Here's my latest post on the International Crime Authors Reality Check blog:

Authors are posturing, self-aggrandizing assholes. At least, that’s the conclusion I’ve reached after noting the trend for excessive “Acknowledgements” growing like mold over page on page of nonfiction books. These days they’re spreading their blight all over novels, too.

Here’s how I think it breaks down.

More than a few paragraphs of Acknowledgements in nonfiction: the author is trying to show how in-depth he went, how many experts he befriended, how much those experts and sources went out of their way to contribute to his work of genius. But it’s a sign of insecurity, a fear that the book itself won’t demonstrate any of those things.

More than a couple of lines in a novel (I don’t really approve even of that): a lonely soul who wants to reach out to his few remaining friends, or a journalist manqué who wants to prove that his work is grounded in reality by laying bare his research sources.

In both cases, it’s an exercise that’s of no use to a reader. In fact, it can turn readers against a writer. This reader, anyway.

The thanks to wife and kids which are the conclusion de rigeur of all Acknowledgments typically can be translated thus: “thank you for putting up with my utter and total absorption in my great work. I’m a genius and it took you lovely, lovely people to realize it and to make the sacrifices that give me the space to work.”

Take for example my university tutor. A delightful man. But in one of his many books, his acknowledgements ended with thanks to his wife for “keeping the black coffee coming” as he labored over his text late into the night. His wife was a major feminist literary theorist. I wondered what she thought of being cast as a good little woman. They’re since divorced, so perhaps I know now what she thought.

Among my foreign correspondent pals, there’s another element of weirdness to the Acknowledgments in their books.

First, you have to put in plenty of fellows with foreign names, so everyone will know that you got tight with the locals and didn’t get all your info from the US Embassy.

Second, you have to name all the other correspondents who hung out at parties with you. I’ve been named in the Acknowledgments of a number of books. In most cases I didn’t read the manuscript. Neither did I aid in the researching of the book. Maybe I shared a taxi with the fellow or cooked him dinner one night. I helped one of them get laid.

That gets me into their Acknowledgements pages?

Fiction Acknowledgements are even more troublesome. They started with writers thanking people who’d acted as sources. Let’s say a crime writer thanking a real-life detective who told him which donuts cops like best.

But now writers feel the need to thank their editors and their agents. Not me. My agent gets her percentage. That’s how she knows I love her. (Which I do.)

I met a good friend of mine at an Upper West Side diner in New York a couple of years ago. He’d just sent in the manuscript for his second book. It had taken him eight years to follow up on his prize-winning debut. He’d been awarded a number of fellowships in the meantime, but he was feeling pressured to add an Acknowledgements page with the names of the many people who’d contributed advice and support during that lengthy period.

“But in the end I wrote the damned book.” He stabbed at the bananas in his oatmeal with each syllable. “Just me.”

We settled on a brief, tasteful Acknowledgements in which he only thanked the universities and foundations that had given him shelter or money. Everyone else would have to make do with a thank-you note.

Why do I really dislike Acknowledgements? In fiction, in particular, I find there’s something juvenile about them. There’s a reason why rock bands fill their liner notes with chums they’d like to thank for letting them sleep on the floor, while fine artists don’t paste the names of their best buddies all over the gallery wall.

Then there’s the “luvviness” of it all. They start the music at the Oscars after 45 seconds of gushing from the winners. How many book Acknowledgements can you get through in that time these days?

Authors: If someone deserves your thanks so very much that you just can’t hold it in, just dedicate the book to them. Acknowledge no one.

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Comment by Kate Thornton on September 4, 2009 at 4:16am
I agree, Matt - when I said "sometimes that public declaration fills a need," the need it fills may not always be an honorable one. Some people do indeed have a need to self-aggrandize and generally annoy the living spit out of the reader and other authors. But I would give slack to first-timers (of almost any description - even for grisly details of events best left to the imagination!) but especially first time novelists. The "you remind me of me" folks are reserved a special circle in the Hell I have dreamed up, Dante's not being harsh enough for my particular tastes!
Comment by Matt Rees on September 4, 2009 at 3:19am
Dana, I'm afraid I got both an acknowledgment and (one evening when he'd had a few drinks) far too many details of what he got up to with her... As for Kate's comments: point taken. My problem isn't with being nice; rather it's that the manner in which Acknowledgments are constructed is intended often less to thank people than to reflect well on the writer. (A variation on the "You remind me of me" type of compliment.)
Comment by Dana King on September 4, 2009 at 1:18am
We can debate the relative merits of acknowledgments late into the night, but I sure hope you got one for getting that guy laid.
Comment by Kate Thornton on September 4, 2009 at 1:09am
I was wowed when a novelist cited me in the acknowledgements - I had contributed a sum of cash to the nutritional & shelter needs of said novelist, but had been thanked in person already for that. It was touching to be thanked publicly.

I think - especially with first novels - authors are just so damned thankful to see the light of publishing that they feel the need to publicly thank person they see as a contributor to The Great Day. I don't see anything wrong with this. I don't have to read that page if I don't want to. If I do read it, I get a glimpse into the author - maybe an unintended glimpse (the university tutor in the OP's post - gave me a laugh!) into their minds, but still, for me, interesting.

As to acknowledgements in non-fic - these can be useful resources if you too are researching a subject and need to contact or otherwise utilise these sources.Well, usually not the author's wife and kiddies, of course, but sometimes it's good to know which institutions, entities and corporations were friendly to a researcher even if they were not cited in the back.

Acknowledgements are not mandatory - no one makes you say "Thank You" in print or out - but I see no harm in them. You can always skip that page as a reader. As a writer, sometimes that public declaration fills a need.
Comment by I. J. Parker on September 4, 2009 at 12:31am
I can't say I disagree. Especially in non-fiction, sources are cited in the back. I write fiction and have a few very brief acknowledgments because the people involved have actually helped me in a publishing climate where authors get little or no help from anyone.

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