How to Turn your Dissertation into a Book

You finished your dissertation and want to turn it into a book? Then don’t let the revision process scare you – we've got you covered with helpful tips and tricks on the way.

This post is part of a series, which serves to provide hands-on information and resources for authors and editors.

After years of hard work on their dissertation, more than a few Early Career Researchers consider turning their PhD research into a monograph. While this is great to reach a whole new audience, the process of getting there can seem complex and daunting at first.

But we’re here to help!

The first and most essential step is to decide whether your dissertation should become a book at all. For many scholars this is a no-brainer, especially in the humanities and the social sciences, where the publication of books is crucial for getting professional recognition, climbing up the career ladder, and eventually gaining tenure.

Your dissertation could also be published in the form of one or several journal articles. Or something you just want to upload on a university server and be done with.

However, let’s say that you do want to convert your thesis into a publishable book, here are the general steps of this exciting undertaking:

    1. Find your match
    2. Build your confidence
    3. Get down to the nitty gritty
    4. Pitch your work
    5. Respond and revise

1. Find Your Match

The process of revising a dissertation goes hand-in-hand with the search for the right publishing house. The question what kind of book you want or need will influence your choice. Vice versa, the publisher shapes what kind of book you will be rewarded with.

Publishing with an established publisher is still considered as a sign of quality. They take care of things like quality control and peer review, and they select their titles carefully, so they fit their lists. This also means the books will sell better. Moreover, and most importantly: a publisher makes your work visible, be it online, in catalogues, on conferences, book fairs, or by distributing your book among libraries and universities.

Ask yourself this: Where do you want to see your book? Where have your favorite publications been published? Browse bookshelves, and visit book exhibitions at conferences. Talk to editors, approach them, ask for their conditions; check websites.

But whilst you do all of that: Please never submit to more than one publisher at the same time. Wasting editors’ time is frowned upon and doesn’t bode well for future publication with the house.

2. Build your Confidence

Once you decided on which press would be a good choice (from university presses, independent academic publishers, trade publishers etc.), there are a couple of things you need to take into consideration.

First and maybe most importantly: Be kind to yourself. Acknowledge what you have already accomplished. This has been a huge effort, and you have earned every right to be proud of yourself! Then, get to work.

Be prepared to invest time and nerves into reworking your dissertation. Focus on what you have already done, and build from there.

Remember, a book is not a dissertation. You do not need to convince anyone anymore that you are the expert and that you have done your reading. The reader of your book trusts that you are, and that is why they bought it.

3. Get Down to the Nitty Gritty

  • Envision your audience. This will help you give your dissertation a makeover.
  • Your viva was probably a while ago, so lots of new and interesting research has been published since then that could potentially influence your work. Do the reading.
  • Go over your literature review and see what is not needed anymore for your argument. Do not quote other people as much – the reader wants to know what you think. The reader of your book is also not hugely interested in all of the methodologies out there. Tell them what you used and why, but cut everything else.
  • Tell the reader in the introduction what the book’s central argument is. What is your contribution to the field? What’s new? In the conclusion, tell them what the consequences are. What difference do your findings make? How do they help the field?
  • Try to stay close to the 100,000 word threshold (=300 pages), including notes. Keep the manuscript sleek, limit the apparatus. Try to have chapters of equal lengths.
  • Sure enough, images are nice and often help the reader get a sense for the text, but do not forget that you have to clear rights for most of them, and get all the technicalities for print sorted.
  • Use simple wording. Be on point. Always remember your audience needs to understand you, and not all of them are experts.
  • Go easy on the footnotes: Resist making them a container for all of the brilliant thoughts that don’t quite fit in the flow or argument of your book. If a remark doesn’t belong in your text, it might not belong in your book altogether.

Bear in mind: With a dissertation, you have something to prove. With a book, you have something to say.

4. Pitch Your Work

After revising, you need to prepare a pitch: Sell your book! Let the publisher know why your research is important and how it changes the field. What’s the unique selling point of your book, what sets it apart from others?

To get started, check the publisher’s website. Usually there is a proposal form hidden away somewhere. Try to find information on the submission process and/or a personal contact. Follow the guidelines, and write an e-mail to the responsible Acquisitions Editor.

Indicate that you are familiar with the scope of the publisher’s list. Maybe you know of a book series of theirs, where your work might fit in. Let them know you did your homework, and that you are invested. Describe how your book complements other titles in the series and why it would be a great fit.

Learn more about book proposals in our blog post “How to Write an Academic Book Proposal: 6 Questions for Laura Portwood-Stacer”.

Be concise. Your proposal should demonstrate not only that you are an expert on the topic, but that you can condense and synthesize what you know, that you can share it concisely, and that you can present your research in a way that is stimulating and thought-provoking.

Usually, the more material you send, the better. Being able to read a sample chapter of the dissertation, in addition to the proposal, makes it much easier for the publisher to get a sense about the writing style of an author, who is still unknown to them.

5. Almost There! Respond and Revise

After you submitted, and heard back from the editor of the press, you can relax a little. Your manuscript is now either under consideration with the editor or already sent out for external peer review. This might take a while.

Chances are, when you hear back from the editor the next time, the reviewers will have criticized parts of your manuscript and are asking for improvements. Hence, you will need to get back into the text once again. This can be a hard moment, but remember: you are so close now! Revise one last time and at the end of the road, you might already see the light of your shiny new author contract.

Good luck – you got this!

[Title image by hanna grace via Unsplash]

Rabea Rittgerodt

Rabea works as Acquisitions Editor at De Gruyter. She is specialized on 19th & 20th century social, cultural, and global history. You can follow her on Twitter via @RabeaRi.

Sophie Wagenhofer

Sophie Wagenhofer works as Senior Acquisitions Editor Islamic & Jewish Studies at De Gruyter.

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