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Dissertation To Book Manuscript

The Twelve Steps from Dissertation to Book

When I finished my dissertation, I knew I wanted to transform it into a book. I did not, however, know anything about the publishing process. As I am now finished with this long process, this is an ideal time for me to outline the steps so that others can know how to publish a book from your dissertation.


In this blog post, I will explain the book publishing process. However, keep two things in mind: 1) there is a lot of variation beyond what I describe here and 2) this is generally the process for the first book, not necessarily for the second or third.

My first book, based on my dissertation

Step One: Write the Book Prospectus

Although it seems daunting, a book prospectus is not a complex document. I describe the book proposal in detail here. Briefly, it contains: 1) a summary of your book that outlines the main argument; 2) a one-paragraph summary of each chapter; 3) a timeline for completion of the book manuscript; 4) a brief description of the target audience and potential classes for course adoption; and 5) the competing literature. Usually these are short documents. Mine have ranged from four to seven single-spaced pages.

Step Two: Submit the Book Prospectus

Find publishers who might be interested in your book manuscript, and send them the prospectus. Often, they also will want one or two sample chapters. You can send your prospectus to as many publishers as you like. Most publishers list submission guidelines on their websites. These guidelines often indicate exactly what materials they would like to see: usually a prospectus, one or two sample chapters, and a two page CV.

Step Three: Submit the Book Manuscript

When acquisitions editors receive your prospectus, they make a decision as to whether or not they will send your book manuscript out for review. If they do not, they will send you a letter with their regrets. However, if they are interested, they often will call or email you with a request to see more materials. Some presses want to wait for the whole book manuscript to be completed. Others will send out just the prospectus for review. Others will send out 1-4 finished chapters. That depends on the book and the press. They will let you know.

Step Four: The Press Sends Your Manuscript out for Review

You wait between one and twelve months for the reviews to come back. If just the prospectus is under review, this will not take very long. If it is the whole manuscript, usually you will wait several months.

Step Five: You Get a Contract

The press makes a decision based on the reviews. They can decide to a) offer a contract based on the reviews; b) ask you to do more revisions and send it out for review again or c) decline to offer a contract based on the reviews. If it is c), you go back to Step Two.

Step Six: You Sign a Contract

If the reviews are favorable, the press will offer you a contract, which you first negotiate and then sign. Here are some items often up for negotiation: 1) who will pay for the index; 2) who pays for the cover and inside pictures; 3) who pays for the copy-editing; 4) the royalties rate; and 5) when and whether the book will be released in paperback.

Step Seven: You Revise the Manuscript

You revise the manuscript based on the reviews. Some presses will send it out for review again once you revise it. Others will review it internally and ask you to make further revisions. Still others will send it as is to the copy-editor after you make your revisions.

Step Eight: Copy-Editing

Once the book manuscript is revised, it goes to the copy-editor and they proofread the text. This usually takes 1 to 3 months.

Step Nine: Revision

You revise it again, based on the suggestions made by the copy-editor. You then send it back to the copy-editor who sends it to the press after your final approval. You usually have one month to respond to the copy edits.

Step Ten: Page Proofs

Your book is put into page proofs that you get to read and revise again. At this stage, however, you can only make very minor changes. You correct any mistakes and then it goes to the printer.

Step Eleven: In Press

The page proofs are sent to the printer, and you wait for your book to be printed. Printing usually takes a couple of months.

Step Twelve: On the Shelf

Your book is available for sale! Now that your book is for sale, be sure to include a link to the publisher's website or to Amazon.com in your email signature to advertise your book.

As made clear in these twelve steps, publishing an academic book is often a very long process. It is important to keep in mind that it can take years to publish a book, even after you have completed the manuscript.

For example, I completed the manuscript for my first book in May 2009 and sent it to a publisher who had agreed to review it. I received the reviews in November 2009, and the publisher offered me a contract on the basis of the reviewers’ evaluations at that time. I signed the contract and then revised the book according to the suggested revisions and returned it to the publisher in March 2010. In June 2010, I received and reviewed the copy-edits. In October 2010, I received and reviewed the page proofs. The book was released in February 2011 – nearly two years after I had originally “finished” the book manuscript! Keeping this timetable in mind is particularly important if your university prefers you to have a bound book when you go up for tenure.

This is a repost from 2011.

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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.  The dissertation serves you only insofar as you can quickly transform it into the commodities that bring value on the market—peer reviewed articles (preferably published before you defend and start the job search), high profile grants that funded the research, high profile conferences in which you present the research publicly, and finally, the advance contract for the book from a major (NOT minor) academic press.  These are the tangible accomplishments that you must have to be competitive for a tenure track position at this point in time.

So here are The Professor’s Top Five Tips for Turning your Dissertation into a Book.

1)  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. for publication.

2)  Make it short.

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.  I can promise you that if you present them with a 500 page monograph on the significance of the turtle as a symbol in 12th century religious iconography in Spain, for example, they are going to send it back with a polite email telling you they won’t be considering it until it is cut in half.

3) Know your market.

The dissertation may be treated like the intellectual achievement par excellence in your doctoral program, but in the real world of jobs with benefits, it is a commodity that has value only when it can be traded for gain on the market.  Ask yourself what sort of class your diss/book is suited for.  Do a google search of such classes and find out what kinds of books are assigned.  Take a look at those books and see what their main selling points seem to be.  Then ask yourself how you can adjust and mold your dissertation to be the kind of book that serves that market (without losing sight of your actual project and findings, of course!).  When you send the mss. to presses, you will be able to feature this “market research” prominently in your cover letter.

4) Don’t be boring.

Write with style and flair.  Just because you *can* write clunky, graceless prose in academia, and get away with it, doesn’t mean you *should.*  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. out to presses.  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.

5) 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.  Do not be derailed by committee politics and wrangles over whether you included XX citation in chapter 3 or properly acknowledged ZZ’s work in chapter 4.  Follow your own star, defend your positions, compromise when you must, and move on as efficiently as you can.  The best dissertation is a finished dissertation that is already a press-ready mss.

Here is my dissertation story:

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. out to presses, not only did 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.  The reason?  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!

Posted inBook Proposals and Contracts, Landing Your Tenure Track Job, Publishing Issues, Stop.Acting.Like.A.Grad.Student, Strategizing Your Success in Academia, Surviving Assistant Professorhood, Tenure--How To Get It, Writing InstrumentallyTaggedadvice for making my dissertation into a book, how to write a monograph, how to write an academic book, turning your dissertation into a bookpermalink

About Karen

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions--University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I've created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don't.

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