Before a writer finishes a book, there is one task that remains to be done before it can be sent to the publisher. That is the task of writing a dedication, which can sometimes be as hard as writing the book itself. An enormous amount of thought goes into the choice of dedicatee, and what words to use in the tribute. One wants the dedication to be appreciated as a big compliment to the recipient. One hopes that the dedicatee will still be a good friend or life partner in ten years’ time, and not have become someone you are no longer even speaking to.
How many book dedications do you remember? Probably not many, but they can be witty and memorable. Some books are dedicated to the author’s children “without whom this book would have been written two years earlier”.
Some dedications come with requests, as in “For Mom (Just skip over the sex scenes, please”), some pay off old scores as in “everyone who helped me create this book, except for that guy who yelled at me in Kmart when I was eight”, and there are even some dedicated “For Me” as being the person most deserving of the honour. These days it is possible to win a dedication on social media. One Austen sequel writer dedicated her novel to Colin Firth, begging him to be her friend, some authors dedicate their books to pets who have provided comfort and companionship during the writing process, one dedication by Peter Leeson included a proposal of marriage (I wonder if she said yes?), some are written in the form of poetry, and a few are dedicated to people the author knows will never read the book. Scottish crime writer Stuart MacBride, whose first book gave a truly grim picture of the city of Aberdeen, dedicated his second novel in the series to the Aberdeen Tourist Authority, with thanks for not lynching him. The occasional book has been dedicated to the alcoholic beverage which has helped see the manuscript to completion and there’s even a book (You Might Be a Zombie) dedicated to “Theodore Roosevelt’s left testicle”. Some books are simply dedicated “To Nobody”. Some recent books have been dedicated to the scientists who created Covid vaccines.
A book dedication can be a magical thing. It’s a tradition that dates back many centuries (Shakespeare’s sonnets are famously dedicated to Mr W.H., about whom nothing is known), it’s a personal note to someone who is important to the author. Wives and husbands feature often, but divorce can make the loving words seem seriously out-of-date. Many struggling authors can relate to Michael Moorcock’s dedication of “To my creditors, who remain a permanent source of inspiration”. Agatha Christie dedicated her second novel to “All those who lead monotonous lives”, but which of us would want to publicly ‘own’ such a dedication. Some authors give only the initial of the recipient, leaving them permanently mysterious, while others embrace their entire readership, or simply leave a blank “To ………. (insert full name here)”.
I can assure you it is not easy making decisions about recipient and wording. My books have been dedicated to my father, sisters, daughter, my closest friend, and a group of very dear friends. I will some time soonish have to decide on the dedication in my next book – do I choose granddaughters who are still too young to appreciate the compliment or read the book, but who might treasure the dedication one day? Do I choose other friends or relations, husband or sons, or do I re-dedicate to those who have shown how much they appreciated the first dedication? A book dedication is generally given its own page – it is important, even if ignored by the average reader. Perhaps I should make my next dedication to “All those who read ‘Notes from a Book Addict’ every month”. You’ll have to wait and see.