“OK, I’ve let the dissertation rest for a while, and am ready to begin tackling the revisions, but I’m overwhelmed. Where should I start? How do I turn it into a book? And how do I write a proposal for a university press? What advice should I consult on revising my dissertation into a book?”
I’m someone who needs to exhaustively research any process that’s new to me before (and while) I undertake it. So, naturally, when I began revising my dissertation into a book, I sought out as many resources as I could on how to accomplish this feat. Below, I’ve listed those I found most helpful, and categorized them into what I see as the three main phases: preparing your revisions, revising, and getting ready to prepare your proposal. After reading this post, check out what my actual timeline for revising the dissertation into an academic book looked like.
Start with the End in Mind: Know What an Academic Book Proposal for University Presses Consists of
Before you spend any valuable time reviewing and revising your dissertation chapters, I recommend you consult these four resources. First, Rachel Toor’s twoarticles published in the Chronicle of Higher Education give you quick and digestible information about where you’re hoping to end up: with a book (and a proposal) you can pitch to acquisitions editors at University Presses. Then, William Germano’s From Dissertation to Book covers the essentials of what distinguishes “dissertations” from “books,” in terms of style, structure, and content. He walks you through helpful exercises to begin thinking about your book not as a scholarly exercise to prove to your committee that you’ve mastered a certain set of literature, but as an original contribution to scholarship. Finally, I recommend consulting Eric Hayot’s The Elements of Academic Style at this point. In particular, I found his formulation of the “Uneven-U” a practical way to implement Germano’s call to move from sounding like a dissertation to sounding like a book. (See the University of Nevada Reno’s helpful explanation of Hayot Uneven-U concept, and practice applying it to all your writing projects).
Most of the resources I recommend underscore the importance of identifying your audience, distilling the “story” your book will be telling (yes, even for academic books), and thinking critically about how best to structure your book in service of that argument. Now that you’ve begun revising your chapters, you will need to think about the “story” each is telling, and how they all come together or evolve into each other over the course of your book.
To this end, I suggest you read the first three chapters (“Intro” through “Writing the Manuscript”) of William Germano’s Getting it Published, which gives you an overview of what the publishing process will look like, and some tips on how to craft your manuscript. Save the rest of the chapters for later. In the same vein, I also recommend reading chapters 1, 5, 6, and 7 of Rabiner & Fortunato’s Thinking Like Your Editor. While written for a broad nonfiction–and not necessarily academic audience–much of the advice about writing readable prose with narrative tension still holds true for scholarly monographs.
I also recommend you listen to episodes of the New Books Network Podcast along the way. The Podcast has channels in practically every discipline, and interviews experienced and new authors alike. Hearing how other authors described their book’s evolution, stakes, and “story” prompted me to think differently about my own book as I was In the throes of revisions.
Toward the End of Revising your Book Manuscript: Get Serious about the Academic Book Proposal as a Genre
You can see the end of your revisions in sight, and you’re increasingly pleased with how it’s turning out. You’ve discovered that you really do have something to say, and that you are developing your own “voice” as a scholar. As amazing as your revised book will be, you will need to prepare both the book and the proposal to “pitch” it to your potential acquisitions editors–whether in person at a conference or via a formal proposal. The proposal itself is its own genre, and, to do service to the scholarly contribution you’re making in your book, you need to nail the proposal.
I suggest consulting the following resources about three months before you’re ready to begin preparing the proposal, so that you have time to understand the genre before actually writing one. At this stage, you should read chapters 4-6 (“Selecting a Publisher” through “What Editors Look For”) of Germano’s Getting it Published. Then, return to Rachel Toor’s twoarticles and check out Karen Kelsky’s (of The Professor is In) How to Write a Book Proposal.