Extras — acknowledgements, flap copy, and back matter — they’ve been under scrutiny of late.
Let’s start with acknowledgements. A couple of weeks ago Elizabeth Blumie presented her feelings about them in this thoughtful post. Over the years I have worked on my Margru book many people have helped me with the research and I’d always assumed that I’d thank them in some sort of acknowledgement. So reading Elizabeth’s post and the many comments unnerved me at first. But then last night I started to read a forthcoming work of adult fiction and the very first thing I encountered was a three page acknowledgment and I got it. That is, having that to read even before the novel started took me out of the world before I was in it. A work of historical fiction, most of the thank yous were personal, only a few were for research sources. At the very least it should have been at the end of the book, not at the beginning. But that is how I feel now; who knows how I will feel closer to my book’s pub date (which, by the way, is a few years off).
Then there was a fascinating discussion about flap copy over at editor Cheryl Klein’s blog. The copy in question was a direct letter to the book’s readers from “The Editors” and received many, many comments pro and con. Here’s mine:
This puts the editors right up front for a work of fiction and I have to say it doesn’t work for me. It makes me think about what READER is being addressed and who those EDITORS are exactly rather than the book and its characters. It is, for me, distracting. Unless, of course, that is tone of the whole book (al a Lemony Snicket) in which case I’d say go for it. If not, I’d say stick with something less pulling-me-out-of-the-book-before-I-even-begin-reading-it. That is, I think flap copy should provide just enough for the reader to know what to expect, not a testimonial or endorsement which this feels like to me.
Finally, this morning I read Imogene Russell Williams on ” Why Back Matter is So Often a Waste of a Book’s Space.” Williams describes problematic back matter from a variety of fictional works for adults and children, say this one:
And my American edition of Lois Lowry’s The Giver, a Newbery-winning stalwart of middle-school lists, demands that you choose and defend one interpretation of the magnificently ambiguous ending seconds after you’ve finished reading it. This is woeful. One of the most interesting things about the book is that it makes you deal with not knowing how it ends.
This concern about being dragged out of the story this way seems similar to me to the ones raised by Elizabeth Blumie and many of her commenters about acknowledgements. While some seemed to feel having those at the end of the book was okay, Williams probably wouldn’t concur.