Monday, August 16, 2010


Here's a question Vanity Fair proposes-- is it weird that Jonathan Franzen supposedly dedicated his upcoming book to his agent and editor?

I actually saw that in another recent book, and thought it was... weird.

Let's distinguish between dedications and acknowledgments. They both usually come at the front of the book, after the copyright page but before Chapter 1. Sometimes the acknowledgment page is at the end of the book. The writer uses the acknowledgment page to thank those who have helped in some way-- maybe a firefighter who gave advice on arson, and the town clerk who provided so much research on the town, and the critique group who read through every draft. This is where writers usually acknowledge the editor and agent, often in fairly fulsome terms. "Thanks to my wonderful agent Anne Agent, who took a chance on an unknown and bolstered my spirits at every stage... to my brilliant editor Edward Editor, who with tact and talent turned this pumpkin into a Cinderella!" This is also where writers mention their families if they dedicated the book to someone else. (Children are usually thanked for not complaining about being neglected. :)

So the acknowledgments generally show gratitude for help, usually for the specific time of writing the book. They're usually more professional than personal in tone. The dedication, however, is usually a personal shout-out to someone who has had a profound effect on the writer's life-- her parents, or his wife, or a beloved teacher, or a best friend. Some heartbreaking ones include the death date-- an "in memoriam." Some dedications are more didactic-- Toni Morrison dedicated a book to "the 60 million" (Africans who died in the "Middle Passage" into slavery). But dedications are often a glimpse into the deepest values of the writer, and who inspired the book or helped create the person who wrote it.

Anyway, I have to say, a dedication to an editor and/or agent seems odd to me. They might have sold/bought the book, but did they inspire it? Did they help the writer become the person who wrote it? Probably not. But the writer must have felt a sense of gratitude beyond the professional?

So... who are you going to dedicate the next book too?
And are there people you'll acknowledge in the acknowledgment page?


Phyllis said...

At least it's not his first novel. (I've seen a first novel dedicated to the agent, and that was weird.) I can imagine dedicating a novel to an agent or editor if I had a long, good, and friend-like relationship with them.

Though I still found it a little weird that Frantzen apparently dedicated the novel to both. That doesn't sound like it's coming from the heart, it sounds like a business move: Gotta keep good relations with the people who work with me. Let's dedicate a novel to them, that should shut them up.

Shalanna said...

Another vote here for "kissing up." Kind of disheartening, as it used to be that most of the time writers were rebels, had too much honesty, and were nonconformists. Now it's "cool" to get a book pubbed, so now all the cool kids are doing it (or trying to), and everyone's kissing up and being the same. He looked odd on the cover of that dumb magazine, too, IMHO. But then everything looks funny on that cover, to me.

ANYway, I've always felt that most dedications were kind of embarrassing to read. I think the clever ones are the ambiguous and the cryptic. "To you-know-who for you-know-what, and you know why," is the one my best friend in high school recommended, and I still like it. Never had the chance to use it.

elfarmy17 said...

While it's not official since I'm still at the querying stage, I plan on dedicating my novel to a teacher I had last year, and Anti-Dedicating it to a friend of mine (it's a joke. We discussed it in writing club last week.) He's the one that had the plot ideas for the last half of the book, and eliminated some very bad stuff from it. My best critiquer, although I love all of them in the club.

Edittorrent said...

Shalanna, that would be good because everyone will think then it's dedicated to them!

Denny S. Bryce said...

Not exactly in a book, but at the July RWA Conference gala on Saturday night, I was surprised that so many winners went on and on about their agent and/or editor. For me, it did come off as 'kissing up' or at least too inside the industry. Like an actor winning an Oscar and giving credit for his performance to his publicist and agent. It surprised me.

Now, when I get published, if the opportunity arises, mmm...Acknowledgments, not problem. But I have no idea who I would dedicate the book to...or maybe I do, and just don't want to say:)...might jinx it (lol)!

Wes said...

Dedication is easy. To my father who taught me time-travel by reading Pliny, Caesar, and early American authors to me. Dedication.......I won't mention it now because Murphy will accuse me of sucking up again.

Wes said...

Ooops. Make it Acknowledgements .......I won't mention it now because Murphy will accuse me of sucking up again.

Evangeline Holland said...

I didn't know acknowledging one's agent and editor was an odd thing to do! I've read so many romance novels that do so (in fact, just picked up one right now, where the author thanks their editor and agent before they thank their author friends and their family). But many romance authors whose blogs I follow freely admit their agents and editors take a hand in the formation of their novel from finished draft to published book, so I see it as tipping their hats to business associates.

Jami Gold said...

I agree on the difference between Dedications (your inspiration for book or for being who you are) and Acknowledgments (thank yous), so it seems like agents and editors would belong on the Acknowledgments page.

However, I could see a situation where after several books, the author would dedicate a book to them if it was exceedingly risky (maybe striking out in a new genre that had the potential to damage the original career path, etc.) - and they championed it anyway. In that case, it would be along the same lines of "To so-and-so for believing in me" that many Dedications follow.

Denny, Are the RWA awards not supposed to be like the Oscars in that respect? This was my first RWA conference, so I didn't find that behavior odd, but maybe it's just because I didn't know any better. :)

Julie Harrington said...

I'd dedicate my first book to my mom. She's been the driving force behind everything I do and has never, ever doubted me even when I doubted myself. She's my best friend.

I'd have to acknowledge my friends who have been uber patient and supportive over the year and put up with me asking them "What If..." writing questions, polling their husbands, and offering critiques. I'd definitely have to thank a writer who has mentored me over the last few years and always been just an email away. The editor, of course, because there's bound to be rewrites and explaining things.


Deb Salisbury, Magic Seeker and Mantua-Maker said...

I dedicated my non-fiction to my mom and my publisher. Can't call her an editor - she didn't edit. At all. (Just a micro-publisher, really. No advance, minimal marketing.) It didn't even occur to me to look for an agent for a glossary of color.

But I was thrilled to see my name in print. :-)

Riley Murphy said...

To me? Dedications are personal.
Acknowledgments are business.

@Wes: Gee, ya nervous? Or, is that perhaps your guilt typing? hehehe ;)

Murphy :)

Edittorrent said...

Evangeline, acknowledging editors and agents is pretty common, but dedicating a book to them is unusual. I do remember that Ally Sheedy wrote a book and her mother (a lit agent) sold it, so I bet she dedicated it to her. :)

I wonder if anyone ever dedicated books to "my readers, who are discerning, thoughtful, and tasteful, and above all, numerous".