Monday, 12 October 2020

What Makes a Good Book Dedication?


Over the last few weeks, I’ve been giving out gift copies and review copies of my debut novel. Some readers have told me they really enjoyed the book. However, a few people have also said they loved the dedication. I’m glad they liked it, because I put a lot of thought into it, but it got me thinking about other dedications I’ve read. What makes a good one? What things do you need to consider? Do you even need one?

First, let me make a distinction between a book’s dedication and the acknowledgements. The acknowledgements page is usually the place where you thank people who have helped with the book (e.g. beta readers, editors, publishers, experts you consulted, supportive family and friends, and the nice people who let who stay in their 5-star hotel while doing research on the beach—I wish!).  A dedication sometimes includes a vote of thanks, but it is something more. In a dedication you’re saying, ‘This person is important to me and this book is my gift to them.’

Do You Need a Dedication?

Not necessarily. If you’re a podiatrist and you’ve written a book on treatments for tinea, would your loved ones want you to dedicate the book to them? Maybe, but it could give mixed messages. If you’re a prolific author and you’re up to Book #40, it might be difficult to think of something new to put in a dedication. The choice is yours. Don’t sweat it if you really don’t have a burning desire to dedicate it to someone.

To Whom Do You Dedicate Your Book?

Of course there are no right or wrong answers. Many authors dedicate books to family or friends. Some write dedications to thank people who were particularly involved in the development of the book. Sometimes the content of the book itself may give you some ideas about possible recipients of your dedication. For example, if your heroine has had to overcome a lot of obstacles to succeed in the world, you might like to dedicate it to Aunty Dot who also overcame a lot of barriers in her life. Other times, a more generic dedication might be warranted (e.g. to readers in general or to those who have had to grapple with the issues discussed in the book). Some Christians also dedicate their books to God, but I’ll say more about that a bit later.

Do You Need to Ask Permission to Dedicate a Book to Someone?

It depends. You might want to keep it as a nice surprise. That was the case with me. I wanted to dedicate the book to my parents, so I kept it secret until they could hold the book in their hands and read the dedication for themselves. However, I was also confident that my parents would be pleased. It might be worth running your dedication past the recipient ahead of time if (a) you don’t know them very well, (b) you consulted them in a professional capacity, (c) the book contains sensitive material, or (d) you’re thinking of putting some personal information in the dedication that may not be public knowledge.

Should Dedications in Christian Books Be Different?

We could have a big discussion here about what makes a book ‘Christian’. Some have obvious Christian content, while others may have a more subtle Christian message or worldview. It’s not my intention here to open that whole can of worms, but one issue of difference might be that a Christian author has to think through whether they include God in their dedication or not.

Terri Blackstock typically dedicates her books to ‘the Nazarene’, which of course is a reference to Jesus. Carolyn Miller dedicated The Elusive Miss Ellison to Joshua and ‘the Giver of the Ultimate Gift’. Karen Kingsbury also combined family and God in her dedication to Someone Like You:


Dedicated to my husband, David, and our beautiful family. The journey of life is breathtaking surrounded by each of you. And every minute together is time borrowed from eternity. I love you more than words. And to God, Almighty, who has—for now—blessed me with these.

Some authors also include a scripture. For example, Jeanette O’Hagan dedicated Akrad’s Children to her husband, but concluded with a paraphrase from Song of Songs 8:6-7: ‘Drenching rivers love’s flame will not quench.’

I thought long and hard about this question when I was writing my dedication, but I decided to thank God in my acknowledgements instead.

And finally, I would like to thank my Heavenly Father, who planted the first seed of an idea and watered it as it continued to grow. ‘You are He who took me from my mother’s womb and you have been my benefactor from that day. My praise is continually of You’ (Psalm 71:6b, AMP).

Tips for Writing a Dedication

It can be short and sweet, but think about the wording. Apart from the cover and title, this is the next impression someone will have of your book. I always feel a little disappointed if I read a beautifully-written, well-plotted book, but the dedication just says something like ‘For Anne’. Really? After 80 000 words of beautiful prose, you couldn’t think of anything better to write?

Think about the mood you want to convey. Humorous? Heartfelt? It’s often a good idea to match the mood of the book with the tone of the dedication. If you’ve written a gut-wrenching book about childhood trauma, it’s probably not a good idea to write a flippant dedication. However, a touch of humour can also show the reader something of your personality. What do you want readers to think or feel when they read your dedication?

Can you somehow tie the dedication to the themes in the book? This isn’t always necessary, but it’s a nice touch if relevant. For example, in her book Unnoticed, a revisioning of the Cinderella story in an Australian historical context, Amanda Deed dedicates the story ‘to lovers of fairy tales and of happy ever afters’.

Don’t leave it until five minutes before your deadline. A good dedication takes some thought. Put the same effort into it as you would a beautiful passage in your book.

Finally ...

Do you write dedications for your books? What dedications have you read that left an impression on you? I’d love to hear your examples. Here’s what I wrote in my inspirational historical novel Scattered:

For my parents, Lex and Dawn Wildermuth, who’ve nurtured me from infancy; 

and my English birthmother, Monica Hope Sewell (Monny), who died ten years before I started searching for her. 

You have all helped make me the person I am today, and I am forever grateful.

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  1. Thanks Nola, for your excellent advice on writing book dedications.I found the 'who' and 'why' of my debut novel's dedication came to me quickly and clearly, but I've tweaked the specific words several times. Perhaps we could encourage you to impart some insights on writing 'Acknowledgements' and 'About the Author' sections, too, as you nailed both of them in Scattered, making them interesting and informative. Thanks for a most helpful blog.

    1. Thanks Mazzy. I was actually already thinking that another post on writing acknowledgements might be useful. The 'About the author' section was harder. It took lots of drafts until I felt I had the right feel. But maybe that could also be a post sometime. Thanks for the suggestion. And good luck with your dedication. I can't wait to hold your finished book in my hands.

  2. I’ve always viewed dedications as a special thing, and love to read them to gain an insight into the author’s life. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Me too, Carolyn. Sometimes it raises a question or makes you see the author in a new light. I really liked your dedication in 'A Hero for Miss Hatherleigh'. Thanks for commenting.

  3. I loved your dedication. Did I tell you?
    I usually acknowledge many people and God too. Everyone who has inputted the book in any significant way.
    Good blog post, thanks.

    1. Hi Jeanette - Yes you did tell me that, thank you. You were one of the people who made me think this might make a good topic. My acknowledgements section was quite long too. Definitely a team effort with my book. Thanks for commenting.

  4. Thanks, Nola--and I love your thoughtful, sensitively written dedication too, so well done! I like to keep dedications quite short and most of mine have mentioned family members or my special 'soul friend' Joy. But when two young women I had connections with passed away just prior to the launch of two different novels of mine, I added an 'in loving memory' statement about them to my dedication too. I felt that was the least I could do to lift their names high and encourage others to remember them.

    1. Thanks Jo. One advantage of taking so long to write the novel was that the dedication was percolating in my head for quite a while. And what a lovely gesture to dedicate those novels to the memory of your friends. That is indeed a great way to remember them. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Loved your post Nola. So well expressed and you covered all bases. Enjoyed the humour in it as always. What a lovely edication to your parents! I'm sad that your birth mother had died 10 years before you began searching for her. That would have been a sad discovery. However, you've made her very much alive through your dedication and your story. I've always spent time to write a good dedication each for my books - I agree it is important. Love the verse you've chosen with which to aknowledge your Heavenly Father as well. Beautiful! Wishing you a wonderful leadup to your big day, Nola. Thank you for your refreshing post and some great tips!

    1. Thanks Anusha. Both the dedication and the final thanks to God and the verse fit in with some of the themes of the book. I searched for my birthmother back in 1996, so it seems like a long time ago now. But I was able to go to England twice to meet aunts, an uncle and cousins, which was good. They were able to pass on some photos and stories. All of the aunts and uncles have passed away now, but I'm still in touch with the cousins. Thanks for your good wishes about the book launch. Not long to go now.

  6. My favourite dedication was by William Barclay for his commentary on the Gospel of Mark (I always read dedications): "To all librarians and keepers of books without whose help no author could ever hope to write a book" I was a librarian when I read this which made it special in a bizarre kind of ways since I don't think I helped anyone write a book while I was a librarian!

    My least favourite dedications are those that say something along the lines of: To my wife and children who I haven't seen for the last 2 years while I've been writing this book. (And I have read some that are fairly close to this!)

    1. Hi Susan - That would have been fun to read that dedication when you were a librarian. I guess without 'keepers of books' like librarians, there would be fewer readers and less reason to write. So in a sense, anyone who helps nurture a love of reading, helps writers.

      And yes, I've read some dedications like that too. I wonder if that would make up for the two years writing the book? Thanks for commenting.

  7. Thanks for the lovely post, Nola. I always read the dedications, because they give us a bit more insight into the common human experience we share with the authors. And it is a thrill for these people to get a mention, like a lasting memorial. I dedicated a couple of books to my parents and some to my nephews, who are now both in their twenties.

    1. Hi Paula - Yes, I always like reading a good dedication. It does give an insight into an aspect of the author's life. And how lovely that you were able to dedicate books to your parents and nephews. I'm sure they would have gotten a kick out of it. It is a lovely tribute. Thanks for your comment.

  8. Great advice, thanks Nola. I thought your dedication was beautiful. I hadn’t even thought I’m about a dedication until I read yours. And after reading this blog, I’d like to alter mine. Hopefully it’s not too late. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.