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Book publication does not inevitably follow a successfully defended dissertation in the social sciences and humanities and it is not the only option available to scholars who wish to see their research disseminated more widely. Yet it is true that a book is a singular and enduring form of intellectual and literary expression. If you believe that the subject and ideas of your dissertation research deserve to be more widely circulated in book form, and that the extensive work of revision is a worthwhile investment of your time, we would be pleased to receive a manuscript proposal from you.
Although many excellent books originate in dissertation research, the thesis and the book are different. Where the dissertation is an exercise in which you demonstrate your command of your field and your ability to advance knowledge in the field to a select group of five or six people, the book is about the communication of your ideas to a wider readership. This audience may still be somewhat specialized but could include scholars from different areas, graduate and undergraduate students, and others interested in your subject. The question of readership is an important one for publishers as they consider the potential market for your work. Where your thesis committee was obliged to read your dissertation, future readers must choose to read your book. More important than your extensive documentation, literature review, and detailed methodology are the ideas that guided your research and that were developed in the writing of your dissertation—ideas that you think can capture the interest of a wider community of readers. Foregrounding these ideas, and shedding some of the layers of scholarly armour that characterize most dissertations, are the goals of revision.
The revision process is necessarily individual—it will depend on the nature of your dissertation and on your particular objectives for the book. (For extended consideration of these points, we suggest some further reading below.) While some dissertations need minimal reconsideration and rewriting as manuscripts, most require a fair bit of both. Generally speaking, it may be helpful to think of dissertation revisions in three categories: content, structure, and style.
First, with respect to content: dissertations are often narrow in scope and tightly focused. Should you consider bringing other questions or ideas into the frame, that you weren’t sure how to handle in the dissertation, but that may be interesting to explore in the book? Are there any “missing chapters” that were not essential for the dissertation, but that might belong in the book—and perhaps complete it? On the other hand, does the dissertation contain any peripheral sections or weaker chapters that should be left out? Although it can be hard to let go of whole chapters, you may find that you can shape a more coherent book manuscript by drawing on your strongest dissertation chapters, rather than all of them. Pay close attention to the critical discussion that takes place during the oral defence and to the feedback you receive through external evaluations. The questions asked, ideas raised, and connections suggested at the defence and in the external examiner’s report are often strong predictors of the issues that peer reviewers will expect to be addressed and pursued in a book manuscript. There is also the question of what to do with the dissertation’s required elements, such as the literature review, methodology, chapter summaries, and extensive scholarly apparatus. In most cases, these elements do not advance the argument or enhance the readability of a manuscript, and should be removed.
Second, the structure and organization of the dissertation will likely be different from the book. A dissertation does not necessarily have a narrative arc and in some cases its chapters stand alone as self-contained arguments with their own introductory and concluding sections. A book, on the other hand, is meant to hold the reader’s attention from the first page to the last. Not all readers read a book from beginning to end, but writers are obliged to write as if they do. The readers of your book should be aware that they are following a developing argument in which each chapter builds on the previous ones in a logical, satisfying way. A good book has balance, pace, and momentum, and its conclusion rewards the reader’s patience and attention. The internal organization of individual chapters may also require reconsideration. In some disciplines, dissertations are characterized by truncated sections with numerous sub-headings, which are itemized in the table of contents. This gives readers ready access to the precise information they are looking for, and it may be helpful to divide your chapters into several sections, but excessive sub-heading breaks the flow of a narrative and can mask an underlying organizational weakness. And don’t be afraid to write a chapter anew; it is often easier than endlessly moving paragraphs around and nearly always produces better writing.
Third, dissertations are not always written with attention to style and the eloquent communication of ideas; they are arguments that need to be defended and, as a result, may be written somewhat defensively. Happily, unlike the members of a dissertation committee, the readers of books are generally not scrutinizing for weaknesses. A book can be more self-assured and exploratory, and the author’s confidence should be reflected in the writing. Although scholarly books should not be chatty or informal, and must meet the highest scholarly standard, the best ones are well-written, clear, remain in the active voice, avoid redundancy, and minimize the use of jargon while respecting disciplinary norms.
There is also a practical consideration facing publishers of which authors should be aware: dissertations are readily available in electronic format via ProQuest and through universities themselves. As a result, libraries have become cautious about buying books based on dissertations. Since libraries are the major purchasers of scholarly books, their selectivity makes it even more important that an author takes the dissertation to a different level in the book manuscript, and makes it new. Indeed, a book that is the result of a well-revised dissertation will leave no doubt among your fellow scholars that it, rather than the thesis, is the authoritative statement of your scholarly work. If you are willing to invest the necessary time and work in your revisions, we will do our best to help you the rest of the way.
For more information on the process of dissertation revision, you may wish to consult the following resources: Revising Your Dissertation: Advice from Leading Editors edited by Beth Luey (University of California Press, 2007), From Dissertation to Book by William Germano (University of Chicago Press, 2005) and The Thesis and the Book by Eleanor Harman et al. (University of Toronto Press, 2003).