Are you finally ready to start revising your dissertation into an academic book? Or, are you 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.
What are the best first steps to revising my dissertation into a book?
Getting two quick wins can help you instantly build momentum:
- Revise your book’s working title. Did you know that your editor (and readers) will use your book’s title as a critical data point to instantly assess whether your book could be a good fit for their press? Revising it should take 60–90 minutes and can pay huge dividends, instantly.
- Identify 3 model books. Whenever you write in a new mode, having several examples to deconstruct proves invaluable.
Then, begin the more focused work on your book:
- Complete Chapters 1 and 2 of The Dissertation-to-Book Workbook. These targeted exercises will give you a bird’s-eye view of your book project and help you decide what to do next.
What are the general steps to go from dissertation to book?
Assess Your Book as a Book
First, review your manuscript as the book it will become by working on your book manuscript before working in it. This involves making serious decisions about content, scope, and structure. These decisions will, in turn, help you decide what to cut, what to keep, and how to frame your chapters. The Dissertation-to-Book Workbook walks you through this process, step by step.
Revise Your Manuscript and Build Your Author Profile
While you are revising your manuscript thoroughly (working in your book to conform with the plan you developed while working on your book), you should also engage in activities that will establish you as an authority with the audiences you hope read your book. Attend and give solid papers at targeted conferences.
Press Research and Early Editorial Conversations
Not all publishers acquire books in all disciplines or areas, so as you are working to revise your book, you’ll want to start learning the publishing landscape in your field. First, get a sense of how editors will view your book. Then, review your bookshelf and bibliography to ensure you haven’t missed target presses. Close read press websites to ensure your target presses publish books like yours. Reach out to authors who have recently published books at your target presses and learn valuable information about their timeline and experiences. Finally, open up informal (or formal) conversations with editors about your project.
Prepare and Submit Proposals
As you’re working to revise your manuscript, you will be ready to prepare and submit proposals, whether you choose to do so before the manuscript is done or to wait.
Confused about when you should draft proposals? Here’s what university press acquisitions editors have to say!
Want answers to your real questions about academic book proposals? Here’s my comprehensive post: Academic Book Proposals, Comprehensive FAQ.
Looking for a comprehensive resource to help you write the proposal? Get Laura Portwood-Stacer’s The Book Proposal Book.
Manuscript Submission, Peer Reviews, Author Response & Contract
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). You will navigate the emotional roller coaster of receiving the peer review reports 3–6 months later. If reviews are favorable, the press will ask you to respond formally in writing, discussing how you will revise the manuscript to address reviewers’ comments.
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. Learn what you can (and should) negotiate in your academic book contract.
Final Manuscript Preparation & Delivery
Next, you will revise and submit the manuscript (and any permissions for copyrighted materials) to the press. If you hope to include images in your book, work on obtaining copyright permissions and high-resolution scans early!
Book Production & Publication
Once you submit the final manuscript, 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.
Consensus among editors at top presses put the time between delivery of the final manuscript and a book in hand at about 8–10 months (can range from 6–18 months).
How long will it take to go from dissertation to book?
The answer depends on many factors, only some of which you can control.
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. See my complete dissertation-to-book timeline.
As Dr. Jane Jones, book coach, developmental editor, and founder of Up In Consulting helpfully reminds us, “a writing project takes the time you give it.” Learn the factors she recommends you consider when developing your own book’s timeline.
If my department requires “a book” for tenure, when should I submit proposals?
The answer depends on your institution, department, press, and project.
First, you need to clarify exactly what your department means by “a book”. A published book you can hold in your hand? A book “in press” (i.e. you have received proofs)? A book contract based on a proposal alone? A full book contract based on peer review?
These are all very different things and can refer to points up to 2 years apart!
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). You should sit down with your chair and/or mentors and reverse engineer the timeline that gets you to your specific requirements. This is also something you can ask editors about when you talk at conferences.
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.
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, the logic undergirding your chapters (what I call your book’s “organizing principle”) needs to make sense for your book. For instance, if each of your dissertation chapters focused on one novel, you have a novel-centric organizing principle. If each focused on a different moment, you have a chronological organizing principle.
Your organizing principle best supports (and even implies) certain book-level claims. For instance, a chronological organizing principle implies that your book is interested in tracking change over time. So, you should not keep your dissertation’s organizing principle just because it’s easy. On the other hand, don’t completely abandon your dissertation’s structure just because doing so seems the most obvious way to make your book seem different.
For more on how to see whether your organizing principle works for your book, see Chapter 2 (“Reviewing Your Book’s Organizing Principle”) of The Dissertation-to-Book Workbook.
Worried that a “simple” structure will make your book a “case study” book? Here’s what Allison has to say about that!
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 an explanation of how to find your book voice, see Chapter 16 (“Citing with Confidence”) of The Dissertation-to-Book Workbook.
It’s also helpful to deconstruct model books: use the exercises I developed for analyzing your model book to learn how to balance your voice with others’ in your first book. For more on the specific criteria that define dissertation and book style, see Germano’s Chapter 8.
There are definitely spots of analysis that did not significantly change between my dissertation and my book. That said, I still thoroughly revised the prose of the entire manuscript multiple times.
How much material can (or should) I publish as articles before I publish my book?
You might have heard that you should publish articles based on book material, but also that publishing too much can risk your book’s chances with university presses. Both are true.
You should seek to 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 helps you develop your “author profile,” allows you to generate interest in your book’s topic, and also gives you valuable feedback (from peer reviewers) on your scholarship.
Most presses suggest that no more than 33% of your book manuscript be pre-published. However, some presses have stricter limits–as low as 10%!
Learn more about what not to do and other factors to consider when selecting material, outlets, and timing of your journal articles, see my comprehensive post on pre-publishing material from your book and working with pre-published material in your book.
When should I approach presses about my book or submit proposals?
When I was working on my first book, mentors highly discouraged me from submitting proposals before the entire manuscript was done. Additionally, because I conflated talking to editors with “pitching” my project and I assumed that a problematic pitch would forever foreclose my chances at my target presses (hint: neither is true!), I avoided talking to publishers early. I also used to give authors the same advice I was given on these fronts. However, my thinking has changed.
Talking with editors at a conference is not the same thing as “pitching” your book. Instead, conversations vary widely in formality and stakes. Earlier-stage conversations give authors a chance to get on an editor’s radar, ensure that their project would be a good fit for that press, and learn more about what publication with that press would entail. Later-stage conversations (close to a proposal) will likely be more formal.
Here’s what university press editors say!
My more comprehensive post on talking to editors about your book at a conference goes into more depth about why talking to editors is a good idea, how to reach out to them, and what to prepare.
Similarly, there is no one universally right time to submit academic book proposals. Instead, when you submit your book proposal will depend on your target press, your timeline, and other project-specific factors. I help you understand the advantages and disadvantages to submitting your proposal early and to waiting and strategize when to submit your academic book proposal in my in-depth post: “When Should You Submit Your Academic Book Proposal?“