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How to Write a Great Book Dedication

Creating a literary piece is not an easy task. It takes much time, effort, and dedication to produce a book, and it is essential to show gratitude to those who helped or inspired you on your path. While the dedication doesn't have to be lengthy, it is a very personal addition to the start of your book and, therefore, requires substantial thought.

When were book dedications first used?

Dedications were first used in the classical times. Authors often had more reasons to write dedications than simply to mention someone they wanted to thank. Books and other literary works were often financed by patrons who chose the author for a particular reason. Some works were commissioned, sometimes even by the Queen of England (for example, Shakespeare was commissioned by the Queen to write Henry VIII). Sometimes authors received gifts of encouragement from their patrons. In response to this support, the author thanked their patron with a tribute in a dedication.

The original dedication format contained a sentence such as "This book is dedicated to a high-standing personality" or city, etc. Having a good dedication signaled to other patrons that they too could enjoy similar recognition if they supported that author for a work of their own. Therefore, dedications were often elaborate in wording.

Themes of dedications

Dedications can simply offer thanks to a monetary supporter or an emotional supporter, or they can make a political statement. For example, in her book Beloved, Toni Morrison made a dedication to Sixty Million and more. This was a reference to the number of slaves who died as part of the slave trade.

Certain authors use the dedication as a way to show the tastes of society or to shock society with an audacious statement. In modern dedications, authors have made statements that are mixed in nature, putting together statements of thanks, love, political opinion, hope, and humor.

As you consider what you want your dedication to be like, consider your own personality and what the work has meant to you. This part of writing a book is all about adding the final touch, which represents who you are as the author and what you want the world to know about you before they begin reading.

Focusing the dedication

Step 1 — Make a list of whom you might want to include in the dedication.

Is there one person or a group of people who were the impetus for your work? What inspired you to write? Make a list of these people. If there was someone who inspired the main character or any of the other characters in the book, include them on the list as well.

Also, you should consider if you want to dedicate the book to people you know personally, or to people you do not know personally but whom you admire. Don't be afraid to put everyone on this list at this point. You will be able to narrow your list later on if you wish.

Step 2 — Write down people you do not want in the dedication.

Once you have the first list finished, make a second list of people who you don't think are appropriate for the dedication. This will help you to narrow down your first list, or it might help you to focus more for the next step. For example, while you may think you want to put your newborn daughter in a dedication, if the book is an adult romance novel, it might not be appropriate to dedicate the book to her.

Step 3 — List the main themes in your book.

Examine the themes presented throughout your book. Make a list of those themes, and consider if there are people in your life who might represent those themes or who might have helped — knowingly or unknowingly — provide inspiration for those particular themes. Sometimes this examination can bring to light people whom you did not initially consider to have helped you to write the book, but without whom you wouldn't have a robust story to tell.

For example, if you have wanted to write a book about overcoming adversity and finally did it, you may want to call attention to those people who caused you to face adversity. Without them, you might not have had the perspective needed or the desire to write such a book.

Step 4 — Why do you want to dedicate the book to them?

When you decide to whom you want to dedicate the book, it is important to note all the reasons why you chose them. Did they encourage you on your lowest days? Did they provide sustenance as you worked through the nights? Did they support you monetarily? What about direct contributions? Did they give their input on characters or dialogue?

There are so many ways that people help us as we write, and it's important when writing a book dedication to get all the reasons in front of us. This helps us to choose what we are most grateful for. While a book dedication can be as short or as long as you want it to be, you want to get it just right. Once it's in print, it takes some doing to change it.

Step 5 — Did you promise a dedication?

Sometimes writers will agree to dedicate their book to someone. This happens either with friends who simply want a mention or family members who helped you in exchange for a dedication — just like the patrons of old. Consider if this is a request that you want to keep.

While promises are important, book dedications are personal and provide meaningful closure to the writing process. Sometimes, throughout the book writing process, promises made at the beginning don't hold up at the end. What if you made a promise to someone you are no longer in contact with? Is it worth including a dedication to them? If you don't want to put someone's name in the dedication, then you don't have to. Still, they might be hurt or offended to discover that you did not include them.

Does a book dedication have to be to a person?

A book dedication does not need to be made to a person. If you feel like coffee or energy drinks were the main source of inspiration, then by all means feel free to make a dedication to them. There are no rules for dedications, so do whatever your heart says is right for your book.

What should you say in your dedication?

The beginning

To start off your dedication, choose something that fits to whom or what it is. For example, you could start out with "In memory of" if you are making a dedication to a deceased individual. You could also use "To," "For," or "In honor of."

Include a piece of yourself

Once you have decided on the beginning words, continue to the dedication itself. Because the book is the result of your own hard work, make sure to include several aspects of your personality. If you consider yourself to be funny or light-hearted, then include some humor in your dedication. This is especially impactful if you have included humor in your book. Remember, the dedication gives the reader a little insight into you as the author, so start the book out with the right tone.

If you consider yourself to be a more formal person or if you want the dedication to have a serious tone, then phrase your dedication using formal terms and thoughts.

In one good example of personality in the dedication, Neil Gaiman worded his dedications using "you" without specifically identifying who the person is.

You know how it is. You pick up a book, flip to the dedication, and find that, once again, the author has dedicated a book to someone else and not to 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.

Neil Gaiman, Anansi Boys

Consider the subject

You also want to ensure that the way in which you write the book dedication represents the person or thing being named in the dedication. If you are dedicating the book to a person, think about some personal discussions you have had with that person, inside jokes, or even significant experiences you shared with each other that may have influenced the book. Keep it personal to that person.

For example:

  • George R.R. Martin in A Storm of Swords dedicated the book as: For Phyllis, who made me put the dragons in.
  • Carl Sagan in Cosmos: In the vastness of space and immensity of time, it is my joy to spend a planet and an epoch with Annie.

Set the tone for the book's theme

As mentioned earlier, the book dedication can be a place where you acknowledge someone's contribution to the theme. In doing this, you will set the tone for the book and build up the reader to experience the theme you've created. If the theme is political, then it makes sense to include some wording that is politically driven. If the theme is romance, then have a dedication that is softer and includes a message of love to whomever the dedication is.

Include other types of writing

If you have a favorite quote or poem, feel free to use that as a dedication. It is recommended to use a quote or a piece of poetry that fits with the theme and tone of the book, but that is not a requirement. Again, include something that comes from your heart or personality. The quote could be from a friend or relative, or even one of your characters.

Completing the dedication

Once you have finished deciding to whom to make the dedication, choosing a style and tone, and writing the dedication, you will need to put effort into finalizing it for publication.

Be sure to edit the dedication. Make sure there are no typos or misspellings, especially when it comes to names. The last thing you want is to misspell the name of the person to whom you are dedicating the book.

If there are formatting requirements from the publisher or for your eBook, make sure you have followed those guidelines. If you ended up using a poem, make sure to retain any special formatting in the original work.

Lastly, it is courteous to notify the person or persons that you are dedicating your book to them. Sometimes it could be a nice surprise, but most often it is polite to give a heads up before the publication is complete.

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