Why I Always Read the Acknowledgments

As an editor, I work mostly on completed or nearly completed manuscripts. I straighten out the punctuation here, insert a paragraph break there, invert a couple of sentences here, point out an inconsistency there . . . It’s all in a day’s work.

What I seldom think about is what an astonishing feat it is to complete a 300- or 400- or 600-page manuscript of any kind, to get it to the point where pretty much all it needs is fine-tuning.

As a writer, however, I think about this all the time. It’s the reason the subtitle of Write Through It includes “how to keep going.”

If you don’t manage to keep going, you’ll never have a completed manuscript. It’s hard to keep going. It’s so easy to stop — or to not start at all.

And the authors of all those completed or nearly completed manuscripts managed to do it. Hats off to all of them — all of us. How the hell do we do it?

This is why I eventually turn to the acknowledgments section of every book I work on and every book I read. It’s not so I can find out if my name is there, although sometimes it is. What I want to know is how the author managed to accomplish this amazing thing: completing a manuscript and getting it into print.

Lesson #1: No writer who gets anywhere gets there alone.

Most authors thank their editor(s), agent (if any), and, often, the designer, proofreader, and others involved on the production end. They may thank the parents and teachers who inspired them, and the partners and children who put up with them while they worked on the book. Both fiction and nonfiction writers often acknowledge those who read, commented on, or critiqued various drafts of the manuscript. With academic authors, the list of names can be quite long — and readers familiar with the field will often skim that list in an attempt to ascertain whether the author has done her homework.

Fiction writers often include the friends and acquaintances who gave them crash courses on police procedures, quantum theory, dog training, life in an urban hospital’s ER . . . Writing what we know usually leads us into stuff we don’t know, and there we need some help.

I recently edited a university-press book whose author had done extensive research in several languages and far-flung places. Her acknowledgments section included the people who’d opened their homes to her while she was on the road. I loved it.

Moral of story: Don’t get too caught up in this writing-is-a-solitary-endeavor thing. You may be alone when you write, but you’re not writing in isolation.

 

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