Turning Your Dissertation into a Book

by | Oct 30, 2017

Turning your dissertation into a book can be daunting. You’ve been working on this project for a decade but don’t know what else can be done to turn it from a student exercise into a cohesive and marketable book that specific audiences will actually buy.

In this video, book editor Dr. Cathy Hannabach walks you through the process of revising a dissertation into a first book. She covers finding a new frame for the project, how to identify your audiences and use them to guide the revision process, what needs to be cut and what needs to be added, and how you can construct that strong narrative arc necessary to turn it from a dissertation into a scholarly book.

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Video transcript

Cathy Hannabach [00:00:00]: Hello everybody, welcome. My name is Cathy Hannabach and I’m the president of Ideas on Fire.

You are here for a webinar on turning your dissertation into a book. I saw from the folks that are registered that a lot of you are deep in the middle of this process yourselves. We’ve been working with you on editing that and consulting with you on how you can best do that. Some of you are not quite there. I know there’s some grad students who are here, which is awesome. You’re thinking ahead. That’s fabulous. And for those of you whose names I didn’t recognize on the registration list, welcome! I hope you will join us for some more webinars.

[00:00:48]: As I said, I’m the president of Ideas on Fire and we’re an academic editing and consulting agency working specifically with interdisciplinary academics. We provide editing and indexing services for books and journals. We provide teaching and workshop series, such as this one that you’re in here. And we also run Grad School Rockstars, which is a mentorship community for interdisciplinary graduate students.

I’m very excited for this. A couple of logistical announcements before we jump in: If you notice on the right hand side of your screen, you’ll see a chat function. If at anytime during the webinar you have a question that you want answered, you can either put it in the chat over there or you can use the ask a question button that’s down at the bottom of your screen. There’ll be time at the end of the webinar for me to answer any questions that you might have. So if you have any that come up for you during the during the presentation, go ahead and put them either in the chat or in the “ask a question” section and I will be sure to get to them.

I am going to share my screen and we will jump in.

[00:01:53] We’re going to be talking about turning your dissertation into a book.

Not all dissertations need to or can become books

Now before we jump in, I want to warn you that not all dissertations need to become books. There’s often the assumption that your dissertation will eventually become a book and a lot of advisors, a lot of graduate programs, and a lot of even publishers sometimes assume that. But that’s not necessarily the case. Every dissertation doesn’t need to or can really become a book, although many of them do.

We’ll be talking today about the dissertations that do lend themselves to becoming books in a revised and updated form and how you can actually go about doing that and as well as locating a publisher that fits with the topic that you’re writing about.

Outline of the webinar

[00:02:58] So what’s on tap today? We’re going to start off talking about why dissertations are not already books.

We’re also going to talk about when you start the revision process, when you’ve figured out your dissertation would make a good book with some serious revisions, what do you need to reduce or cut out of the existing draft to make it a book that publishers would be interested in?

We’re also going to be talking about the things that you’ll need to add. This is new material that you’ll need to provide in the manuscript itself to turn it from a dissertation into a book.

We’re also going to talk about some tricky issues or troubleshooting things. These are some of the challenges that come up in the revision process. Some of them are going to be particular to you, so not everyone will experience them. But a lot of these are very, very common. We’ll talk about what some of those common challenges are and some solutions for tackling them.

And then finally we’re going to close out by talking about why editors are your best friends in this revision process. We’ll talk about what editors can provide, why editors are necessary, the different types of editors that you have access to in your life, and how you can use best use editors to revise your dissertation into a book.

The differences between dissertations and books

[00:04:13] So let’s start off with the difference between dissertations and books. Now, some of you might think that this is kind of old information. Of course dissertations aren’t books, right? But oftentimes graduate students think that they’ve written maybe 90% of a book when they’ve completed their dissertation. They might think that they have a few little revisions here or there to make. Maybe that topic I didn’t get to or that chapter I didn’t get to add might need some updating. Maybe the citations need a little bit of updating, but in general, I have 90% of a book with my finished dissertation.

I’m going to say that is absolutely not true. It’s one of the most kind of pernicious myths and it’s something that publishers definitely want graduate students to be aware of: dissertations are not books. So let’s talk about why.

[00:05:22] Dissertations and books have different objects, authors, audiences, lengths or structure, different elements, and they also have radically different goals or measures of success.


This depends on your field, but generally across the board, this plays out. Dissertations tend to be intensely focused. They’re meticulously researched and they focus on a specific scholarly phenomenon or question. It’s your chance to make an intervention into a specific scholarly field.

In contrast, books are a sustained critical inquiry into something that has broader significance, rather than just focusing us on a single scholarly question like a dissertation. A book needs to speak to broader patterns. It needs to speak to cultural, political, economic and or social concerns that a wide swath of people are going to be interested in.


The author of a dissertation is—by definition—a student. In contrast, the author of a book is a grownup scholar.

We’re going to talk about how that identity shift, which is a big identity shift that you have to go through in this revision process, can shape the revision process itself.


[00:06:28] The audience for dissertations and books are also radically different and this affects how these two different types of manuscripts are structured, as well as the content that’s in them. The audience for a dissertation is extraordinarily small. The people who read your dissertation, even the most fantastic dissertation on the planet, that number of people is extremely small.

The primary audience for a dissertation is your dissertation committee. Depending on your program, that might be anywhere from three to five committee members, but either way, we’re talking about literally a handful of people. They’re the audience that you’re writing for when you’re writing a dissertation. They’re who you’re trying to anticipate their needs. They’re who you are trying to please, they’re who you are trying to tap into things that they’re interested in. They’re who you’re responding to.

[00:07:33] That very small audience for your dissertation, your dissertation committee, are paid to read your dissertation. It’s part of their job. As professors, part of what they get a salary to do is advise graduate students and part of that is serving on dissertation committees and reading student dissertations. So readers are paid to read a dissertation manuscript.

In contrast, books have audiences that are much, much broader. Book audiences include scholars across a large number of fields, not just the field that you got your degree in. Book audiences include broad readerships interested in the specific topic as well as surrounding topics that your book touches on. Book audiences include undergraduates, an audience that you probably never thought of when you were writing your dissertation because undergraduates by and large do not read dissertations. Book audiences include graduate students, faculty, and members of the public who are not academics, as well as other kinds of scholars who are interested in that topic.

[00:08:49] In contrast to your dissertation, whose readers are paid to read (your committee members are paid to read your dissertation), books go the opposite way. Readers have to pay to read, to have access to them. This radically different form of audience and their very different relationship to the manuscript is a big reason why dissertations are not already books.

Dissertations were not written for a book audience. They were written for a dissertation audience, which is what you’re supposed to do. So part of the revision process that we’re going to be talking about today is learning how to turn a manuscript that was written for three to five committee members who have to read it to a manuscript that is going to appeal to a broad range of readers who have to go out of their way to obtain, pay for, and read this manuscript.


[00:09:50] Dissertations and books also have length differences. This depends on your field and depends on your university, but most programs don’t have page length requirements for dissertations. Sometimes there might be a minimum requirement, as in it can’t be less than X number of pages, but a lot of times programs have no upper limit. This is one reason why dissertations are often huge. They’re usually much larger than the books that they sometimes turn into precisely because they don’t have those kinds of page limits.

In contrast, books have hard page limits. Those are set by the publisher, not by authors. Different publishers have different length requirements and have different reasons for this. Most books, not all most, are around 200 pages. So when you’re aiming for a book-length manuscript, you’re talking about writing a book that is around 200 pages. In some fields, the books tend to be longer than that. For instance, the field of history tends to have longer books than some other fields, but by and large, most books are not shorter than 200 pages.

[00:11:06] The reason for these different page length requirements between a dissertation and a book is that dissertation page counts aren’t affected by cost. Book page counts are. More pages in a book equals higher production costs. Now some people think that that refers to the actual printing of pages and that’s certainly part of it. Paper costs money and typesetting costs money, but now that we’re working with largely digital-based production processes and workflows, the production costs that get raised with more pages actually pertain more to labor. When book page counts are higher, it takes longer amounts of time for the various people who have to work on that book. This means that the longer your book is, the more expensive it is for publisher to produce.

[00:12:12] Academic publishers, as some of you are well aware of, are severely underfunded so publishers have to care about how much it costs to print your book and how much it cost to shepherd your book through the production process. These kind of cost implications are not something that your dissertation committee is really concerned with. They don’t need to be. But when it comes to publishing a book, publishers have to focus on those things, which means that as an author, you do too.


There are also different elements in a dissertation versus a book. The specific elements are going to depend on your field and your department but by and large, most dissertations have some version of an introduction chapter. They usually have a very, very large literature review that can come in the form of a literature review chapter or literature review sections scattered throughout the text.

[00:13:17] Dissertations also often have very large methodology sections or chapters. They have body chapters. They tend to have a lot of images and figures; particularly if you’re dealing with anything visual, you tend to have a large list of them. They often have appendices and they tend to have tons of citations. These are things that dissertation should have because of what they’re intended to do.

The reason why dissertations tend to have lots of citations, for example, is because this is a manuscript in which your job as an author is to demonstrate field competence and that requires demonstrating that you have read, understood, can synthesize the key texts, concepts, and authors in your field. You have to explain things like what [Michel] Foucault means by biopower because you’re demonstrating that you understand him. In contrast, a book doesn’t need that type of explanation.

[00:14:23] A book has front matter, which includes the table of contents, title pages, acknowledgement sections, and prefaces. Books also include an introduction chapter, which is not a body chapter, in addition to actual body chapters. Books include back matter, which is your works cited, your endnotes, and your index. They also going to include fewer images and figures and I’ll talk about why in a minute.

Books include only relevant citations. Instead of demonstrating that you have competence in a field, a book is only going to include the citations that are relevant to the specific argument that it’s making and that’s because its author doesn’t need to demonstrate field competence in the same way that a student author of a dissertation does.

[00:15:20] Books also include much reduced as well as redistributed and better integrated literature review and methodology sections. I’ll talk specifically today about how that works.

For now, I want to go back to this issue of images and figures. By and large, dissertations are not published. Sometimes people file their dissertations with digital archives that make them available and you can download people’s dissertations through them, but that’s not considered publishing.

Because dissertations are not published, copyright works differently. You can include a lot of images and figures in your dissertation because copyright applies in a different manner.

In a book, you have to pay for those images and figures if they are under copyright. This is not something you need to deal with in a dissertation, but you do need to deal with when you want to revise that dissertation into a book. That’s one reason why books contain so many fewer images and figures than the dissertation versions that they emerged from.

Goals and measures of success

[00:16:45] Finally, dissertations and books have radically different goals and measures of success. The goal of a dissertation, its reason for existing, how you know if you wrote a good one is that you got your PhD. That’s its job. Its job is to get those three to five committee members to sign off on your PhD. If you did that, it was a successful dissertation.

[00:17:16] A book, in contrast, has a much broader and more public goal. Books need to meaningfully contribute to collective thought. They need to give readers a productive tool for changing something in the world. They need to be taken up by readers who are going to do things in the world with them. These are not the goals of the dissertation but they are the goals of a book.

These key differences in object, author, audience, length, elements, and measures of success differentiate dissertations from books and are why dissertations are not books already. You could have written the most amazing dissertation on the planet and it’s still not a book yet. That’s okay. It can be.

So how do you actually do that? How do you turn a dissertation into a book?

What to reduce or cut

[00:18:26] The first thing you’re going to think about are the things that you need to reduce or cut. The biggest dissertation-to-book shift that you’ll experience is a focus on audience. Now, I was talking earlier about how audience isn’t a super key focus when you’re writing a dissertation.

The audience for your dissertation is really small. You know them. You know these three to five people. You meet with them regularly. You know what they want, you know which authors they like, you know which terminology they like, you know which pet theories they have. And you can write specifically for them. You don’t need to think about anyone beyond that.

In contrast to a dissertation, a book needs to focus on broad audiences. This makes your writing better. It’s why books are by and large better than dissertations. It’s why they’re more pleasurable to read. It’s why they’re smarter. It’s why they’re a much better version of the thought that originated in a dissertation version. This comes down to audience. So when you’re thinking about how to frame your book for broad audiences, that will shape the things that you reduce, cut, or add.

Literature review

[00:19:24] The first thing to go, and you might’ve heard this in other in other books or courses that teach you about this dissertation-to-book process, is your literature review. In the social sciences and sciences, your literature review might be a single chapter. It might be consolidated that way into a single location in your manuscript.

Those of you in the humanities and the interdisciplines, your literature of you might be spread out across the manuscript. Humanities and interdisciplinary fields tend to not tend to not cordon off literature reviews into single chapters. So you’re going to need to dig into your text and go find all of the literature review sections. Those of you in the social sciences or sciences have this little easier because you know exactly where that chapter is and you can just hit delete.

[00:20:23] Now when I say you’re deleting your literature review, I don’t mean that you are literally throwing everything away that you ever analyzed. What I am saying is that you don’t need to, in a book, do the student exercise of explaining what well-known theorists have said about anything related your topic. That’s appropriate for dissertation, that’s actually good in a dissertation, because you’re demonstrating that you understand your field. But for a book, a readers already assume you’re an expert in this field.

You don’t need to rehearse what every famous scholar has ever said about everything in a book in the same way that you would in a dissertation. So the literature review is one of the first things to get reduced or cut.


[00:21:23] Extensive discussions of methodology is also a big thing that gets reduced or cut when you’re moving from a dissertation to a book. Now, yes, books should mention methodology. Every book needs to explain to readers how you studied the thing that you studied. What methodology did you use? How did you find the people that you interviewed, if you interviewed people? What texts did you analyze, if you did textual analysis? What specific archival materials did you focus on, if you focused on archival materials?

Yes, methodology should be in a book, but it needs to be a relatively small section of the book. It usually gets put in the introduction as a section, and we’re talking a few pages at most. This will vary by field and some social science fields have more extensive methodology sections than humanities fields or interdisciplinary fields. But regardless of fields, the methodologies section from a dissertation is going to be much, much larger, and that’s because the methodology section in a dissertation often functions as a secondary literature review.

Student authors often explain all of the methodologies in their field and why they picked the one that they did as well as why they didn’t pick the ones that they didn’t. That’s fine for a dissertation. Again, you’re demonstrating that you understand this field, that you have competence in this field, that you know how people in this field study things, which means you’re also explaining the various methodologies available in your field. Chances are you’re not using all of those methodologies, but you’re still explaining how they work in your dissertation.

[00:23:08] In a book, you don’t need to explain the stuff that you’re not doing. You need to keep your focus on the stuff that you are doing. So the methodology sections that are about all of these fabulous other methodologies that other people in your field are employing, but you didn’t, all of that gets cut for the book version. Readers need to know in the book version how you studied the thing that you studied and then what you have to say about it.

Other scholars’ voices

[00:23:43] Another thing that gets severely reduced or cut when going from dissertation to book is an excessive reliance on other scholars’ voices. This is related to the literature review issue as well.

In a dissertation, by definition, the author is a student. You are, by and large, deferring to the voices of others. You’re learning how more senior scholars in your fields have thought about particular issues. You’re finding a gap. You’re finding what you could uniquely contribute to that. But by and large, dissertations focus on the voices of others. Again, this goes back to that field competence issue.

[00:24:47] In contrast, a book needs to foreground the voice of the author whose name is on the cover. That author’s voice needs to be the strongest and loudest voice in the entire text because it’s your book. It’s not Foucault’s book. It’s not Judith Butler’s book. It’s not Sarah Ahmed’s book. It’s your book, so your voice needs to be primary across the entire text and this is something that you’re not largely worried about in the same way in a dissertation.

Endnotes and footnotes

Another thing that gets reduced or cut when going from dissertation to book are giant endnotes and footnotes. This is also related to the literature review question.

Defensive justifications

I talked before about justifications for why you did or didn’t do something in a dissertation. This makes sense. Depending on your field and depending on how the dissertation is framed, you’re explaining to your committee why you did or didn’t do something. In a book, you don’t need to justify that. Just do it. You’re the author of the text, you’re an expert in this topic. It’s why you wrote a book about it. It’s why a publisher bothered to publish a book by you about it. You’re already an expert, so just claim what you want to claim about it and leave the justifications back in the dissertation version.

Your personal journey through the topic

[00:25:53] Explanations of why you got interested in the topic or defensiveness about the topic is also something that marks a dissertation and it needs to come out to turn it into a book. Instead of focusing on why you personally got interested in a topic, which might be fine for a dissertation, in a book, you need to focus on the reader.

So instead of saying why I, the author, found this interesting, how I happened to stumble into this topic, explain why readers should care. Why should the reader care about this topic? What do they get out of it? This is a big diss-to-book shift that has to do with the audience.

Excessive images/figures

I mentioned before extensive images and figures. They cost money. Copyright is a pain to track down, so it behooves you to reduce that as much as possible for the book version.

What to add

You’re also going to be adding significant new material to the book version. Again, remember the focus here is on audience. Who is going to buy this book?

New frame

The primary new thing that gets added to books that started out as dissertations is a brand new frame. A frame is the of lens through which a reader experiences your text. Think of it as literally a picture frame. It’s the thing through which a reader sees what you’ve presented them at.

[00:27:32] A dissertation frame is often kind of flimsy and that’s okay. It doesn’t need to be super strong in the dissertation version because audience isn’t a primary concern. You don’t have to hook the audience in any way because they have to read your thing and are paid to do it.

In a book version, you need to hook your audience. You need to draw them in and give them some reason to read. You need to give them some reason to buy your book. A new frame is how you do that.

New introduction chapter

[00:28:08[ You’re also probably going to be writing a new introduction chapter. With the clients that we work with at Ideas on Fire in terms of editing, we recommend they throw out their existing introductions and write one from scratch. The reason for that is that it’s often easier to do it from scratch than it is to revise an existing dissertation introduction because your brain still gets stuck in that old frame.

The new frame that you’re creating for your book often requires a brand new introduction because the introduction is where you present your argument for the text. You explain your methodology and you present that frame.

And if your frame and argument have transformed dramatically, which they probably will when you’re making these revisions, it means that you need a brand new introduction chapter to present that information. And it’s usually easier to write that from scratch.

Updated references and citations

[00:29:06] You’re also going to need to add updated references and citations. Depending on how long it’s been since you finished your PhD, you might need more or less updating. If you finished your PhD two months ago, you’re going to have less work updating your references and citations, but you’re still going to have some.

If you finished your PhD several years ago, you’re going to have a lot more of this work because a lot more scholarship has been produced, published, debated, and used in that time period.

[00:30:09] You also might need to add expanded references or citations to speak to the new audiences that you’re pitching your book to. For instance, you might be pitching your book to audiences beyond the disciplinary field that you got your degree in, in which case you’re going to need to actively engage with scholarship that comes from those expanded fields in the text itself. For instance, if your degree is in sociology but your book is being pitched to people in women’s and gender studies, cultural anthropology, communication studies, and media studies, your citations and your engagement with ideas needs to reflect those new fields as well. Those are things that you might need to add to the book version as you’re doing your revisions.

Updated current events

Finally, and this will depend on your topic, you’re going to need to add updated current events. Obviously things will have happened in the world between when you finished your PhD or when you finished your dissertation and when your book comes out. Those things need to be updated for the book version.

[00:31:02] Don’t think that this only refers to people writing about super current events. Obviously you’re going to need to update when you’re referencing presidential elections or if you’re referencing a specific ad campaign or company. If a company no longer exists or had some big change to it, or there’s a new person in a leadership position that you refer to, that kind of stuff needs to be updated.

But even if you’re writing about historical fields this applies. For instance if you’re in medieval studies, obviously things aren’t currently happening in medieval times right now. But they are happening in medieval studies as a field.

So even if you’re writing about historical events and the events themselves are not going to change, in the time period between when you finish your degree and when you publish a book, the scholarly and public conversations about those events will have changed. You need to make sure that you update that in the book version.

Troubleshooting tricky revision issues

[00:32:02] So let’s talk about some tricky issues when it comes to revising your dissertation into a book.

Reluctance to cut materials

One of the primary reluctances or challenges that authors have when making this transition is a reluctance to cut material. Now, I understand this so much. I identify with this intensely.

I get it. Dissertations are really hard to write, especially considering you’ve never written anything that long in your life. It was the first time you ever wrote a dissertation (for most of you at least; for those of you who with multiple PhDs I’m not talking about you). It’s hard to cut material that you sweated over, that you spent so long producing.

But cutting material is how you make texts good. Every single author who’s ever published anything—whether it’s a blog post, a book, a journal article, a newspaper article‚ anyone who’s ever published anything has thrown material away. It is normal. It is crucial to the editing process.

[00:33:25] There’s a famous William Faulkner quote about writing and about the kind of pain of writing, the trauma of writing. He says that one of the primary things that you do as a writer is to “kill your darlings.” A “darling” is that material that you are super emotionally attached to. You worked really hard on it. Maybe it was really difficult to write. Maybe it came out of a very meaningful moment in your life. Maybe you have other kinds of emotional attachments to it.

But part of what he’s pointing out here, and what I’m going to reiterate and what any editor worth their salt and every publisher will reiterate, is that material that doesn’t support your new book’s argument has to go. You can use that somewhere else. You can publish it in a journal article. You can put it up on your blog. You can post it on social media if you really want that material out in the world. But if it doesn’t support your book’s main argument, it’s got to go.

Topic fatigue

[00:34:35] Another common challenge with the dissertation-to-book revision process is topic fatigue. Dissertations take a really long time to write. You’ve been thinking about this topic, you’ve been working on this topic, your brain has been mired in this topic for more than a decade. That’s a long time to be thinking about a single topic. So it’s extremely common for authors to be pretty damn sick of their topic by the time they get to the revision into a book process.

First of all, know that that’s completely normal. It doesn’t make you a bad scholar. It doesn’t even make you a unique scholar. It’s completely common. Everyone gets sick of their topic. They do. The important thing is to figure out ways that you can get re-inspired by your topic and excited about it in different ways.

[00:35:42] One big way to combat this is to write about your topic in other genres. You might blog about it, you might teach the topic in the classroom. This is often a really good way to get excited about your topic again, because when you’re teaching something about your book topic, you have to frame it in a different way because your students are not reading the entire book manuscript. They’re just encountering one little piece of it in some fashion.

So when you’re teaching, you have to think, How can I introduce this teeny little piece of it and provide enough information about this teeny little piece of it and explain enough excitement about this teeny little piece of it so that students can follow my train of thought? Getting your brain to approach your topic in a new way can often get you excited about it again.

You can also write new material or add new examples. You might have to do this anyway depending on how your new book manuscript is structured. So you might need to add new examples anyway, but you might just want to add new examples. Maybe your existing example on a specific topic works totally fine, but you’re really sick of it and can add a new one.

[00:37:00] You are also creating a new frame for your book, which is usually necessary when making that transition. But focusing on that new frame and viewing your topic through that new frame, you get to see it in a different light. That different angle or that different frame can often get you excited about elements of your topic in ways that you didn’t experience in the other frame. These are a couple of ways that you can combat topic fatigue, which is totally normal. You can get through it.

Reluctance to consider audience

[00:37:40] Another tricky issue is a reluctance to think about audience. Now sometimes this is actual reluctance as in. I just don’t want to care about readers. (That’s not good!) But usually it’s a lack of understanding about how you’re supposed to do this. In this case, it’s not actually a reluctance to deal with readers but it’s not knowing how to write for them.

One way to start to think about this, and this is how I like to advise authors I’m editing, is to start thinking about why you got excited about the topic in the first place. What got you into this? What pissed you off in the world that made you want to write about it? What made you excited about the world that made you want to write about it? What got your creativity going in the world that made you want to write about this thing, that made you want to spend 10+ years of your life on this thing?

Chances are you had some kind of emotional reason for getting into your topic. It can be idiosyncratic, it can be silly, it can be dumb, but you had some reason for getting into this and for sticking with it through an extraordinarily long period of time and a lot of student debt. Get back to that thing that you got excited about. Sometimes that thing might have changed. That’s okay too, but get to that excitement, that reason why you care about this thing.

[00:39:19] Think about how you want this book to change the world. Although dissertations tend to be have an extremely narrow focus, often addressing a very tiny scholarly question or intervening in a very tiny scholarly debate, that’s not usually why you got into this topic to begin with.

Chances are you got interested in this topic before you ever learned about that tiny scholarly debate or question. You had some bigger, broader reason for caring, for thinking that this matters at all.

Get big and get bold and get back to that kind of excitement. That is actually a requirement for writing a book anyway because those reasons—why you care about this thing, why you think it matters in the universe—those are reasons why readers should care about this topic and those are ways that you’re going to pitch this book to publishers and other readers.

Hiring timelines and tenure clocks

[00:40:28] Another tricky issue for revisions from dissertation to book has to do with timelines. Now, this is going to entirely depend on your professional situation as well as your personal situation. For instance, have, if you’re lucky enough to have a tenure-track position, first of all, congratulations. You’re in the minority but congratulations.

If you are lucky enough to inhabit a tenure-track position or you’re aiming for a tenure-track position, you have some pretty hard timelines for revisions. It’s important that you think about that as soon as possible and calculate exactly how long you have to revise this manuscript into a book, submit it to publishers, and go through the very long production process.

[00:41:24] Ask people in your department, ask your department chair, ask the people who are in charge of your tenure case: How long do you have to submit your tenure packet? If you’re on the tenure track, that’s your timeline for revisions and publishing.

You’re going to need to work backwards from that date to figure out when your intermediary deadlines are going to be as well. In most university departments (not all of them, but most of them) you have between five and six years from the date of hire to turn in a tenure packet.

So that’s five or six years to revise your dissertation into a book, write and revise a book proposal, and submit that book proposal to presses. That time also encompasses the time it takes for presses to review the proposal, decide whether they want to see a full manuscript, and request your full manuscript.

It includes time for you to revise your full manuscript and make it ready for publishers, for presses to send it out for peer review, for reviewers to review it (which can take quite a long time), for presses to make publishing decisions, for presses to (hopefully) offer you a contract, and for the book to go through the production process.

[00:42:41] Now when you think about it in those terms, five to six years starts to seem much shorter. So it’s important that you get crystal clear early on about how long you have to do this revision process.

If you’re not on the tenure track and you aren’t aiming for a tenure-track position, you have a lot more flexibility, which is pretty awesome. But either way, get clear on how long you have to do this thing.

If you’re working with a crunched timeline, some ways that you can help yourself include submitting to mid- and lower-tier publishers as well as high-tier ones to increase your publication odds. This is absolutely something that you should check with your departmental colleagues and mentors about because different publishers “count” in different fields and in different ways. For your department and your field specifically, the people in charge of your tenure case are the ones that you need to ask advice from and follow because they’re setting the rules. So make sure you check with them.

[00:43:45] Another solution for this is to tackle the parts that need the most work first. I know it’s tempting to start with the little nickel and dime stuff because it’s easy. You think, “Oh, I can fix that citation over there or I can add some updated references.” But I advise you leave that stuff to the end because it can happen super quickly and if you can’t get to it, it doesn’t really matter compared to the other stuff. The big stuff, the “I need a new frame for this project, I need to add two more chapters, I need to cut huge amounts of material” stuff—those things are going to take longer. Tackle those first.

[00:44:30] Another solution is to cut material that would take too long to revise. This is totally common. Oftentimes there’ll be a chapter that just needs a ton of revision for it to become appropriate for a book manuscript. If you just don’t have time to do that, cut it.

You can also think about reframing the project to fit a different audience. Now, make sure that that reframing actually fits the timeline that you need because you don’t want to do a reframing that would add time to your timeline if you’re feeling a time crunch.


[00:45:09] Then there is the final kind of tricky issue that everyone revising a dissertation into a book (literally everyone) deals with: ghosts. These are advisors’ opinions or or Reader 2’s opinions that haunt you from when you submitted a chapter as a journal article and you got that reader report back and they just tore you apart. Ghosts that haunt dissertation manuscripts can include your grad school colleagues or your cohort. Graduate school is amazing in so many ways, but it’s also traumatizing in a lot of ways. That’s not good, but it is common. You’re not the only one who experienced that.

Dissertations are haunted by those experiences and one of the things that you’re going to deal with when you’re transitioning from a dissertation manuscript to a book manuscript is reckoning with those ghosts, reckoning with the emotional attachment and response that you have to different sections of that manuscript. And I want you to know that that’s totally normal.

[00:46:22] It’s also personal. Who those ghosts are will depend on your individual situation. Sometimes your editors and publishers aren’t going to be aware of those ghosts, and that’s okay. You don’t need to explain them all but you do need to know when those ghosts are popping up for you and know that that’s okay. Then figure out ways to mitigate that.

One of the kind of best pieces of advice that editors can tell authors who are revising a dissertation manuscript into a book manuscript is that you have permission to be your own person. You’re not a student anymore. You don’t have to include a damn thing in your book manuscript that you don’t want to. And yes, you can include things that an advisor or dissertation committee member or department chair warned you against including in the dissertation version. You can include that stuff.

It’s your book. You are a grownup scholar by this point. It’s your book; it’s your career. Let’s help you make a really great book manuscript that you are proud of, that comes out of what you think is important about this topic, not what someone somewhere down the line, back in graduate school, had to say about it.

How editors can help you revise your dissertation into a book

[00:47:50] So how can editors help you with this process? Now, editors can mean professional editors. Editors can mean a writing group. Editors can mean acquisition editors at presses (who provide some but not all of this help). In general, editors are people who help you with your revision process. They can help you with things like manuscript critiques.

Book proposal editing

They can also help you with book proposal editing, providing feedback on the elements in your proposal. They can tell you what should be cut what needs to go in the proposal.

They can help with project framing. They can help you with your argument: identifying whether you have one (first of all) and identifying if it’s a strong one, if you carry it through the text, and how you can improve it.

They can provide feedback on how to pitch the book to specific audiences, as well as what those audiences might be that would be interested in it. They can offer advice on publication potential and whether it is viable as a book. They can advise how you can revise it to make it viable as a book.

They can help you with market research, identifying the competing books that your book would be positioned within. Positioning and market research is a key part of your book proposal. They can also help you identify publishers that would be a good fit for your particular project.

Developmental editing

[00:49:13] Editors can also provide developmental editing at several stages in this revision process. They can provide developmental editing before you send the complete manuscript to the press for peer review. So that would be pre-contract and pre-peer review, when you’re getting the manuscript ready to submit to presses.

They can also help you implement and respond to reader report suggestions. So that’s after the book has gone out for peer review and you have the reader reports back. The press will want to know how you intend to respond to and incorporate reader report suggestions. Developmental editors can help you with that as well. So that also would be pre-contract (you don’t yet have a book contract) but post-peer review.


[00:50:06] Editors can also help you with copyediting. Copyediting deals with the writing—the detailed elements of sentence structure, grammar, and citation style (in contrast to developmental editing, which deals with the content, the ideas, and the argument). Copyediting can happen on your book proposal. It’s a great thing to get on your book proposal, cover letter, and sample chapters copyediting. This is pre-submission.

Copyediting is also useful on the full manuscript, before you submit the final version. So that would be post-contract as you’ve already gotten a book contract but you need to turn in the final manuscript so it can go into production.


And then as the last stage in the production process, when you get page proofs from the press, authors are expected to proof their own page proofs or hire a professional editor to do so. And so editors can help you at that stage as well with proofreading.

[00:50:57] I put a link in the chat box for our editing page. As I mentioned, Ideas on Fire provides developmental editing, copyediting, proofreading, manuscript critiques, and book proposal editing for scholarly authors. If you have any questions about that process, I’m happy to answer them in the Q&A.

I definitely recommend that you work with someone in some capacity, whether it’s your writing group, peers, an acquisitions editor at a press, or professional editor that you hire. I recommend that you work with somebody on this revision process that new emphasis on audience that I was talking about means that other people need to get their eyeballs on this thing. For years, yours have been the primary eyeballs on this manuscript and that’s perfectly fine for dissertation.

But for a book, you need to be able to pitch it to broad audiences and by definition, that’s not you. So the more eyeballs you can get on this manuscript and the more focused assistance that you can get on this revision process, the better your book’s going to be, the better your book proposal is going to be, and the more likelihood you have of getting a book contract and actually seeing the book go into production.

[00:52:24] Okay. So I’m going to stop screen sharing and come back. Are there any questions about anything that I’ve talked about or anything that I didn’t get to about the dissertation-to-book revision process? You can post questions in the chat over here or you can use the “ask a question” function at the bottom of your screen.

Copyediting for dissertations

Somebody asks, “Does Ideas on Fire offer copyediting for dissertations?” We do. Different universities have different academic integrity rules so we make sure that the editing we provide to graduate students on their dissertations is in accordance with their university’s academic integrity rules. You can find that out by looking at your university website. It’s usually published either in a provost section or academic integrity section (different universities organize that differently). So yes, we do provide it as far as it aligns with your university’s academic integrity rules.

Book proposal editing

[00:54:05] Someone else asks, “Do we offer book proposal editing?” Yes, we have a book proposal editing package. We provide developmental editing and copyediting on the book proposal draft itself and we also provide publisher research.

So we take a look at your manuscript or your proposal, depending on where you are in the process, and then we identify five or six publishers that would be a good fit for your project, publishers that have strong lists in your fields and that have audiences that match up with your project’s audiences. We identify those publishers and provide you a report that includes their submission process, requirements you have to include in the book proposal, timeline of the submission process, and contact information for the relevant acquisitions editor.

Which to edit first—the proposal or manuscript?

[00:55:32] Another question: “What’s the best way to do both the book proposal editing and book manuscript editing?” It would depend on how much work you’ve already done and where in the process you are. If you have not submitted a book proposal yet to a publisher, I would recommend starting with that because oftentimes a book proposal is good to start, especially if you’re staring at a completed, unrevised dissertation.

If that’s the stage you’re in, I actually recommend starting with a book proposal and because in the proposal that you’re going to figure out that new frame that your book is going to have, just in a shortened version. A book proposal is about 10 pages, single spaced, and it’s a chance for you to figure out what that new frame is going to be, what any different new chapters are going to be. It essentially gives you an outline for the entire project. You can then use that to revise the manuscript rather than going the other way around.

[00:56:50] We have a webinar on writing a successful academic book proposal that I highly recommended. In that, I talk in depth about what needs to go on a book proposal and how to frame it. One of the things that you have to include in a book proposal is market analysis and audience analysis—who will buy this book and how do you know that? That new frame that I was talking about, that a book version (versus a dissertation version) needs because you’re thinking about audience oftentimes for the very first time, you have to figure that out in a book proposal anyway. So if you do that first and then use the proposal to frame your revisions of the manuscript, that revision process can go faster and you get a tighter alliance between the book’s new argument, frame and audience.

University requirements for dissertation editing

[00:57:53] Another question: How do I get permission from my university to have you copyedit my dissertation? You would need to check with your university and different universities, the person you’re going to check with is going to be different. So I would definitely recommend asking around campus. You could ask your dissertation chair, you could ask other professors in your department or in related departments. See who you need to check with and what regulations you need to check with about academic integrity.

Canadian universities are actually really good about this. They make those rules really easy to find on websites. I wish US universities did this (they don’t, unfortunately). But if you’re at a university where you don’t already know what those rules are, I recommend asking your dissertation chair what the process is to work with an external editor—copyeditor or developmental editor—and if there are any department or university wide regulations about that.

[00:59:26] Another question: “What’s the best way to contact Ideas on Fire to work on my manuscript?” I put a link in the chat box to the page that lists more about our editing services. There’s also a link on that page to submit a project inquiry.

[01:00:16] Are there other questions? We’re at 2:01 pm, but I’m happy to hang out for a couple minutes if there are still questions that folks want answered. Okay, I think we answered them all. Good.

I hope that I didn’t scare you off the process of revising your dissertation into a book. I hope I got you excited about it. It is an exciting process. It’s pretty damn cool. You get to write a book! And that’s much more fun than writing a dissertation.

If you have any lingering questions or there’s something that comes up for you, you can contact us through our website. We’re happy to talk with you about editing, about the revision process, about all that good stuff.

Oh, there’s one more question from someone who says they joined the webinar late. What’s your name? My name is Cathy Hannabach. I’m the president of Ideas on Fire and we’re an academic editing and consulting agency working with interdisciplinary academics in particular.

[01:01:08] Thank you all for being here. In about half an hour, you’ll get an email from me with a link to the replay of this event so you can watch the video whenever you want. It’ll stay up as long as Crowdcast exists so you can watch that at any time. You’ll also get a link to the slides so you can review those if you have questions or you just want to go back to them later.

We do two of these webinars a month. Our next webinar coming up in on December 7th is about dealing with rejection in academia. That’s our Grad School Rockstars webinar so that’s for folks in the Rockstar community. If you are currently a graduate student and not already a Rockstar member, I highly recommend it. It’s awesome. You get personalized mentorship and support on the dissertation and graduate school process.

[01:02:00] Our webinar after that, on December 19th, is about money management for graduate students, something that I know I wish I learned more about in graduate school. I wish I had been able to go to workshops about that. So hopefully that will be useful to those of you who are graduate students.

Then we’re going to take a break because it’s the holiday season and it’s winter and we want a bit of a break. We’ll come back raring to go the first week of January with more webinars about writing, publishing, journal articles, writing groups, and about a whole bunch of other fun stuff. I hope to see you at some of those future ones and thank you for being here. Have a great rest of your day.

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Cathy Hannabach is the founder and CEO of Ideas on Fire as well as the host of the Imagine Otherwise podcast.

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