I’ve never included a dedication in any of my books. They’ve always struck me as a bit smarmy and insincere: nothing but a form of virtue signaling aimed at the reader, or a private message to a single party that everyone who picks up the book is forced to witness. The subtext always seems to boil down to one of four statements:
“I’m attractive — somebody actually married me! Jealous?”
“I’m fertile — I actually reproduced! Jealous???”
“I know my behavior while writing this book was inexcusable, but please don’t divorce me!”
“I know my behavior while writing this book was inexcusable, but please don’t write a scathing tell-all memoir about what a horrible parent I was.”
I’ve never gleaned anything of interest from a book dedication, with one exception: Danielle Steel has a lot of children. A LOT.
Book dedications weren’t always about mollifying your fed-up spouse in a public forum or notifying your readers that you have more kids than days of the week. The dedication used to be all about money.
For centuries, authors dedicated books to a patron (or prospective patron) who paid the publication costs. Getting a book published prior to the nineteenth century had more in common with today’s self-publishing industry than the world of literary agents, generous advances, and income-generating royalties that came to be thought of as standard in the twentieth century. The dedication, in other words, was a naked plea for cold, hard cash.
More like this: “How to Win Writing Contests“
Groveling for affection or money — two things I don’t enjoy doing. Thus, I’ve avoided writing and reading book dedications for years. However, I might change my mind on both fronts: I recently discovered a handful of dedications that are very, very funny.
There’s the writer who is deeply resentful of his family:
To my wife Marganit
and to my children Ella Rose and Daniel Adam
without whom this book would have
been completed two years earlier
There’s the bitter self-published author (poet E.E. Cummings) snidely calling out all the publishers who rejected his manuscript:
NO THANKS TO
Farrar & Rinehart
Simon & Schuster
Smith & Haas
There’s the grudging gratitude of a writer backed into a corner:
For my parents,
who never once to my knowledge tried to kill me.
There’s the author who isn’t about to flatter his readers:
This is not for you.
And there’s the one and only honest writer, who boldly declares what other authors won’t admit:
I didn’t know you were allowed to be funny! I might just include a dedication in my next book after all.