Today is another Special Request Post. This one is from Maria, who asks, do I have a template (like my Foolproof Grant Template) for turning a dissertation into a book? No, Maria, I do not. The process of turning the dissertation into a book will be different for every writer, and doesn’t lend itself to a template. But there are some tips that I can offer for easing the process and making it more efficient. This post is my Top Five Tips for Turning Your Dissertation Into a Book. Why should you turn your dissertation into a book, you ask? If you are in a book field, the fact is, your dissertation must be transformed into a book to be of full value to you. The dissertation alone counts for little in the academic career. So here are The Professor’s Top Five Tips for Turning your Dissertation into a Book.
Write the dissertation as a book to begin with. Write from day one with a wide market of undergraduates in mind. You want the book to be assigned as a text in undergraduate courses in your field. Write it so those undergraduates can read it. Don’t spend endless pages on tiresome, tedious obscurities of interest to 10 people in your sub- sub- sub-field. Remember that the methodology section will be entirely removed from the book mss. And the literature review will be almost entirely removed, with a small section folded into the Introduction or other chapters. Conceptualize and write the entire thing remembering that these sections, while critical to your committee, are short-lived. Don’t obsess about them; do the minimum, and move on. In the meantime, put extra effort into a catchy, appealing Introduction and Conclusion. These speak to readers, and to the editors and reviewers who will judge your mss. Academic publishing is in the same epic financial crisis as the rest of the academic world.
Publishers are going out of business right and left, and those that remain are under pressure to publish books that actually sell and make a profit (unlike the old days when it was understood that scholarly monographs rarely broke even). Publishers must keep their production costs low, and this means they want shorter books. Write with style and flair. Be provocative. Be original. Be incendiary. If your committee shies away from such showmanship, write a shadow chapter that you include once you’ve defended and are ready to send the mss. Presses are not interested in “solid scholarship.” They are interested in products that sell. Products that sell have to be differentiated from the competition-ie, they have to be exciting, new, and different. Remember that your committee is not the world. You have to please your committee to get a Ph.D., but you have to impress the presses to get a career. Your committee controls you for a few years, but your book establishes your career trajectory for decades.
Set your eye on the prize, and don’t lose sight of it. Do what you have to to satisfy your committee, but don’t ever forget who is in charge: you. You have an agenda, and that is publishing an influential, high-profile book with a top press. I wrote a doctoral dissertation on why some young, single Japanese women in the early 1990s were demonstrating a striking enthusiasm for studying abroad, living abroad, working abroad, and finding white Western men to be their lovers and husbands. My peers and professors in my graduate program severely disapproved of this project, and I was told by countless people that it wasn’t “legitimate” anthropology. However, when I sent the mss. I get two competing advance contracts, I ended up getting an actual ADVANCE from the press. This is practically unheard of for young academic writers peddling scholarly monographs. My book was provocative. It was original. It had some naughty pictures. I ignored the negative comments in my department. And while I was absolutely committed to the project as a scholarly project – based on the highest standards I could muster of ethnographic fieldwork, theoretical engagement, and disciplinary contribution — I also wrote it to sell. And, while it was published in 2001, in 2015, I am still getting a (microscopically small) royalty check!