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From Dissertation to Book

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After many years of hard work, a dissertation is a monumental accomplishment. With so much time and effort coupled with the desire to add to scholarly discourse, many people hope to transform their dissertations into a book. Graduate writing has equipped scholars with extensive information about their discipline-specific genres, but the genre of book - and certainly a book hoping to appeal to audience outside of their field - requires new ways of writing. This page provides information and considerations aiding one’s efforts in a “publish or perish” world

Before you Begin

Many people feel the pressure of publication, especially of a book valued by scholars in your field, as they add that “Dr.” to their email signature. The truth is, book publication is still considered the standard even though many entities like the Modern Language Association (MLA) suggest moving away from a book as being the standard for tenure, instead giving articles and chapters more weight. Despite this pressure, it is highly recommended that you take some time (ideally at least a year) away from your dissertation. After dedicating so much time to such a specific topic over the past years, it can be difficult to look at your dissertation with the fresh eyes necessary to reshape it into a book without taking time away. 

Once you have taken this break and are able to greet your research anew, critically think about whether this should be a book. Trying to be objective, ask yourself if you really need a book-number of pages to convey your argument or if it would perhaps be better suited for an article or series of articles. Consider that the dissertation may actually have potential for both articles and a book. Another consideration for this choice is timeliness - articles come out much quicker whereas books can take a few years until they hit the shelves. If you think something might be old news in a few years, an article is the way to go. 

You may also consider researching subsidies. As a new author, you are a risk to your editor. Coming with funding to offset printing costs will make you less of a risk and ideally have your editor look at your proposal a little more deeply. 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, remember to resource yourself. With workshops, grants, editors, senior scholars, and presses, you are not alone on this journey. While you may consider avoiding your committee so that your feedback is coming from fresh eyes, colleagues often have words of wisdom regarding the book-publishing process. Throughout the process, you’ll also get feedback from your editor and anonymous peer reviews. While it’s easy to get defensive, it’s important to acknowledge and value their opinions and explain your reasoning if you decide not to incorporate a suggestion. You and your editor are on a team, so you both may make compromises throughout the process. Remember - they are on your so team, so go in with a growth mindset and you’re next academic accomplishment will be more in reach. 

During the Process

Once you’ve decided that you are, in fact, going to make a book out of your dissertation, it’s time to prepare for the practicalities of this process. First, you need to figure out how you are going to make it possible for you to accomplish such a feat. Writing a book takes intense discipline, so it’s important to create clear goals and plans by considering all the steps it will take you to get to that finish line. Simple actions like scheduling protected writing time can make a huge difference in success. Perhaps you set a goal of writing one page every day. Remember that writing constructs knowledge and the act will get you closer to your final product, even if it isn’t writing that actually ends up in your book,

The process of transforming your dissertation into a book is centered around audience, so you’ll want to keep that audience at the forefront of your mind throughout the writing process. Consider very carefully who your ideal reader(s) are. There may be multiple, and that’s great. Is it scholars in your field? An “intelligent layperson” (Luey, 2004) outside of your field? Whatever group of ideal readers you end up with, review your writing from each individual perspective. People often dream of a broad audience of people outside of academia without actually seeking feedback from anyone outside of the academy. If you’re telling your editor that you believe this will appeal to a history buff outside of the academy, get feedback from someone in that group and have them note places where your writing is not clear. This generalist perspective will help you see what items like jargon are confusing or what information feels boring, increasing the chances of success for this book. 

When considering your new audience, remember that you no long need to share everything you know about your topic in this document. While you did have to prove yourself to your committee, this audience automatically assumes you are an expert, so sections that were proving you’re reliable can be ditched or significantly parsed down. This means your literature review will be significantly cut, if not deleted altogether. This is also true of methodologies unless your methodology is exceptionally groundbreaking and interesting. 

Your old audience had to listen to you - it’s part of their job description. This new audience will need to be actively reached. Even if your main goal is people in your field, to make a book broad enough to sell - which your editor is going to look for - you’ll need to write for a wider audience which may require you to let go of any anxiety about being “taken seriously in your field.” 

A book will require broadening the appeal of your topic. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways such as: 

  • Humanizing your subject - this may take additional research (such as interviewing the people who make up your statistics) or be as simple as adding personal elements about your topic (such as adding personal life information that was outside of the scope of your dissertation focused on a person’s political career).
  • Adding narrative elements - plot, characters, setting, your own voice, and a beginning, middle, and end that pushes the reader forward are all key to marketability.
  • Finding a new angle - an angle that directly impacts your reader such as financial or navigation of a life event is going to reach a larger audience.
  • Expanding the topic culturally and temporally - take a broad topic related to your subject and see the impacts and/or comparisons of contexts such as religions, race, communities, geographical region, politics, time period, etc. perhaps referencing other studies in your field.
  • Justifying your topic’s value - you may hope to create a guide showing your topic’s influence in hopes of affecting mindsets, policy, and funding of stakeholders and those in power. 

While your presses’ and editors’ feedback trumps all, there are some general considerations all editors are looking for. As you walk the line between theory and narrative, you’ll want to consider items such as: 

  • Transitions - does the book flow in a way that keeps the reader interested? 
  • Chapter length - are the chapters similar in length? If not, what can be combined or split up? 
  • Repetition - do you find places where facts, stories, or claims are being repeated? Where do those best fit? 
  • Hyperquotation - do you have too many or too long of quotes? How can you reframe that information with a focus on your work? 
  • Bibliography/End Notes - is this information necessary? Does your editor/press have limitations on these sections? 
  • Hagiography - are you ever writing about a subject without criticism? How can you make sure your argument is balanced? 
  • Tables and Graphs - Does the chart fit without having to turn the book sideways? Does it repeat what’s in the prose making it not worth the cost? Can charts be combined? 

Now That You Have a Book

While some people may not have a completed book when they submit a proposal, many have at least a large chunk written and certainly a general outline and thesis. If you do have a whole book complete, you may consider the following advice in the “before you begin” part of the process. 

With the reality of budget cuts, editors are accepting fewer and fewer book proposals, making it more imperative than ever that your proposal sticks out. If you are an emerging scholar in your field, you probably won’t have the benefit of being actively sought out by publishers. This means you’ll need to do your research to find the right press and editor for you. Editors tend to have niche areas of topics they like to publish. Check out who published resources you used or check out the list of latest book releases in your field to see who is publishing work in your subject area. These are the publishers that you should propose to. 

First, make sure that you follow proposal formatting and content requirements. If you don’t, an editor may disregard your proposal due to the inability to fit within their genre guidelines. Furthermore, if you write more than they ask for, they may assume you cannot write in a concise and clear way and choose to put it in the “no” pile. Beyond this, to make your proposal attention-grabbing, you’ll want to draw them in with a title, table of contents, and abstract or first chapter that are clear, concise, and interesting to someone who may not share your natural enthusiasm for your topic. Typically, the more concisely you can get your points across, the more faith they’ll have in you as a writer. 

This also ties in with something academics may feel uncomfortable facing - this book needs to make money. Editors often look to see if their writers are able to get their point across concisely because fewer pages means less printing cost. Similarly, having low numbers of pictures, graphs, and charts, which cost more to print, can make your book feel less risky to an editor. Being upfront about what costs you anticipate and which you can avoid will help your editor calculate if this book is worth taking the risk of taking on a new voice to the field. 

Final Thoughts

The transformation from dissertation to book can be very exciting. Oftentimes, creating a broader appeal brings out engaging, compelling writing that will be more readily available to the masses. With this book, you have something to say instead of something to prove. Enjoy your new status as an expert as you get to share your unique findings with the world, moving your discipline forward. There will most likely be obstacles and frustrations along the way, but remember that you have already completed the monumental task of writing a dissertation and you are also capable of this. Best of luck on this journey!


LUEY, B. (Ed.). (2008). Revising Your Dissertation: Advice from Leading Editors (2nd ed.). University of California Press.