Considering whether to dedicate your book or other writing? It can be a more difficult process than you might think. In this post we’ve compiled examples and talked to authors to give you everything you need when writing a dedication. So, let’s dive in.
What is a book dedication?
A book dedication is a statement that tells the reader for whom the author has written a book.
Why write a dedication?
Book dedications are about expressing gratitude. Authors often include a dedication to acknowledge the person or people who inspired the book or to thank someone who supported them during the writing process. Some authors dedicate a book to the memory of a loved one or to a cause or idea.
Lorraine Evanoff, author of the Louise Moscow series, says she dedicates her books because “writing and publishing a book is never done alone.” She dedicates all of her novels to her husband. “[He] has been so patient and supportive,” Evanoff says, and uses the acknowledgements to thank family and friends who provide feedback and suggestions.
How to format a book dedication
The book dedication usually appears in the frontmatter, after the title page and colophon (sometimes called the copyright page) but before the index and body text.
If you include an epigraph in your book, the dedication typically appears on the recto (or righthand) page just before this.
Most dedications appear center aligned on the top half of the page and are often in italics.
Do you have to include a dedication?
No, you do not have to include a dedication, and many books don’t have one.
Examples of book dedications
Book dedications take all forms. Some are funny or cheeky, some are vague or even cryptic, some are quite poetic. You can combine styles—one that’s poetic and funny, for example—or you can create a style that’s all your own.
Some book dedications read like short poems.
Alice Walker’s dedication of The Color Purple reads:
TO THE SPIRIT:
Without whose assistance
Neither this book
Would have been
The dedication in Jayant Kaikini’s short story collection, No Presents Please, is also quite poetic:
To all those orphaned and undelivered letters
lying in post offices, addresses unknown,
unable to return
Jacqueline Woodson’s Red at the Bone:
for the ancestors, a long long time
of you bending and twisting
bending and twisting
Sometimes an author will explicitly name the person or people they’re dedicating their book to. Marcia Brown dedicates her famous children’s book, Stone Soup, very simply:
TO MY MOTHER AND FATHER
Cheryl Strayed, best-selling author of Wild, dedicates her advice column anthology Tiny Beautiful Things:
For Stephen Elliot and Isaac Fitzgerald
And for all the people who wrote to me
Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me is dedicated:
For David and Kenyatta
Authors who want to name the person they’re dedicating their book to should make a few important considerations.
Urban fantasy and paranormal romance novelist TL Christianson says this about named dedications: “Dedications can make that person feel very special. However, they can inevitably hurt someone else,” she says. “There are so many people involved in each book—family, friends, editors, beta and ARC readers, and not to mention readers who have touched our life—which is why I find it impossible to dedicate my own. So, I’d rather not dedicate at all than upset someone instrumental who wasn’t on my mind at that particular moment.”
But keep in mind that the person you dedicate your book to may not want to be named. This is why Christianson doesn’t always dedicate her novels. “A dedication can inadvertently expose or imply intimate and painful details about that person, depending on the content.”
If you’d like to keep the identity of your “dedicatee” private, you can always anonymize the note. Roxanne Gay’s memoir Hunger is dedicated:
for you, my sunshine, showing me
what I no longer need and finding the
way to my warm
In memoriam dedications
Some writers will dedicate their book to the memory of a loved one.
Daniel Kahneman, winner of the nobel prize in economics, dedicates his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, this way:
In memory of Amos Tversky
Walter Mosley’s Elements of Fiction:
This book is dedicated to the memory of
One of the most creative individuals
I have ever known.
Group dedications or dedications to a cause
Perhaps you were inspired by a group of people with a shared identity or experience or dedicated to a common cause.
Joshua Wong’s Unfree Speech, The Threat to Global Democracy and Why We Must Act, Now, is dedicated:
For those who have lost their freedom
fighting for Hong Kong
Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street:
A las Mujeres
To the Women
Angie Cruz dedicates her novel Dominicana:
For Dania, my mother
Para todas las Dominicanas
For all our unsung heroes
Some writers get playful with their book dedications.
Michael’s Lewis dedicates his book The Big Short:
To whom I still owe an article
Humor essayist Sloane Crosley wrote this original dedication for her second book, How Did You Get This Number:
To my parents. For everything.*
*Everything except the two-week period in 1995 directly following the time you went to Ohio for a wedding and I threw a party in the house, which is the most normal thing a teenage American can do, aside from lie about it, which I also did, and Mom eyed me suspiciously for days, morphing into a one-woman Scotland Yard, marching into my bedroom with a fistful of lint from the dryer to demonstrate that I had mysteriously washed all the towels, and then she waited until we were in a nice restaurant to scream, “Someone vomited on my couch, I know it!” and Dad took away my automotive privileges straight through college so that I spent the subsequent four years likening you both to Stasi foot soldiers, confined as I was to a campus-on-the-hill when I could have been learning how to play poker at the casinos down the road and making bad decisions at townie bars. I think we can all agree you overreacted.
For everything except that, I am profoundly grateful. I have only the greatest affection for you now. Also: I vomited on the couch.
How long should a book dedication be?
Book dedications can be as short or as long as you like.
Poet Galway Kinnell dedicates his collection Strong Is Your Hold simply, To Bobbie.
But others, like Crosley’s above, are much longer. Michelle Obama’s dedication in Becoming is 73 words, has two parts, and mentions many people:
To all the people who have helped me become:
the folks who raised me—Fraser, Marian, Craig,
and my vast extended family,
my circle of strong women, who always lift me up,
my loyal and dedicated staff, who continue to make me proud
To the loves of my life:
Malia and Sasha, my two most precious peas,
who are my reasons for being,
and finally, Barak, who always promised me an interesting journey.
How to write a book dedication
Consider why you wrote your book
Consider who or what inspired you to write your book in the first place.
Perhaps it was a meaningful relationship with a childhood friend, the survivors of an event, or the tenacity of a marginalized group of people.
Is there someone, a family member or friend, who supported or encouraged you during the writing process? Maybe a significant other, a trusted mentor, or your parents who encouraged you to become a writer.
You might choose to dedicate your book to a person or persons, to an idea or cause, or to something else entirely. It’s up to you.
Some authors write more than one dedication. José Saramago’s famous novel Blindness has two. The first reads:
For my daughter Violante
And the second:
Brittany Ziegler, author of Make Me Exist: A Heart-Pounding Sci-Fi Romance, Lost in Time Book One, also included two dedications for her latest book.
“For my latest novel, the sequel to the series I’m writing, I had two dedications,” she says. “First and foremost, I dedicated the novel to my two daughters. For obvious reasons, like I love them and they are my world, but also because I wouldn’t be able to write the characters correctly if I didn’t understand how deeply a mother’s love ran. My second dedication in the book went out to a fan, actually, who found my series via Amazon ads and then took the extra step to befriend me on social media. Her input, support, and love of my characters is invaluable, and we have forged an amazing relationship.”
Check with your dedicatee
As mentioned above, “a dedication can inadvertently expose or imply intimate and painful details about that person, depending on the content.”
So if you think you might expose something personal about the person you’re dedicating your book to, it’s best to ask them first.
If they say no, ask if they’re OK with your anonymizing the note. Instead of For Cameron, perhaps they’d be comfortable with For C.
If they don’t want to be named at all, honor that request.
Write a few drafts
Writing is rewriting, and the same applies to your book dedication. Write your dedication a few different ways, and write a few drafts of each.
Step away for at least a day (more, if you can), and then review your drafts. One in particular may stand out to you.
Do you dedicate your books? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments!
4 comments on “How (and Why) to Write a Book Dedication”
Great piece thank you Clayton! Do you have a Twitter account?
Thanks Lorraine! You can just tag @WrittenWordM on Twitter. Thank you for your contribution to this post!
Yes. I love to put a few cryptic ones. “To the one who hates peanut butter but shines like a razor. You know who you are, and thank you.”
Excellent information, Clayton. I learn best by example, and you’ve provided enough to clarify every point.