- who takes up the holy office of making sentences, songs, paintings, those artifacts which serve as testament to our otherwise unarticulated fears and wishes, and last but not least Abraham Lincoln, a man of astonishing eloquence and moral courage, who died, many years ago, for the sins of this country. Let us, in this age of unremitting grievance, choose as he did: to love, to sacrifice, to forgive."

Wait, I was wrong: there is a word. The word is: BAAAAAAAAARF.

In closing, I just want to plead anyone out there who might be about to publish a book to have pity on the world, look out for your own best interests, and keep your acknowledgments spare or nonexistent. Your readers, trust me, will be thanking YOU.


Emily G. works in publishing. She will no longer be acknowledged by anyone, ever.