How to write acknowledgments

Every book has an acknowledgments page where you thank the people who helped you.

Authors I work with have an unreasonable phobia about this. I have no idea why. Maybe it’s because they have to write like genuine humans and cast aside the expert or academic veneer, which can can be scary.

On several occasions, authors have asked me, as their editor or ghostwriter, to write their acknowledgments. Embarrassingly, I then have to write stuff like “First of all, we’d like to thank our excellent, skillful, peerless, and courageous editor Josh Bernoff, who took this load of crap and turned it into something resembling a book.”

It’s not that hard

Make a list. Include:

  • Coauthors.
  • Contributors.
  • Ghostwriters.
  • Readers you asked to help or critique with your work in progress.
  • Your boss and others who made it possible.
  • Your clients.
  • People who allowed you to interview them.
  • Editors.
  • Illustrators and designers.
  • Your agent.
  • The people you worked with at your publisher.
  • Your copy editor. (Do not leave out your copy editor!)
  • The people who will be helping with your publicity (even if they haven’t started yet, because their work will be mostly done by the time people read this page).
  • Your wife, husband, boyfriend, girlfriend, or significant other. (Really do not leave this out. Probably put this first.)
  • Your children, who sadly suffered from your absence while you were obsessed with writing.
  • Anybody else who helped you with the book, especially people who helped inspire the idea in the first place.

Now just write a series of thank you’s to those folks. Yes it will be boring, but that doesn’t matter — nobody reads acknowledgments to be entertained. They read to see if they know anybody in your list.

One more thing. Put it at the end of the book, not the beginning. Don’t let it butt in front of the actual content. Readers care more about what you wrote than how you wrote it.

Here’s what I just wrote

This is from the acknowledgments for my next book. I mean every word.

I had to write this book. After watching so many authors struggle with the same challenges, I was moved to share what I know. So I set out eagerly in 2019 with a solid plan, organized a successful author survey, and began interviewing experts and fellow authors. And I started writing.

Then something happened. I stalled. Some combination of overwhelming client demands, family challenges, several moves, and the pandemic sapped my energy.

So as I write the thank-yous for this book, I’m drawn most powerfully to the people who helped me restart the project and take it successfully to a conclusion.

This starts with my wife, Kimberley. Unlike other authors, I don’t expect my wife to read what I write — she’s an artist, not a businessperson. But she knows me. And when she heard me, in 2021, tell someone that I was mostly retired, she told me I wasn’t. “Don’t be silly,” she said. “You’re not retired. You are happier when you are working.” She was right, of course. So I got off my ass and got back to work. And it did make me happy.

The second person I’d like to thank is Tamsen Webster. I knew part of the problem was that my book needed a strong point of differentiation; that lack was part of why I had run out of steam. I took Tamsen’s Red Thread workshop in the summer of 2021 and identified that point of differentiation: my belief that business books are stories. Chapter 1 exists because of Tamsen, who gave me the push I needed to relaunch myself. Tamsen for me is sort of like the therapist’s therapist. Because I help authors, I know what creative people with ideas need, and I knew she had what I needed but couldn’t do on my own.

I am surrounded by a community of fellow authors who have supported me throughout this process. They likely don’t realize that one great way they have helped me is by asking questions and, in the process, revealing what the content for this book needs to be. Many of those authors are profiled in this book. If you read a name in this book, know that I am grateful to them for writing about fascinating topics, asking excellent questions, and being willing to share their experiences honestly. Mitch Joel and Scott Stratten are tied for first among equals in this group, and my gratitude extends especially to them.

Thanks to my author clients for being willing to pay me for work that was so interesting I could turn it into a book. I love you all.

As should become clear from what I said in the last 24 chapters, writing a book is a team effort. I’m grateful to the publishing staff at Amplify, led by the ever-resourceful Naren Aryal and the diligent and nearly perfect Kristin Perry and Myles Schrag, for turning my manuscript into an actual book. And profound thanks to my preferred copy editor, Merlina McGovern, who cleverly got laid off just in time to copy edit this book.

Thanks to Bobbie Carlton and her crew at Carlton PR & Marketing (including a clever young guy named Ray Bernoff) for their promotional plan and execution. And to my posse of fellow authors who were willing to promote the book on social media and write reviews, any success I have would have been impossible without you.

Publishing is a cruel world. But there are two groups of people that make it a wonderful place to be: writers and readers. If you are either (or both), thank you for my livelihood and for making the world endlessly fascinating. Keep reading, and keep writing.

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