Friday, May 4, 2018

Acknowledgments, by Susan Oleksiw

Over the weekend I read The Ponder Heartby Eudora Welty (1953), a short book barely one hundred and fifty pages about Uncle Daniel, who loves to tell stories to anyone who will listen and is known for giving things away, anything from fresh eggs to a garden. When I finished I paged through to read the front and back matter. Other than the copyright page, list of publications, and a dedication, there was no extra material--no short bio or acknowledgments or notes or explanations. As soon as I absorbed the absences, as it were, I recalled that this was always the norm--until recently.

When I pick up any book today, including a mystery novel, I'm not surprised to read one or two pages of acknowledgments, and I happily do so. Today we writers thank everyone in print. We thank our agent if we have one, the editor, the copy editor, the proofreader, our friends and Beta readers, the librarians who helped answer a particular research question, the neighbor who admitted to having an esoteric skill and was willing to share it, the expert who took the time to listen through an hour-long telephone conversation and then replied with precise answers, the online friend who explained the lay of the land for a particular location, the distant cousin who passed on local lore, and the friend who suggested a particularly enlightening book to read. Okay, perhaps I am exaggerating, but only a little.

I didn't include an acknowledgments page in my first two mystery novels, but I did in my third. I didn't include acknowledgments in my next three books in the Mellingham series, and offered only two lines in my seventh in the series. But all four Anita Ray books include an acknowledgments page. My only regret here is in not including one for Friends and Enemies, the fourth Mellingham, because I learned an enormous amount about the paper industry in Massachusetts, thanks to some generous members of the business. The paper industry is run like a medieval guild--if you're not born to it or connected to one of the established families, you'll probably never get inside.

Writers, editors, and readers have differing opinions on thanking people in a publication. No one ever thinks, as far as I can tell, that any book arrives in the local bookstore without a lot of help along the way. Nonfiction books are assumed to be the result of more professional assistance than a novel, but that seems to be less and less the case.

During an interview when Murder in Mellingham was published, the first in the series, I mentioned the number of people who had helped along the way. I had mentioned the members in my writers' group, a few other friends, a book reviewer who took the time to read closely and provide a detailed commentary, among others. The interviewer seemed surprised, and commented that it sounded like a group project. I hadn't been considering an acknowledgments page, but if I had, I probably would have dropped it. When the third book appeared, Family Album, I wanted to thank a woman who had taken the time to show me her family's collection of Portuguese embroidery, which appeared prominently in an early scene. Over the years I've developed the habit of thanking readers or experts who have rendered an important review or comment, but otherwise I keep it short.

In the twenty-five years I've been publishing fiction, I only remember one comment on this issue. When Family Album was published, a book reviewer and friend called the seven lines "excessive." I wonder what she thinks now about the ever-growing acknowledgments page.


Jacqueline Seewald said...


You're so right about the change. I'm always grateful for the help I receive from editors in particular. I appreciate readers very much as well. My husband is always acknowledged for his constant support.

Susan Oleksiw said...

I've been getting used to the change, Jacquie, but it means racking my brain for who helped me and how they helped me. And there are always many.

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