Wednesday, June 22, 2016


Dorothy Sayers didn’t; nor did Dashiell Hammett, James McClure, Rex Stout or Agatha Christie. These days P.D. James, Alan Furst and Marcia Clark don’t either.

But Laura Lippman, Louise Penny, Cara Black, Mark Pryor, and Craig Johnson do. And so do the great majority of current crime writers. They write long acknowledgements. They acknowledge those who helped them get background for their book, supported them during the writing process, edited the work, and helped get the book published. They name family, friends, people they’ve paid, and people who helped them gratis.

When the subject of writing acknowledgements came up for my next novel, I wondered if everyone wrote them. I couldn’t remember reading them when I read classic crime novels: They seemed like a relatively new phenomenon. But I had heard for a long time that if someone was looking for an agent, they should look in the acknowledgements in books they thought were like theirs or the name of the author’s agent. I plucked many classic mystery novels from my shelves to check my theory. I was right. Very few past writers acknowledged in any way the help they got from others for their work, much less wrote the long, heartfelt paeans we see in books these days.

Lucy helping me write

I’d love to know why and when this changed. I don’t think it’s because people have become more generous, or more mannerly. Nor do I think it’s because finding a way to get published is any harder than it ever was. It may be easier than ever. Traditional publishers may be harder to find, but getting your book out in front of the public is easier than it has ever been. One reason may be is that the world has gotten more complicated, and writers need help from a variety of people when they research their subjects. In other words, it takes a village

I like to read brisk acknowledgements of the professional support a writer received. But I also like reading the more intimate acknowledgements. I like knowing that Aunt Sally gave an author her first Nancy Drew book. I like knowing the names of the animals who snooze patiently while an author muddles on—and who remind the author when dinnertime rolls around.

I don’t think any less of authors who don’t write them. I doubt that they believe they didn’t get help along the way.

When asked to write an acknowledgement page for my first book, I didn’t hesitate. My biggest problem was paring the list to a manageable, dignified page. To be honest, I would have had to write a second book to fully acknowledge all those who helped me along the way.

I’d love to hear if anyone has any idea about why this trend has become so popular. And why is it mostly mystery writers who tend to do this? Literary writers who write acknowledgements seem to be in a distinct minority, even these days.

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