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Advice from the Editors: Turning Your Dissertation into a Manuscript

A very good friend of mine will defend her dissertation next month. The progress of said dissertation has been a topic of many conversations, and I’ve been reminded of the long haul it is to write a book-length piece of scholarship: the work, the anxiety, the lulls in motivation followed by reinvigoration, meetings with advisors, revisions, time, energy, inspiration, loss of sleep, and sheer sweat. She even said at one point, “I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.” And I am reminded of this most keenly when a prospective author submits a proposal that is clearly an unrevised dissertation and I must ask whether or not the text has been revised into a book. Whether the dissertation process for this author is part of the more recent or more distant past, a first-time author is not always ready to learn that the book publishing process (from manuscript to printed tome) is approximately one and a half to two years. Don’t put away your long-distance running shoes—ever. You will always need them as a scholar and a writer. And of the long publishing process, which goes much more quickly than it seems it will at the outset, where do you begin with the dissertation?

The amount of revisions varies among manuscripts, but I can offer the way I like to sum up the revisions needed: the audience for the work changes from the committee to the community of peers. This affects content and structure on the grand scale, and sentence structure on the micro scale. The dissertation tends to follow a template of present thesis, literature review, defend thesis. This deliberate execution serves its purpose but once the dissertation has been defended the core can now shed some of the constraints to display the author’s argument independently. The literature review gets shortened and incorporated, the tone gains confidence. What I mean by this last is it is less directional: “as will be discussed in the next chapter” is not needed at the end of each chapter, less self-aware of the citations, no need to remind what “has been discussed, has been proven.” These are simply examples of what outside readers have commented on, saying, “the manuscript still has too much dissertation-ese.” I could go on to name other examples and pitfalls, like the footnotes should be shortened, but I would not begin to address it as comprehensively as others have done in helpful books dedicated to this subject. The one I hear recommended most often from senior authors is From Dissertation to Book by William Germano.

To close on a positive note, many dissertations go on to be successful, published monographs. As a press, we believe in the importance of the scholarly monograph, as some of you may have heard Marion Berghahn speak on just this topic. Once you have a plan for your revisions, it is reasonable to contact us around six months in advance of when you feel you will have the manuscript ready for outside review. Our proposal form, the New Book Outline, and guidelines for submission may be found here. Happy revising to all our current and future authors!