Authors and readers alike will comprehend, the parts of a book generally referred to as front and back matter are where details not specific to the story or content are included. Dedications and acknowledgements come into that category. Several of the other elements have been previously discussed, a list may be found at the end of this article.
Prior to looking into dedications and acknowledgments, the question must arise whether it is mandatory to include either in a book. The indisputable answer is NO. Nevertheless, when appropriate, they do serve a purpose.
A dedication is a means by which an author may publicly bestow: honour, affection, respect, or praise upon someone. Though it may be occasionally directed toward a group, in the majority of instances it is just one person who is mentioned. Care should be taken not to mix these up with acknowledgements, which are discussed later.
The target of a dedication may be anyone: relative; friend; supporter; inspirer; muse; etc. Muse is not a term heard often in modern society nevertheless, it bears a mention. A muse is defined as:
‘A person, or an imaginary being or force that gives someone ideas and helps them to write, paint, or make music.’ (Cambridge Dictionary)
‘A guiding genius.’ (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
‘A person or personalised force who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist.’ (Oxford English Dictionary)
As may be seen, a muse tends to be very personal and therefore usually merits being the subject of a dedication.
There is no specific format for a dedication. The majority tend to be short and direct, either simply naming a person or naming them with a brief explanation of why the author values them. However, there are examples of lengthier ones where the author wishes to highlight various factors that make the person, or persons, special to them. In essence, a dedication is a personal note from the author to the one being honoured. In a few instances they take more the shape of a short letter than a concise statement of appreciation but these are rare and need to be carefully thought out. Prior to writing any dedication, the author needs to sit down and think through exactly why they wish to dedicate their book to the specific person or group (e.g. a non-fiction book may be dedicated to the category of readers it has been written for).
A very important point to note, whatever is written WILL BE PUBLIC. Not only to the book reader but also to anyone who utilises the ‘Look inside’ option some retailers offer. Consequently, it is wise to omit anything too personal or detailed. Regrettably, there are some very unkind, not to mention criminally inclined, people in the world. There is also the aspect of ensuring the dedication makes sense to all who encounter it. A simple, short naming with perhaps a one sentence expansion should be clear enough. However, if the author feels it necessary to go further, they need to view it from the reader’s perspective. Will it make sense to them? Will it tie into the book’s content? Admittedly many readers skip front matter nevertheless, there are those who do not.
A question that sometimes arises is whether to commence a dedication with ‘To’ or ‘For’. The truth is, it does not really matter. It is essentially the author’s personal preference. Nonetheless, some suggest: ‘To’, when specifically thanking someone or formatting it as if they writing to the individual. ‘For’, when seeking to honour someone or framing it as a précis about the person. But, as said, it is the author’s choice. Naturally, if the dedication is in memorial it will usually commence ‘In memory of’ or something similar.
‘Recognition or favourable notice of an act or achievement.’ (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
Acknowledgements are the means for an author to publicly recognise, thank, and give credit to, those who have helped or participated in the creation of their book. For example, though not exclusively:
- an editor;
- a proofreader;
- a cover designer;
- an illustrator;
- a formatter;
- a supporter;
It is immaterial whether these are personal or professional acquaintances. If they have contributed in a meaningful way then, in this writer’s opinion, they deserve to be recognised. However, there are mixed opinions as to how extensive such a list should be. Some consider only the primary contributors should be named, others that all who have supported the author must be included. The author must choose but it is suggested they take care not to diminish the value of any contributor through neglect. It is possible to simply name the contributor without any explanation but most agree at least a short comment should be included clarifying how the person contributed. Of course, it may be the author, especially if they are an independent one, has undertaken all the tasks alone resulting in there being no one else to thank.
A point worth drawing out is, an acknowledgement is about the person named, not the author. This is not the place for an author to blow their-own-trumpet or to self-promote in any manner. There is also the issue of sincerity. When writing the list of who to publicly credit, authors need to think through why they want to thank the person. What is it they have contributed? What made their input valuable? This will be the time to decide whether to include someone they may not have got on with or with whom they have disputed. For example: there can frequently be disagreement between the author and an editor; or the author does not consider an illustrator has provided the quality of work they anticipated. In these circumstances there are varied options:
- Omit reference to the person all together. However, if the author has utilised any of the person’s input, it would be unjust not to give them some credit.
- Simply name the person, preferably with a clarifying tag e.g. xxxxx xxxxx, editor or xxxxx xxxxx, illustrator. The tag helps readers comprehend why the person has been named.
- Name the person with a brief statement relative to any points the author feels positive about. Whether liked or not, or got on with or not, everyone deserves to have their input acknowledged.
As always it is the author’s choice whether to give credit but they should think about it the other way round: They appreciate it when a reader leaves a review and thereby acknowledges the work and effort they put into their book.
There are varied considerations regarding length. Some state it should be limited to one page, others it is immaterial as long as all are mentioned. It is the author’s choice again. Traditionally, acknowledgments where incorporated with the front matter of a book however, with the advent of digital reading and ‘look inside’ features, most suggest it is now best for them to be added to the book’s back matter.
A further important point: as with dedications, acknowledgments are public. The matter of privacy must be accounted for. If there are concerns about expanding upon a person’s contribution, the author may simply follow the procedure mentioned earlier, that of just naming the person with a tag or concise statement as to what constituted their input.
Dedications and acknowledgments provide an avenue for authors to publicly show affection or appreciation and to give credit to those who have helped or supported them. These are however optional, there are no hard and fast rules demanding inclusion.
Where incorporated, authors must ensure what they say is clear, honest, and relevant. When they expand upon a point privacy must be to the forefront of their thoughts. What is written will be publicly accessible.
Occasionally confusion arises as to what constitutes a dedication and what an acknowledgment. For example, an author may wish to dedicate the book to their spouse, partner, or children but also wishes to dedicate it to a relative no longer living. In this instance it would probably be best to dedicate to the relative and name their spouse etc. in the acknowledgments with an explanation (e.g. thank them for their patience and tolerance, etc.).
As mentioned earlier, several elements which may constitute a book’s front and back matter have been previously considered. This is a list of those. (Click on the topic title to access the information.)