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How to Write a Book Dedication

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

When it comes to authors deciding how to write a book dedication, there’s often a lot of giving thanks. There are funny proclamations, curt pithiness, esoteric wit, or the occasional coy flirt. There are greetings and salutations. Yes, yes, when it comes authors dedicating their books, there runs a whole gamut of affection and charm and innuendo.

Without doubt, a book’s dedication sets the book’s tone.

Potentially, dedications offer readers emotional context. Look at it this way—more often than not, the book dedication is the author’s first point of connection with their readers. Mostly (but not always), it points to the single for-whom or why they’ve labored. The book dedication’s missive is to an audience of one: the great “This is for you,” but then, a writer can also dedicate a book to a moment in time or even an entire generation.

Some writers dedicate their books to things.

Yes, yes, many authors have earmarked their efforts to an inanimate object, to something they have some affection, but more often than not, an author’s opening epistle is directed to a person, (living or dead) or to a group of people. Sometimes, a book is even dedicated to someone they’ve never met.

My all-time favorite is Neil Gaiman’s dedication in Anansi Boys. He writes:

You know how it is. You pick up a book, flip to the dedication, and find that, once again, the author had dedicated a book to someone else and not you. Not this time. Because we haven’t yet met/have only a glancing acquaintance/are just crazy about each other/haven’t seen each other in much too long/are in some way related/will never meet, but will, I trust, despite that, always think fondly of each other … This one’s for you. With you know what, and you probably know why.

My second favorite is E. E. Cummings’ book he self-published with the help of his mother, dedicated to the fourteen publishing houses who turned the collection down:

NO THANKS

To

Farrar & Rinehart

Simon & Schuster

Coward- McCann

Limited Editions

Harcourt, Brace

Random House

Equinox Press

Smith & Haas

Viking Press

Knopf

Dutton

Harper’s

Scribner’s

Covici, Friede

I think readers are especially drawn to coolly cryptic dedications and the detailed, sappy, and longer-winded ones.

I like what Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander, has to say. To her, book dedications are “… a private moment in what is otherwise a public object. Like a bit of graffiti, almost. It’s the only part of a book that’s going to be for one person.”

There’s as many ways to dedicate a book as there are ways to write a book, but then most writers know there’s no single right way to do either. So, whether it’s cheeky or heartfelt, in dedicating your book, keep the following in mind:

  1. Choose wisely. In figuring out to whom you should dedicate your book, ask yourself to whom or what do you owe the biggest debt? It’s likely whoever you’ve thought about during the process of developing and then penning the manuscript.
  2. Simple is solid. “To my parents” works, so does “For my dear Peri Kate,” but consider alternative dedications that offer a little more finesse and gaiety.

And, at the very least, if only to yourself, be able to explain your reasoning as to why you’ve chosen to celebrate who or whatever you’ve chosen to celebrate, because immortalizing someone (or something) in print, is one of the best parts of publishing a book.

 

Read the Complete Guide: How to Self-Publish a Book

Ellie Maas Davis

Ellie Maas Davis owns Pressque, a publishing consultation firm located in downtown Charleston that offers editing and ghostwriting services to authors and publishers.

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