Surprisingly, there exist few concrete timelines you can consult to get a sense of how long it takes to turn a dissertation into a book. In this post, I offer my own timeline for revising my dissertation into a book as an example of how one specific academic book went from dissertation to published.
Most of the resources I recommend you consult in planning and revising your dissertation into an academic book only give vague ideas about the phases involved in revising, pitching, and publishing. Since there are many factors (like teaching load, service responsibilities, family, and press speed) beyond your control that will affect your project’s timeline, I offer my timeline as just one of many possible models.
This post is divided into three main parts: information contextualizing my revisions, my timeline, and some takeaways. Feel free to ask any questions or share your own experiences in the comments section.
What My Dissertation to Book Revisions Entailed
As stated above, my timeline for revising the dissertation into a book will not work for everyone. Though my argument and much of the prose significantly changed from dissertation to book, the overall structure and arc did not. This coherence between dissertation and monograph significantly reduced the revision time. Later, I will be offering a more in-depth post about how much the material changed, but here is my subjective approximation of the correspondence between the dissertation and the book:
Introduction: Completely new with the book, including a new central object of analysis
Chapter 1: Half completely new material/objects studied
Chapter 2: No new objects; about 75% similar prose. Probably the most similar chapter of all to the dissertation
Chapter 3: No new objects, but significantly different prose; the only chapter I published as an article before the book, so this was the first chapter I revised
Chapter 4: Minor changes in objects; about 65% similar prose
Chapter 5: Completely new
Conclusion: No new objects, but significantly revised prose
My Timeline for Revising the Dissertation into an Academic Book (2013-16)
This section gives you more concrete information about my academic book revision and publication chronology and timeline. Note: this does not account for my other research projects such as journal articles, conference publications, etc. Some helpful contextualizing information: 1) I did not have children; 2) I was teaching a 3-3 (but not summers), with a mixture of language and literature/culture courses; 3) I had no junior research leave/sabbatical; 4) My service load was moderate throughout; 5) I had an effective commute of 10 minutes each way per day. (See a unique tip I have for scholars who want to make a long car commute more productive). I have divided the timeline up into three broad phases, and have marked the timeline in relation to two major moments: when I submitted the proposal and when I received my contract.
From Dissertation to Academic Book Proposal Submission (18 active months; from August 2013-Feburary 2015)
This phase is the one over which you have the most control. You are actively revising your dissertation into the book manuscript it will become.
- March 2013 (23 months before proposal submission): I submitted an abstract for an MLA conference presentation which ultimately became the only completely new chapter of my book (Chapter 5). I don’t think any of the resources, particularly Germano, recommend this. In fact, Germano actively encourages you to put your dissertation away for a year or so… I obviously went a different route.
- June 2013 (20 months before I submitted the proposal): I submitted my dissertation (UCLA does not have defenses) of 4 chapters plus an intro and conclusion and graduated with a Ph.D.
- Summer 2013: I read as much as I could on the dissertation-to-book process and how junior faculty establish their research agenda. I recommend Boice’s Professors as Writers, Jensen’s Write no Matter What, and Silva’s How to Write a Lot.
- Fall semester 2013 (17 months before submitting the proposal, first semester on the tenure track): I read books on book publishing to get an idea of where I would be headed, and concentrated on revising the one chapter I intend to publish as an article (more advice on how much to publish as articles soon). I began drafting the book’s completely new chapter for presentation at the MLA in January 2014. The single best thing I did throughout the whole timeline happened here: I set up an Excel spreadsheet in which I set small, daily and weekly writing tasks, tracked my writing sessions. See what I discovered about how to write more effectively by using weekly and daily academic writing goals. I established one local writing group at my university, and checked in weekly with another writing partner out of state. [Status: one of four dissertation chapters under revisions; one of two new chapters being drafted]
- January 2014 (13 months before academic book proposal submission): I presented a conference-length version of what would ultimately become my fifth chapter at the MLA–the only chapter of entirely new material in the book. [Status: 1 of 4 original chapters close to revised; 0.5 of 2 entirely new chapters drafted.]
- February 2014 (12 months to proposal): I submitted an article based on my third chapter to Research in African Literatures. This is the only article I published from the book. I also submitted a fellowship application for a UCA Faculty Summer Stipend to support research to expand the book’s first chapter. [Status: one of four dissertation chapters revised; one of two new chapters drafted]
- March 2014 (11 months to proposal): I drafted a practice proposal. While I had no intent to actually submit the proposal at this point, I was looking to return to a more “macro” view of the project as a whole and to try to develop my “book” style as opposed to the “dissertation” style Germano speaks about. (See the excerpts the University of Chicago Press considers most relevant). [Status: one of four dissertation chapters revised; one of two new chapters drafted]
- June 2014 (8 months to proposal): This is the month where the most intense book revisions began. I conducted research in Paris thanks to a UCA Faculty Summer Stipend. I devoted most of my attention to identifying new source material to analyze in my first chapter. I also significantly revised the second and fourth chapters, and sent the fifth to a trusted mentor for feedback. [Status: one dissertation chapter revised (3); one new chapter revised (5); two dissertation chapters under significant revisions (2, 4) and dissertation chapter being reconceived (1).]
- July & August 2014 (7-6 months to propsoal): I spent most of this time drafting the new chapter 1 to incorporate the analyses of the new objects I had identified. [Status: three chapters (2, 3, 5)–two from the dissertation and one new–mostly finalized; two (1, 4) being actively revised.]
- Fall semester 2014 (5-3 months to proposal): My main foci became drafting the book’s introduction and proposal. This was, for all intents and purposes, my own “T minus 3 months to proposal” point. I found these resources most helpful in revising the dissertation into the book during this stage. I solicited feedback from writing groups and mentors. [Status: all five body chapters–four from the dissertation and one new–mostly finalized; actively drafting the intro, conclusion, and proposal.]
- February 26, 2015 (proposal submission): I emailed my proposal to Liverpool University Press (LUP)–one of my top two choices–that night.
- February 27, 2014 (proposal submission + 1 day): LUP’s acquisitions editor emailed me back to say that he would run the proposal by the series editor, but wanted the full manuscript in the meantime. (See how he responded and how I wish I had crafted my title before submitting the proposal). Because you can submit proposals, but not full manuscripts, to multiple presses, I did not end up sending the proposal to any other presses. You will likely find mixed advice on my decision to commit (for all intents and purposes) to the first press that expressed interest, but since LUP was always one of my top two choices, I was happy to go with them. I do not regret my decision in the least. [Takeaway point for readers: YES! You need to have the full manuscript at the ready when you submit proposals. This speed between submitting the proposal and receiving a request for the full manuscript (1 day!) is not typical for all presses, but from what I’ve read and experienced, when editors get excited about projects, they want to move quickly. You do not want them to lose their enthusiasm.]
From initial academic book manuscript submission to final manuscript submission (6 months)
This is the phase over which you have relatively little control; much depends on the speed of the reviewers the press has selected and the timing of your press’s editorial board meetings (where your editor will present your proposal, manuscript, the readers’ reports, and your response). The time it will take you to revise the manuscript in response to the readers’ reports will also depend on the nature of the readers’ comments (do they suggest minor, content-level revisions, or major structural or conceptual revisions?).
- March 8, 2015 (proposal + 1 week): I submitted the full manuscript to LUP.
- 2.5 months after manuscript submission: I received the manuscript’s reviews, mostly positive, and was asked to respond to them in writing. (More on this process in a later post). [Note to readers: this turnaround time, from what I have read and heard, is atypically fast.]
- 3 weeks after reviews: I submitted my response letter. In it, I proposed to deliver the revised manuscript by the end of September, 2016. The whole package the had to go before the press board.
- 1 month after response letter: I received my book contract and began the manuscript revisions I had outlined in my response letter. I asked for two additional weeks for revisions at this point.
- October 11, 2015 (reviews + 4 months): I submitted digital and hard copies of the revised manuscript to my editor. He asked me to begin working on LUP’s standard forms for publicizing the book on websites, etc. The forms asked for book abstracts of various lengths, chapter descriptions, keywords, and the like. [Note to readers: This confirms what Rachel Toor says about needing to think about the marketing process throughout writing the book. You will, indeed, complete these forms when your book is “in production.”]
From Academic Book “in production” to “in print” (9 months)
During this phase, you will primarily be working with the press’s production team to review the proofs and complete other marketing and promotion tasks. Experientially, it felt much less intense than the previous two phases to me, since in many ways the book was mostly “set” when I submitted the final revised manuscript in October 2015.
- Early November, 2015 (3 weeks after final manuscript submission): My editor requested that I submit some possibilities for the book’s cover art, a step I was not expecting. I identified several possibilities and vetted them with trusted mentors, before submitting the finalists to my editor. After we agreed on the image, he submitted it to the press’s design team for formatting. Over the coming weeks, we discussed font style, placement, and color, etc. [Note to readers: This was not something I remembered being discussed in any of the resources I consulted on the publishing process. So, you might consider looking for several non-copyrighted images that would work well for your book’s cover as a “productive procrastination” activity as you are revising your manuscript.]
- March 2016 (5 months after final manuscript submission): I received the manuscript’s first proofs, which included copyeditors’ queries, to which I needed to respond in my revisions.
- April 2016 (6 months after final manuscript submission): I submitted my changes to the proofs and responses to copyeditors’ queries in mid-April, and begin working on the index, which I submitted in late April.
- May 2016 (7 months after final manuscript submission): I received the final proofs (including the index), and submitted minor corrections. Because the book was typeset, these changes could not disrupt the pagination. The press made the changes, and sent me the final proofs to sign off on.
- July 2016 (9 months after final manuscript submission): The book was published and I received my author copies in the mail.
I would like to note that the book becoming a physical object in the world is not the “end” of your time with it. You will continue to do book-related tasks (especially promotional efforts, talks, podcasts, etc.) over the coming years. So, in some ways, the book is never complete…
Some Takeaways about Academic Book Publishing, in no particular order
- In looking back on this timeline, I am shocked that I did practically the opposite of what Germano recommends in From Dissertation to Book. I started setting myself up for ways to expand the dissertation into a book even before I submitted the dissertation. I did not really let the dissertation “rest” for long; however, I had identified a number of new objects to analyze (which became parts of my Introduction, Chapter 1, Chapter 4, and Chapter 5), which made the project feel fresh and exciting. I never really went through the phases of disgust or burnout with the project. However, I get the impression that I am the outlier here. I hope this timeline can be useful regardless of how much time you take between submitting the dissertation and beginning your revisions.
- I was fortunate that the press I had selected as the best outlet for my work also happened to work extremely expeditiously at every juncture. I still believe that press prestige/reputation and quality of books produced in the fields in which you are hoping to intervene should be the primary motivating factor for your press choice; however, if you are up against a definite and looming deadline (such as needing the book for tenure), press speed might be an important factor to consider. If you are curious about how to select an appropriate press, check out my four-part series on the topic.
- Even though I had read many books on academic and trade press book publishing, I was still caught off guard by for the need to respond in writing to readers’ reports (May-June 2015) and by the need to find my own cover art (November 2015). I will be writing a post on the reader report response step in the near future, since few other resources discuss this important step from the author’s perspective.
- I will say it again: YES! First time monograph authors need to have the entire manuscript completley ready to send to presses when you submit your proposal.
What questions do you have about the overall book publishing process, or how long it will take? Ask in the comments below, or by email.
*Many thanks to George MacLeod, who offered formative comments on an earlier version of this post.
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