Book Acknowledgments: 10 Tips for Authors
Hello Manuscript Workers,
The first thing I want to say today is that my thoughts are with those affected by the recent earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. I know that a lot of my readers and clients are from the region or have family there, and I hope that you and your loved ones are safe.
I’ve made a donation to the White Helmets, a search and rescue organization in Syria. If you would also like to donate to the local rescue efforts in Turkey, my dear friend and Turkish scholar Evren Savcı recommends Ahbap.org or this relief fund.
I also want to share with everyone that Princeton University Press is currently accepting applications for their Supporting Diverse Voices Book Proposal Development Grants program. The current application cycle is open to prospective authors in the social sciences (at PUP that’s anthropology, economics, politics/international relations, and sociology) who identify as Black, Indigenous, or People of Color.
If your application is selected, PUP will provide financial support for you to work with one of the program’s partnering coaches to develop a book proposal to be submitted for consideration at PUP within one year. I am one of the partnering coaches, in addition to five others. If you’re paired with me, you’ll get to participate in the Book Proposal Accelerator program that I’m running in July and August. This program provides step-by-step guidance on crafting your book proposal as well as the opportunity to receive feedback from me on your draft before you submit it to your sponsoring editor at PUP.
If you have general questions about the Supporting Diverse Voices program, you can find out more on the PUP website or contact press director Christie Henry (Christie_Henry@press.princeton.edu). If you have specific questions about working with me as part of the program, please feel free to email me directly (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The current grant cycle application period closes on February 22, 2023. The next cycle will be open to underrepresented authors in the humanities, and more details about that cycle will become available on the PUP website in the coming months.
This week’s newsletter was inspired by a long-time reader who is wrapping up her first book now and contacted me to ask if I might write something about book acknowledgments. At first I didn’t think I would have much to say about the topic, but after mulling it over for a few days, I realized that there’s actually a lot of “hidden curriculum” to this part of the book publishing process. I opened a discussion on Twitter to crowdsource advice about acknowledgments, and got a lot of great replies (which you can read here).
If you’ll be writing a book in the future, I encourage you to get the in habit of reading the acknowledgments in the books you encounter. Book acknowledgments are a great way to see “backstage” to understand how a book got produced and who the author is connected to. They can reveal a lot about a scholar’s intellectual genealogy in addition to their social and professional networks.
Of course, the acknowledgments are not truly backstage, since they are literally published as part of the book and the author gets to select who is thanked. So they also reveal a bit about what the author wanted people to know and how they wanted to be perceived as a scholar. If you’re feeling particularly nosy about a fellow scholar’s world and what makes them tick, read their book acknowledgments!
When it comes time to publish your own book, you can use the below list of ten things first-time (and experienced) scholarly book authors should know about acknowledgments. Please know that I’m not declaring these to be the Official Rules of Scholarly Book Acknowledgments. They are simply things to keep in mind; you can decide for yourself if you’ll follow convention or not.
Your acknowledgments count toward your book’s total word count. If you have an advance contract, or your press has given you a target word count for your final manuscript submission, plan for the acknowledgments to be part of that total. I’ve never heard of a press limiting the specific length of the acknowledgments section in particular, but you might need to stay on the shorter side if you’re running long in other parts of your manuscript. That said, I would advise you not to include the text of your acknowledgments when you submit your manuscript for peer review. You can put a placeholder in your manuscript and save a draft of your acknowledgments somewhere else, or just wait to write them until you’re on the final-final-final version, after peer review and acceptance.
You can thank whoever you want. I sometimes see people online asking if they can thank their dog / local coffee shop / favorite musical artist in their book’s acknowledgments. The answer to all these people is that no one is going to stop you from saying pretty much whatever you want in your acknowledgments. You’ll probably want to avoid libelous speech that could get you or your publisher sued, but other than that there really aren’t any restrictions (at least none that I’ve ever heard of).
You will be responsible for spell-checking the names in your acknowledgments. Your acknowledgments may be the very last thing you write within your manuscript. They may or may not get professionally copyedited along with the rest of the manuscript, and the copyeditor may or may not verify the spellings of proper names. You may also end up adding a name or two that you remember at the last minute. Do yourself a big favor and run an extra check that those names are spelled correctly. Go to the person’s website or profile to verify their own spelling and don’t trust your memory unless you know the person very well.
Book acknowledgments can have professional consequences. When you thank someone for supporting your book project, you may create the perception that that person can’t be trusted as an independent evaluator of your work. That means that some journals may preclude a person thanked in a book’s acknowledgments from writing a review of that book once it’s published. There may be other potential ramifications as well, such as a thanked person not being able to write a tenure letter for you or not being able to serve as a peer reviewer on a future manuscript. I’m not saying every publisher or institution has these policies in place, but these potential concerns do point to erring on the side of only thanking people who really provided direct support for the book and would have a genuine conflict of interest if asked to evaluate your work in some other capacity.
There’s no prescribed order in which you have to thank people, but typically the most important people get thanked first and last. Almost everyone thanks their immediate family last of all. I know a few people will disagree with me about this because that’s not how they personally did it, but I’m just saying that most book acknowledgments I’ve seen follow this convention. You don’t have to do it that way, but in the interest of making the unspoken spoken, I just want to alert you that others may interpret your first and last thanked people as the ones whose support you valued the most.
Some acknowledgments may actually be required. I know I said above that you can thank whoever you want, but there are some instances when you may be contractually bound to acknowledge certain entities. If your book includes adaptations of previously published material, such as a journal article you revised into a chapter for the book or material that someone else has under copyright and you received permission to reprint, you may be required to state that in your book’s acknowledgments. If you received funding to support the research or publication costs, the funding body may also require explicit acknowledgment. You—not your book publisher—will be responsible for finding out what’s required by the funder or the publisher of the adapted material and giving credit accordingly.
Thanking people whose labor supported your book will be much appreciated. Thanking individuals by name may be even more appreciated, as long as it won’t compromise their privacy or safety. When I asked for tips on Twitter, several people noted that librarians, archivists, and curators really enjoy being thanked by name when they have personally contributed to supporting the author or gone above and beyond to help. The institution itself may require thanking (see the previous item in this list), but thanking individuals is a nice way to show extra gratitude.
This one goes with #7, but people who work at your publisher are worth thanking as well. So many people are involved in getting a scholarly book published, and most of them are surprisingly rarely thanked explicitly by authors. Part of the reason for this is that publishing labor is largely opaque to authors, other than the key personnel they get to be in direct contact with, such as their acquiring editor. You can ask the production editor who is overseeing your book to give you a list of every staff member who has been involved in your book’s publication, including those who will help with publicity and promotion in the future. They will so appreciate seeing their names in your acknowledgments, particularly less senior personnel who are often unsung but who perform some of the most annoying tasks in the publishing pipeline.
If any freelancers helped with your book, they will likely appreciate a public shout-out. This might include your writing coach, developmental editor, copyeditor, proofreader, illustrator, or anyone else whom you paid for support. When an author publicly acknowledges that my work has made their book better or helped them along their publishing journey, it not only fills me with satisfaction and warm feelings toward the author but it also helps future clients find me, which helps to support my business. (I do want to add the caveat here that some professional freelancers want to be asked first before being publicly thanked. In some cases, an editor may not want to be associated with a book where they don’t feel the final product is an accurate representation of the editor’s best work, such as when an author chooses not to incorporate their suggested edits in the final version. I personally don’t feel the need to be asked in advance, but it doesn’t hurt to ask if you’re not sure.)
Start keeping track of the people you want to thank as early as possible, because it’s easy to forget when you’re in the crunch time of submitting your final manuscript. You can keep a file or spreadsheet on your computer that you add to over time. If you want to make a checklist or outline of categories of people to thank, here are some common ones (you don’t necessarily have to put them in this order):
Peer reviewers (whether anonymously or by name, if they revealed their identities to you)
Copyright holders for reprinted material
Funding bodies that covered research or publication costs
Research participants and interlocutors (anonymously if necessary)
Professional colleagues and mentors
People who read drafts and gave you feedback on the manuscript (in whole or just parts of it)
Students who aided your thinking
Support staff at your institution
Those whose labor indirectly enabled you to research and write the book (e.g. childcare workers)
If you do end up forgetting someone, or you just choose not to thank them publicly for whatever reason, it’s not the end of the world. To make up for it, you might consider sending them a personal thank you note and possibly a complementary copy of the book. I know that I treasure personal thank you emails from my clients even more than seeing my name in their acknowledgments (though both are nice for sure).
I hope you’ve found this newsletter helpful if you’re planning to publish a book soon or even far in the future. I will eventually write this up as a permanent post in my archive of advice on scholarly writing and publishing, so if there’s anything you think I should add or any lingering questions you have after reading, please feel free to let me know.
Next week I’ll be celebrating four years of the Manuscript Works newsletter! I’ll have some fun giveaways for subscribers, so please let your colleagues, students, friends, and nemeses know if you think they should be reading this newsletter. Thank you for all your support!