It’s a Fine Line between Pleasure and Pain: Dedicating Your Book

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All writers devote an enormous amount of time, effort and passion towards writing their books. And while finally holding a completed book in your hands is right up there, one of the other most emotional moments usually comes just before the end of the process: deciding on a dedication.

They aren’t compulsory but they appear in almost every book. As a way of showing our loved ones, our peers, our mentors, our inspirations just how much they mean to us. In recognition of a particular period in our lives. As an inside joke.

But deciding on a dedication can also be a little stressful. After all, most of us have support networks of more than just one person and we want to pay tribute to them all. We certainly don’t want to put anyone offside. And while a writer can include a veritable list of thank yous in the acknowledgements (usually at the back of the book), a dedication that focuses on just one person – or sometimes a couple – (usually at the front of the book) tends to top getting lost amongst the crowd.

Most writers seem to start by dedicating their first books to parents or partners. As I write this, I’m in the middle of reading The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty and when I opened it up to check, yep, there’s evidence to back me up. “For my parents, Diane and Bernie Moriarty, with lots of love.” And it makes sense. Parents and partners are usually significant influences on everyone, not just writers.

Some writers know exactly who they want to dedicate their work to, some need a little help. And the more books they write, the closer they might come to running out of easy choices. Here are a few options.

Dedication to Yourself
The dedication at the front of Psychos: A White Girl Problems Book by Babe Walker reads, “Dedicated to the strongest person I know: me.” It’s an entirely honest and worthy dedication option. After all, you wrote the book, you did most of it by yourself and you deserve the credit. And it doesn’t come across quite as self-absorbed as thanking yourself when winning an award.

Dedication to Nobody
As Arika Okrent puts it so succinctly, John Neal “had a stubborn temperament that would never let him settle for just a ‘screw you’ where a ‘screw you all’ would do”. The dedication in his 1822 book, Logan: A Family History is probably one of the best dedications to nobody ever written.

“I do not dedicate my book to any body; for I know nobody worth dedicating it to. I have no friends, no children, no wife, no home; – no relations, no well-wishers; – nobody to love, and nobody to care for. To whom shall I; to whom can I dedicate it? To my Maker! It is unworthy of him. To my countrymen? They are unworthy of me. For the men of past ages I have very little veneration; for those of the present, not at all. To whom shall I entrust it? Who will care for me, by tomorrow? Who will do battle for my book, when I am gone? Will posterity? Yea, posterity will do me justice. To posterity then – to the winds! I bequeath it! I devote it – as a Roman would his enemy, to the fierce and unsparing charities of another world – to a generation of spirits – to the shadowy and crowned potentates of hereafter. I – I – I have done – the blood of the red man is growing cold – farewell – farewell forever!”

I have no words (unlike John Neal).

Dedication to You
There are plenty of books that are dedicated to you. Sometimes it’s the you reading the book, sometimes it’s a you the writer doesn’t name (but usually accompanied by the immortal words, “You know who you are”). Here’s the dedication Neil Gaiman included in Anansi Boys:

“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 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.”

Dedication Not to You
In EE Cummings 1935 book, No Thanks, his dedication was a list of the fourteen publishers who had rejected it in the shape of a funeral urn.

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

Genius!

Dedication as Message
I’m not sure I could stand waiting for a book to come out if I used the dedication as a message, particularly if it was a question that needed an answer as in The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates by Peter Leeson: “Ania, I love you; will you marry me?” That’s dedication in all of its meanings!

No Dedication At All
If it’s all just too hard, it’s also perfectly fine to have no dedication at all.

My Dedications
The dedication in Enemies Closer, my first book, was to a fellow writer and his scantily clad women. I’d written the book directly as a response to a book he’d written and entrusted me to read during the draft stages, which seemed to contain an inordinate number of scantily clad women. I wanted to demonstrate that women in action fiction could play a substantial role and not just be the sexual playthings of the hero and the villain. They could be the heroes and the villains! He didn’t change his book in any of the ways I’d suggested in this respect but I couldn’t be too aggrieved since he was ultimately the reason I wrote my first published novel.

The Project December dedication does seem a little flippant in retrospect but since I didn’t actually realise I was writing a book at the time – and compiled, edited and published it within a very short time frame – it felt right to me at the time. It’s dedicated to all the cats I’ve loved before and names all sixteen who have ever lived with me since I became a crazy cat lady. It was right around the time that I was fostering six cats in addition to my own three and I was loving it.

Project January was dedicated to my maternal grandparents. My grandmother died while I was writing the book (and was an avid reader), my grandfather was left bereft without her (and loved reading as long as it was about football) and I knew he would be honoured by the gesture. I lived with my grandparents for eleven years while I studied for two degrees and then ventured out into the workforce at the start of my career; they are like my pseudo-parents.

Black Spot is the only book I wrote the dedication for before I started writing the novel itself. It reads, “For Zac, who didn’t make it. For Gen, who did. And for Jess – this book would never have been written without you.” I did a lot of planning for this book so I had a very good idea of what it was going to be about, a girl who had struggled with mental health and come out the other side (amongst other things). Earlier in the year I started writing it, my cousin Zac had committed suicide. Prior to that, he had decided he wanted to be a writer and knowing my background, he had sought me out for advice on both his writing and his writing journey. I’d done a manuscript assessment on his novel and recommended he begin a writing course to improve his skills. He was only one term into his studies, which he said he was loving, when he killed himself.

I hadn’t known about his mental health issues, still don’t really, I guess I just assume he had them based on what he did. But he didn’t make it. My sister Genevieve, however, did. She’s struggled with eating disorders, clinical depression, borderline personality disorder and a long history of doctors refusing to believe there was anything physically wrong with her (even though she has now also been diagnosed with chronic fatigue and rheumatoid arthritis – she’s still in her very early twenties by the way). She’s made it. She makes it every day. And she was a very great inspiration for the main character in the book.

And then there’s Jess. Jessica Vigar is not only my book cover designer and marketing go-to person, she is also the reason Black Spot exists. We were desk neighbours at a company we both no longer work for and when she found out that I wrote novels, she insisted I should write something to take advantage of the appetite for young adult/mainstream crossover novels (it was around the time that The Hunger Games, Twilight and Divergent were all very big). I had a few ideas but she really helped me by vetoing several and then giving the go ahead to the one that eventually became Black Spot. Then she read early drafts and as I write this, she is designing the book cover for it. How could I not acknowledge the essential role she played?

*****

Whatever direction you decide to head in, just remember you don’t owe anybody a dedication. It’s an honour and a privilege and hopefully a lovely surprise when you give them their copy of the book and they open the front cover to see their name.

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