August 2, 2021 § 5 Comments
By Kathy Stevenson
Bogged down in the minutiae of researching pertinent life events for your memoir? Stalled on the third chapter of your novel? Perhaps it might be helpful to set aside all those notebooks and research materials and skip right to the most fulfilling part of writing your book: The Acknowledgement Page.
After conducting an informal survey of my friends who are writers, I was heartened to know that I am not the only person who starts reading the end of a book first. And by the end, I don’t mean the final chapter or last page of the book itself. I mean, of course, the Acknowledgements. The part of the book where the author is obliged (“has the opportunity”) to thank each and every person who contributed to the planning, execution, and publication of his or her book.
Each and every person.
Because if you leave someone out of your acknowledgment page, there will be blood. Well, maybe not blood. But hurt feelings, and maybe lasting grudges. And whining. Certainly blood, hurt feelings, grudges, and whining are all states of affairs we writers hope to avoid at any cost.
The purpose of the acknowledgement page is to display a final appreciation, basically by sharing the names of those who contributed to your (hopeful) success in bringing your book to fruition.
There is a hierarchy of name-dropping in the best of these acknowledgements. Kudos to you if you attended Bread Loaf or had a residency at Ragdale or Yaddo, and can thank the overlords of those institutions for giving you the space and time away from your annoyingly demanding family and job.
If you haven’t been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship or even been a top-twenty finalist in an essay contest sponsored by your regional newspaper, don’t despair that you have nothing of note to put in your acknowledgement page. Your work should speak for itself, or at the very least Twitter will.
Next in the hierarchy of thanks might be your agent (although he or she might be first, depending on how high up the agent food chain they are). This is the person who discovered your talent, nurtured it, and believed in you, even after you secretly began to hate them for all their whiny, nit-picking demands. (Line edit a third time? Really?) Try to avoid groveling or too much familiarity (“I’d like to thank my new bestie, my brilliant agent Maureen, who I am now naming my firstborn after”) in your thank you – a cool detachment is best.
If your book required research of any type, this is also the place to thank the staffs of the libraries, websites, history centers, coffee shops, and chocolatiers who provided you with nurturing and even nourishment during your ordeal. How would you have brought your book into the world without quiet carrels and caffeine? Without the barista who understood your need for the quiet corner table by the window, and who kept on an eye on your laptop while you used the restroom?
This is the time to really lay it on if you had encouragement from, or took an MFA class from, or attended a lecture (that you paid for as part of a conference) by anyone in publishing with name recognition. Just don’t veer into crazy stalker territory. Though the words of a well-known writer or teacher may have changed your life, that person (amazingly) might not even remember you from the residency you had together in 2008.
Sincerity and gratitude are your bywords. But unctuousness is not.
You might start by writing an exhaustive list of those you want to thank in your acknowledgements, and then winnow that down. You don’t want to end up gushing like Sally Field in her Oscar acceptance speech, but you definitely don’t want to leave an important person (like your mom or spouse) out.
On second thought, maybe you should gush. After all, you published a book, damn it. A real book with words and paragraphs and chapters that you dreamed up and sweated over and made fit together in a way only you could have done. And if you want to thank everyone from the doctor who delivered you to your seventh grade English teacher to your great Grandma, then it’s your time and place to do so. And I will read it all first, before I even start with Chapter One.
Kathy Stevenson’s essays have appeared in The Washington Post, The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Newsweek, The Writer, Philadelphia Inquirer, and many other publications including – of course – the Brevity blog. Her short stories have appeared in several literary journals. Follow her on Twitter @k_stevenson01 or her website www.kathystevenson.com
June 13, 2017 § 4 Comments
It’s residency application season!
Well, it’s always application season. Spring applications for fall residencies, fall for spring, summer whenever, and that really prestigious place we apply to a year in advance and just figure we’ll cancel everything else in our lives if we get in. The joy of looking at our calendars and trying to figure out whether we can legit send the kids to camp and get someone to watch the dog six months from now! Nothing says fun like summarizing one’s job history, publications and self-worth in a one-page statement, CV, and work sample!
Glendaliz Camacho understands, though–from the Other Side of the Desk, she describes jurying applications and the delicate balance of Writer-Needs-This-Time-to-Succeed vs Writer’s-Already-Good-Enough-to-Be-Here:
-All I look for from a resume or CV is continual involvement, effort, and learning. Not publication in The New Yorker.
-That’s not totally true. Maybe that’s all I look for but I do notice if there are honors and publications I recognize. Too many of them and it does give me the feeling that this person is swimming along just fine and will do so with or without this residency. Too few and I wonder if it’s due to the quality of the writing.
I’ve been accepted to a few residencies, and rejected from a few more, and literally the same application packet–same work sample, same artist statement, one paragraph revised to say why I want to study with that writer/at that place–has led to both those results. Once you’ve got a solid application you’re happy with, it really isn’t personal.
As a theatre professor, I told student actors they only needed one strong minute of monologue–the auditioners know right away if they want to work with you. That’s true about writing, too. Readers can tell from the first paragraph if they’re in good hands. I also taught that, as terrifying as it feels, auditioning is not an adversarial process. Jurors want you to be good. Each time someone opens a residency application and flips to the work sample, what they’re hoping for is “Yes! This is the person who is going to be perfect!” They are looking for reasons to accept you. And you can give them those reasons:
Send your best work. Check the guidelines carefully–if it says, send what you’re planning to work on, send the very best pages of that. Run those pages past a writer friend, even if the whole piece isn’t ready. If the application doesn’t require what you’re proposing to work on, send your very best pages in the genre of your application. Unless they specify unpublished, it’s often worth it to send something published, because that’s been polished under a stranger’s eye. It doesn’t matter if that’s not the project you’re working on–this where they want to see results. If you don’t have many (or any) publication credits, this is the time to show how your work is so good, it’s going to be published sooner or later.
Speaking of publication credits, know your level. Near the beginning of their writing career, a writer is unlikely to get in to Yaddo, Macdowell, Hedgebrook or the Millay Colony. Don’t waste your time and application fee; apply to a place that’s within your same general accomplishment level. Find this out by looking at profiles of past residents. If the website doesn’t list bios, search for Name of Residency + “author” and see who pops up. Do they all have Pulitzers? Maybe wait until your book deal. Are they publishing in the same literary magazines you are? Full steam ahead! If you’re still uncertain, ask your mentor/teacher/workshop leader. I was surprised to hear that my teacher thought it was a good idea to apply to a residency I’d assumed was beyond my reach; I would also have valued him saying, “Maybe wait until you have more publications.” If you’re worried about your qualifications and it’s within your financial reach, try a pay-to-play residency, where the odds of getting in are better and then you have one residency already on your CV. Some paid residencies are income-sensitive, too, and that’s worth looking for or asking about.
Be honest–within limits. A pure, direct statement of your need and ambition can be captivating on the page. But this is not the time for pipe dreams or raw discussion of the faults we all have. Don’t tell them you have a hard time finishing work at home. We all do. Focus on what that specific venue, geographic location, philosophy of work, or master teacher has to offer you. Tie in something unique to that residency to something unique about you. “I want to work with Writer Who Makes Collages A Lot because I’m eager to expand my work in collages and build a chapbook from my publications in Journal of Collage.” “I’m working in soundscapes and want to bring my equipment and use it in the music studio available at this residency site.”
Glendaliz Camacho’s blog post is full of brilliant, reassuring, enlightening information on reading and writing applications (and a wonderful digression into telling-vs-showing in describing setting). In particular, she points out “A great artist statement tells a story,” and “A great work plan is plain and direct.” Go read the whole thing.