So, you’ve written a dissertation. Congratulations! But how to turn it into a book? This workbook.

The Dissertation-to-Book Workbook uses targeted exercises and prompts to take the guesswork out of writing a book. You’ll clarify your book’s core priorities, pinpoint your organizing principle, polish your narrative arc, evaluate your evidence, and much more. Using what this workbook calls “book questions and chapter answers,” you’ll figure out how to thread your book’s main ideas through its chapters. Then, you’ll assemble an argument, and finally, you’ll draft any remaining material and revise the manuscript. And most important, by the time you complete the workbook, you’ll have confidence that your book works as a book—that it’s a cohesive, focused manuscript that tells the story you want to tell.
Indispensible to anyone with an academic manuscript in progress, the prompts, examples, checklists, and activities will give you confidence about all aspects of your project—that it is structurally sound, coherent, free of the hallmarks of “dissertationese,” and ready for submission to an academic publisher.

Field Tested on More than 200 Humanities and Social Science Books!

We’re Katelyn and Allison, and we have years of experience helping scholars navigate the messy process of writing books. We met in graduate school and became friends and writing partners. Katelyn is an associate professor of French at the University of Central Arkansas, and Allison is a developmental editor who works with academic clients. Based on her experience of writing and publishing her first book with Liverpool University Press, Katelyn created an online curriculum for first-time book authors—what she wished had existed when she was going through the process—and brought Allison on board to help run it as a summer workshop conducted over Zoom.

In the workshop’s subsequent iterations, we tested the core exercises with hundreds of projects, brought to us by authors from all kinds of situations and with a wide variety of challenges. Based on what we learned, we repeatedly revised the curriculum. The result is this workbook. Our careful development process means that this curriculum works for most humanities and qualitative social sciences book projects, regardless of the field, discipline, or author profile. Because we’ve taken so many authors through this curriculum, we’re confident that it’s systematic enough to help you produce a strong, cohesive book project, regardless of what shape your manuscript is in or how well equipped you feel to tackle it. Alums of our workshops have called this process “hugely clarifying.” They often find they can produce a book proposal with ease and can immediately see what to cut and what to keep in their chapters.

But don’t just take it from us! Here’s what some alums and reviewers have had to say:

Testimonials & Reviews

The Dissertation-to-Book Workbook not only succeeds but excels in guiding scholars through this process of revision. This pragmatic workbook walks an author through clear steps to identify the organizing principle of the book, write and revise the book’s central claims, and then ensure that the chapters actually function well together before the author sends the book to a press. Since scholars often only have one opportunity to convince a press to publish their book, working through this process before sending to editors is crucial–and this is an essential guide.

– Rebecca K. Marchiel, University of Mississippi

Based on their years of helping academics revise their dissertations into books, Knox and Van Deventer have distilled their incredible depth of knowledge into a beautifully thought-out book that takes you step by step through the process of revising your dissertation. Too many writing books give vague advice without any practical guidance. This is not that book. From advice on crafting your book’s arc and organizing principle to drafting your book questions and producing chapter answers, this book takes all the guessing out of one of the most stressful tasks academics face. This is the best book I have seen on the topic.

-Wendy Belcher, author of Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks

Before completing these exercises, I did not feel very confident about my book project. I intuitively sensed that it continued to be a collection of thematically-connected but disparate chapters that didn’t quite come together into one bigger, coherent whole. And I had a hard time truly articulating how the book was different from the dissertation on which it was based. Each time I uttered the phrase “my book project,” I felt like I was bluffing.

All of this changed after I finished the workbook exercises.

After completing the workbook exercises, I was able to draft and submit a book proposal to an academic press within a month (more like three weeks), and it has now been sent out for peer review. Suffice it to say that I had been spinning my wheels doing furtive work on “turning the diss into a book” without much forward momentum for much, much longer than a month.

– Literary/Cultural Studies Scholar

Workbook Press & Podcast Interviews

Table of Contents

The Dissertation-to-Book Workbook FAQ

How much of my book needs to be done for this workbook to be useful?
We’ve found that the exercises are most effective if you have draft material corresponding to about 50 percent of your future book, excluding your introduction and conclusion. That is, these exercises work best when you already have some writing, not when you merely have an idea for a book. But we are very generous with what we mean by “material”–we count conference papers, dissertation chapters, seminar papers, drafty writing, and even notes. Your writing does not need to be wholly usable or polished; it just needs to represent some of the ideas you will explore in the book.
What if I'm writing a completely new first book, not based in a dissertation?
This workbook is designed for scholars in the humanities and qualitative social sciences who have monograph manuscripts already in progress. We wrote it with dissertation-to-book authors in mind because authors at this stage face the uniquely challenging task of rethinking a huge amount of draft material without the experience of having written a book before. But it can be useful to anyone who has a critical mass of draft writing: notes, conference and seminar papers, journal articles, rough writing, dissertation chapters, and so on. If you meet these criteria, we expect you’ll find value in this workbook, even if you’re writing a first book that isn’t based on a dissertation.
Does this workbook work on second books?
Yes! Again, this workbook is designed for scholars in the humanities and qualitative social sciences who have monograph manuscripts already in progress. It can be useful to anyone who has a critical mass of draft writing: notes, conference and seminar papers, journal articles, rough writing, dissertation chapters, and so on. If you meet these criteria, we expect you’ll find value in this workbook, even if you’re writing a second book.
What if I have a few chapters still left to research and write from scratch?
Great! Many of the authors we’ve worked with are in this situation. It’s most helpful if you have a critical mass of draft writing, and you have some notes on the objects you will examine in your as-yet-unwritten chapters. But even if you only have ideas for a few chapters, this workbook will help you! At certain well-indicated junctures in the workbook, we’ll just ask you to think about some of the activities, rather than complete them thoroughly. Doing so ensures you don’t get stuck in the weeds or waste time.
Will this workbook help me if I wrote my dissertation as a book to begin with?
If you wrote your dissertation as a book manuscript from the beginning and so don’t expect it to need major changes, this workbook will help you clarify and confirm your choices so that you’re ready to pitch them to publishers.
Can I use this workbook to write my dissertation?
Dissertations and books usually have very different intellectual purposes and academic audiences. Because we like to think of dissertations as your first working through of your ideas, we recommend that you avoid using this workbook to write your dissertation. In fact, we suspect that had we tried to use these exercises on our own dissertations, we never would have finished ours! Don’t worry–the workbook will still be here for you after you defend.
Will this workbook still be useful if I already have a book contract?
Yes! If you have an advance contract but are struggling to complete the manuscript or feel like you are spinning your wheels, the workbook will help you clarify your book’s priorities and finish the book efficiently. Even if you can’t change your book structure much, this workbook will help you frame your arguments compellingly, mobilize scholarship effectively, and ensure your book’s main claims are woven through each chapter.
So what will I actually have after working through this workbook?
The first part of the workbook is designed to help you distill your book’s argument and thread it through your chapters using an unconventional route–drafting what we call “book questions” and “chapter answers.” By the end of the first thirteen chapters, you’ll have probed every dimension of your book, have a good sense of its structure and scope (plus good reasons why they work for the story you’re telling!), and a two-page book narrative that will guide your revisions. In the work’s second half–chapters 14, 15, and 16–you’ll systematically revise each of your book’s core body chapters to fit your plan, foreground your argument, and ensure your voice remains at the fore. So, after completing the entire workbook, you will have a cohesive, argument-driven book project and solid body chapter drafts (excluding your book introduction and conclusion). You will also have fodder for your book proposal and introduction.
Will this workbook help me ensure my book will be attractive to publishers and significant in my field?
Yes and no. A general curriculum such as this one can’t address the publishing norms of every discipline or field. Once you’ve completed the exercises, you will have produced material suitable to send to scholars and mentors in your field, who will be able to assess your study’s publishability, your claims’ significance, and your book’s rigor. But you’ll be able to get that feedback with much less effort than it would take to complete the full manuscript.
How long will the workbook's exercises take?
This workbook’s exercises can be completed in an intense burst (by working three to four hours per day during a break from other responsibilities), but authors tend to fare best when they work more steadily over a longer period (five to ten hours per week for about 8–12 weeks). The targeted activities are designed to fit alongside your regular teaching and service responsibilities. Throughout the exercises, we also give authors who need to publish a book for tenure ways of ensuring that their work is possible given their externally imposed deadlines.
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