Scholarship and Creative Work

Revising your Dissertation into a Book

One big question you may have when you are in the privileged position of being on the tenure track—in some humanities and some social science fields, at least—is whether you need to publish a book. While not strictly necessary, a book with a reputable press is still considered a highly desirable publication to have. Although I can see why some of my colleagues would choose to work on something new for a book, finishing my dissertation (almost ten years ago now!) was like giving birth to a first child, so I wanted to see that project grow and mature beyond infancy. But I also had a lot of work to do.

My experience was perhaps unorthodox; I was actually cold-emailed by an editor from Bloomsbury Academic in response to a conference paper I was giving. I was skeptical at first (in a Graucho Marx-refusing-to-join-any-club-that-would-have-me-as-a-member kind of way), and a big part of me wondered if I should go after a university press. But I met with the editor, had a great connection with her, and felt comfortable going forward with the process.

At that point, I was about six years out of grad school, and had four articles published. I also had a mostly completed manuscript, which is important for the first time you go after a book contract. I ended up using pieces of two of those articles in the final product, and one whole article largely unrevised (with permission from the publisher, of course!). I also submitted a proposal that covered length (my book is about 90,000 words—and I was held to it!), audience, and marketing. Looking at friends’ proposals helped a lot.

I was lucky in that my manuscript was peer reviewed quickly (by three reviewers in about four months), and I had a contract signed about five months after the first meeting with my editor. My book was signed as a stand-alone monograph, but I do recommend looking at different presses’ series to see if your project could be a good fit. Peer reviews in hand, I followed the same process I had with articles, frequently referring back to their suggestions, re-researching (a lot comes out in a few years!) and rewriting large sections. I also referred often to William Germano’s From Dissertation to Book (2nd ed., U. Chicago Press, 2013), where he explains that while your dissertation was written for your doctoral committee, your book should have a broader audience of scholars and students in mind.

I spent about eight months revising (a PSC CUNY grant and MaRLI both helped a lot), and my final manuscript was then approved after another round of peer review. My editor and I also went back and forth on a title and a cover design, which was quite fun. I should also say that besides the index, which I chose to do myself and pay a former BMCC student to help me with, I didn’t have to pay anything for my book, but I know that subventions are more and more common.

Looking back on the process, I wish I had taken it a little slower and spent more time proofreading and fact-checking (or even better, hired a fact-checker), although the editorial team at Bloomsbury did a great job overall. I might also have included some images in my book, which I will definitely do for my next project.

My book looks beautiful and has received positive reviews so far. I do wish I had done a few things differently, but when do we not? I am ultimately very happy that I chose to revise my dissertation, and with a lot of support from my friends, family, chair, colleagues, and institutions, that difficult labor produced a book-child of which I am extremely proud.

I hope that this blog post has been helpful, and that it will inspire you to send out your query letter and manuscript, too!


3 Responses to Revising your Dissertation into a Book

  1. Mira Zaman February 3, 2022 at 5:05 pm #

    As junior faculty, I really appreciate posts like this. Thanks for sharing your story and all your wisdom, Adele!

  2. Kathleen Offenholley February 6, 2022 at 8:54 pm #

    Adele, thanks so much for sharing this, it was an inspiration!

  3. Chris McCarthy February 7, 2022 at 6:15 am #

    Such a wonderful, useful post!

    Turning a dissertation into a book is an important thing to do. It makes your work available to the wider audience it deserves.

    Plus, often, a dissertation is a first try at understanding a topic.
    If you revisit your dissertation you sometimes find better or more insightful ways to address some of the material.

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