Finally ready to start revising your dissertation into an academic book? Or, still working on your dissertation, but wondering what the book process ahead looks like? In this comprehensive guide, I answer all your questions about how to go from dissertation to book.
How should I start revising my dissertation into a book?
Revising a dissertation into a book takes years, during which time you must sustain momentum and enthusiasm.
Revising a dissertation into a book also happens alongside new and changing job and life responsibilities (starting the tenure-track or continuing job searches, buying and owning a home, starting a family, etc.).
So, the best thing you can do to start has both nothing and everything to do with the book: laying the productivity foundation for a successful book.
What made the biggest difference for me was:
- starting an in-person writing group and long-distance writing partnership
- tracking my weekly and daily writing goals
- using a container routine
- writing every day
- conducting a weekly writing review
In terms of content, I recommend you start by working ON your book (instead of spinning your wheels working IN it).
Will publishers reject my book if my dissertation was published on ProQuest?
I, too, was extremely concerned about this issue. So, I embargoed my dissertation for the maximum amount of time my university allowed. But, it was available by the time my book came out.
However, the fact that my dissertation was on ProQuest was never something my publisher mentioned and was not an issue for my book at any point in the process.
What are the general steps to go from dissertation to book?
First, you should review your manuscript as the book it will become. Then, I recommend working ON your book manuscript before working IN it. This involves making serious decisions about content, scope, and structure.
After revising your manuscript thoroughly, you will be ready to prepare and submit proposals. (See my comprehensive post Academic Book Proposals: All Your Questions, Answered for more on this topic).
If a university press is interested in your book, they will request the full manuscript and send it to 2+ peer reviewers (usually in 1-2 rounds). If they are still interested, they will ask you to respond formally in writing, discussing how you will revise the manuscript. The editor will then present the whole package (proposal, manuscript, reviews, author response) to the editorial board. If successful, you will be issued a contract.
Next, you will revise and submit the manuscript (and any permissions for copyrighted materials) to the press. (It might need to go back to peer review here, depending on the press and reviews).
Then, it will go into production. You might have to help the press identify cover images. You will receive and review proofs, respond to queries, and suggest changes. Once the manuscript is in its final form, you will have to complete the index (in a relatively short time) or hire someone to compile it. Generally, you will fill out author marketing forms at this point, before finally receiving your author copies in the mail.
(Don’t forget that the project does not stop there! See what I recommend you do to publicize your book throughout the process.)
For more, consult my comprehensive guide on the stages between dissertation and book. It tells you how to make the best use of your limited time and energy in each stage.
How long will it take to go from dissertation to book? Or, what are reasonable amounts of time to spend revising each chapter?
The answer depends on many factors, only some of which you can control. They include:
- commute time
- teaching load (number and type of preps)
- caregiver status
- whether you have junior research leave
- service load
- press speed
- when you start revising
I can only speak concretely about how long my own dissertation to book journey took: 3 full academic years from dissertation to book in hand.
If a book is required for tenure, when should I submit proposals?
The answer depends on your institution, department, and academic press.
First, you need to clarify exactly what is required for tenure. A published book you can hold in your hand? A book “in press” (i.e. you have received proofs)? A book contract?
These are all very different things.
Remember, too, that at most research-intensive institutions, your dossier will actually be submitted to external reviewers the summer after your 5th year (on a 6-year tenure clock). So, if you need a book out (in hand) by that point (end of year 5), then you probably need to submit proposals in year 3, at the latest. Depending on press speed and whether your manuscript is accepted, however, even this might not be enough time.
Is it OK that my book’s structure is similar to my dissertation’s?
Most dissertation to book authors get overly hung up on the potential correspondence between dissertation and book.
When you revise your dissertation into a book, your structure needs to make sense for your book. Don’t keep a structure from dissertation to book just because it’s easy. On the other hand, don’t completely abandon your dissertation’s structure just to make your book look completely different.
My overarching structure did not change much between dissertation and book. However, that’s the structure that made the most sense for my argument.
How much new material do I need to add between dissertation and book?
As much as makes sense for your book project. Again, don’t just add material to make it different. Don’t keep it exactly the same to make it easy.
My book’s body was about 40% new material. I added one completely new chapter (chapter 5, my favorite), and chopped two others in half, replacing those pieces with completely new material. My introduction and conclusion were completely new.
What if my prose doesn’t change much from dissertation to book?
Again, this is not a problem per se. But most dissertations are written for a different purpose than a scholarly book. Consequently, they usually lack a clear “voice.” For more on the specific criteria that define dissertation and book style see Germano's chapter 8 (Germano's chapter 8).
How much material can (or should) I publish as articles before I publish my book?
This might surprise dissertation to book authors.
You should publish 1-2 key articles based on your manuscript in top journals read by your book’s audience before you submit your proposal.
Doing so actually helps you develop your “author platform.” In your book proposal, you will usually have to discuss your credentials (i.e. why are are you the one to write this book?). Having received a Ph.D. in the discipline, presented the material at top conferences, and published on the topics in top journals all testify to your reputation in the field(s).
That said, there is a limit to how much you can/should pre-publish. A good guideline is no more than 2 articles.
Before submitting my proposal, I had published one article.
When should I approach presses about my book or submit proposals?
Every single senior colleague I asked in my field said I should not prepare or submit my book proposal until my entire book manuscript was ready to go straight to peer reviewers.
I explain why I, too, recommend this approach in
- Academic Book Proposals: All Your Questions, Answered
- When Should You Submit your Academic Book Proposal?
- Should You Pitch your Academic Book to an Acquisitions Editor at a Conference? What to Consider.
How long will it take between when I submit proposals to when I receive the final book?
According to Lorri Hagman, executive editor at the University of Washington Press, you can expect this period to last two or more years at university presses. The review process can take “up to a year” and then the editing process “can easily take a year and a half.”
How long this phase takes depends on many factors, including whether your proposal and/or manuscript has to go through multiple rounds of peer review and how many sets of proofs your book goes through.
Have other dissertation to book questions not answered above? Or, want to share your own dissertation to book experience with me? Reach out by email! I’d love to hear from you!
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