Today’s post is by published author Gina Neff. She is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Washington. She is also a Chair of the Communication and Information Technologies Section, American Sociological Association and the author of Venture Labor: Work and the Burden of Risk in Innovative Industries. You can follow her on Twitter at @ginasue.
1. A dissertation is not a book. Figure out what makes your research useful, interesting, and relevant to your field. There are obvious differences between dissertations and books, of course, but when you start to “speak” like a scholar instead of a graduate student your work and your ideas will be heard differently. The wisdom of William Germano’s From Dissertation Into Book cannot be overstated. Repeat: cannot be overstated. If you get a rejection notice (and expect to get one) that says you should read Germano, you’ve not done your homework.
2. Get advocates for your book. Books do not publish themselves (unless you’re thinking of self-publishing, and if you are thinking such silly thoughts as a junior academic then shame on you). Books, like all cultural and media products, are produced in social networks. Figure yours out and get advocates for your book who are established within that network or scholarly community. You already have advocates for your dissertation (presumably your chair, your committee, co-panelists from professional presentations). Figure out who will support you in revisions, proposal writing, picking the right press, finding the right series, etc.
3. Focus. This is advice for both you and your manuscript. Revising a dissertation into a book is hard. Figure out what you want to say to your field, what contributions you have, and focus that into a coherent manuscript. Along the way, you’ll need to find time to focus yourself – turn off the internet, step outside of the classroom, get to the library or shut your office door, and sit down and write.
4. Think about markets. Books are products. Even if you’re in a relatively small and specialized field (or perhaps because of it) you’ll need to think about who will buy your book and why. Your potential editors will be thinking these thoughts. Does your work speak across disciplinary lines? With a little work can you make your work relevant, readable, and intelligible to interested scholars in related fields? Thinking about how the book might be marketed shouldn’t be your first or primary consideration, but it should be one thing you consider when revising your dissertation.
5. Write your book. A first book is not for your dissertation chair, your department chair, or your tenure review committee chair. Those voices, or fears of those voices, may be in your head as you tackle the difficult job of revisions. But the book is yours—own it and advocate passionately for the ideas that lead you to pursue this work in the first place.