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.


Filed under Writing

5 responses to “Extras

  1. riddleburger

    I’ve already been thinking on this subject this morning because of the rather lenghty set of acknowledgements in my next book. I am very glad they come at the end — after an appendix — to distance themselves from the story.

    But it would have been egregious to not have any acknowledgements of the people who contributed to the boo in various ways.


  2. Monica, I posted on a similar subject today: http://sixboxesofbooks.blogspot.com/2009/12/no-afterword-thanks.html

    It’s interesting to consider acknowledgments, flap copy, and back matter together… all the packaging that comes with a story. I’ll be interested to see how your thoughts about things like these evolve as you produce your own book.


  3. Sam, I can’t imagine not having an acknowledgement as there are a number of people who have been so helpful and I would like to thank them. That said, I hope it can be somewhere unobtrusive.

    Wendy, how funny that we both posted on such a similar subject. I’m not sure I agree with you about no back matter. I do want to have some for Margru. For one thing, I have chosen to end my story at a particular point in her life and would like to write what is known about the rest of it in an afterward. And we’ve also talked about something about Sierra Leone in recent years. But we’ve years to go so who knows how it will play out.


  4. I’m mostly anti-lengthy-afterword. I don’t know much about your book, of course, but as an example, Scott O’Dell has a brief author’s note at the end of Island of the Blue Dolphins that explains what little was known about that woman’s life, and that didn’t bother me. But–from my totally non-professional, this-is-only-my-opinion viewpoint–maybe you will consider checking out your eventual afterword with multiple readers, giving it to them to read without, then with, and asking what they thought the afterword added. I can definitely see wanting to end your book at a particular point–that’s fine, it’s a good idea to end wherever the ending would be most powerful. But I think an afterword would have to be crafted just right in order to avoid making it take away from what you wanted for the ending. There’s a difference, too, between an author’s note that explains what happened next to a real person (especially if it’s difficult for the reader to research) and an author’s note that gives background information on the story which, if it’s important, should be in the text–IMHO.


  5. Pingback: Fusenews: My spellcheck never did learn to recognize the word "Kirkus" « A Fuse #8 Production

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