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Writing a book – when life gets in the way by Astrid Bracke
astrid

Astrid Bracke writes on twenty-first-century British fiction and nonfiction, ecocriticism, narratology, climate crisis and flood narratives. Her monograph, Climate Crisis and the Twenty-First-Century British Novel, is under contract with Bloomsbury Academic. This is her final post for AcWriMo 2016.

astrid_4_edits-laptopSo far in this series I’ve written about the difference between writing a dissertation and writing a book, about planning the book and about the actual writing. In this final post I want to talk about two things: when things don’t go as planned and, related to that, communicating with your editor(s) throughout the process.

Although I loved working on the book, around seven months into the process my work life outside of the book became increasingly difficult. Looking back things hadn’t been going well for months: I had struggled with boredom – even though I kept busy – and disinterest in teaching, my colleagues, basically everything. And I just couldn’t stop talking about it: about the things that went wrong, about the things that annoyed me, about the issues that I couldn’t stop thinking about. Sunday evenings became horrible: I’d sit at home stressed and worried about the week ahead. I suffered headaches and a lingering sense of nausea, had nightmares about work, felt tension in my legs and neck, and became much more emotional than I usually am. The turning point came when one day I spent all of a lazy Saturday breakfast with my boyfriend complaining about work, did the same over lunch with a friend, and then over drinks with another friend. By the evening I realized that something was wrong.  

This story perhaps really isn’t part of a series on ‘how to write a book’. But at the same time it is. It’s important to me, though difficult, to tell this part of the story. Yes, I enjoyed writing the book, it went well and I am pleased with the result. But at the same time I also ended up having to take a break from writing and suffered from burnout. I know – and I’ve learnt since – that many, if not most, people working in higher education and academia experience extreme stress or burnout at some point. It seems to happen especially to people early in their career. Particularly people in their (late) twenties and thirties experience high levels of work-related stress. What weighs on many of us is the stress of trying to live up to high standards – usually our own.

By early May I was off work sick. Even though my burnout was not related to my book, I ended up taking off time from writing as well. Originally I had agreed to submit the finished manuscript to the publisher by the end of July. I was on schedule when I became ill, but had to ask for an extension. Many authors end up needing an extension on their book – either because of illness, because of work obligations or simply because of not being able to finish on time.

It’s important to be realistic when you draw up a plan – either at the beginning of the project or when asking for an extension. No one is served with you making a plan that is too optimistic. If you’ll only be able to submit the book on time if you work faster than you usually do it’s not a good plan. And even when you’ve been realistic in the beginning, things might happen that keep you from finishing on time. Sometimes people don’t communicate, or communicate too late with the publisher. They are ashamed or try to persuade themselves that they could still finish as agreed. This strategy really helps no one and will put you under (even) more pressure. Also, publishers depend on authors delivering their work on time: they draw up publication schedules in advance, and when an author is very late in asking for an extension this can affect the schedule.

Once I realized I had to take a break from writing the book I contacted the publisher and the series editors. I told them I was ill and that I would be unable to deliver the manuscript on time. But I also, importantly, gave them a date on which I thought I’d be done (three months after the agreed date). This was a bit of a gamble: in early May I honestly didn’t know for sure that I’d be feeling better, but with being off work and the summer coming up I assumed that I’d finish the book by the new deadline, September 30th.

It’s been two months now since I submitted the manuscript. It’s currently at the reviewers, with publication set for 2017. The process has been good overall: I enjoyed writing the book, and am generally pleased with how it turned out. At the same time I also had to deal with things not going as planned. What saved me in the end was drawing up a new plan and being clear with the publisher about the delay. And now, all I have to do is be patient for the reviewers’ comments and the published book!

Writing a book, from start to finish II by Astrid Bracke
astrid

Astrid Bracke writes on twenty-first-century British fiction and nonfiction, ecocriticism, narratology, climate crisis and flood narratives. Her monograph, Climate Crisis and the Twenty-First-Century British Novel, is under contract with Bloomsbury Academic. This is the third of four blog posts she will write for AcWriMo 2016.

astrid_3_2_chapter-revisionSo you’ve drawn up a plan for the book – now it’s time to write!

When I started I thought I knew really well what I was going to write. After all, I’d written a detailed book proposal. But while I was writing I decided differently on a few things – and, to my surprise, discovered connections between chapters that I hadn’t seen before. I’ll discuss that in this post, and share my revision checklist for making the manuscript ready for submission.  

It’s fine and totally normal to divert from the proposal you submitted. Even though the publisher offered you a contract based on it, it’s really not set in stone. I had planned to write four chapters, each on what I call a narrative of nature. Beforehand I had decided that the chapters would form companion chapters: pastoral and urban were a pair, and so were environmental collapse and polar. But I discovered another connection between the chapters: in both pastoral and environmental collapse narratives, time plays an important role. Urban and polar narratives share an emphasis on space.

A bigger change was that I decided to take out two novels and replace them by two others. I doubted for a while whether I would run this change past my editors. The novels discussed in a book also partly determine the audience so taking out an important author like Ian McEwan might make an impact. I ended up discussing it with a colleague who has experience in publishing and decided not to tell my editors. If I’d wanted to make a bigger change, though, like taking out or adding a chapter, I would certainly have told them.

When I started I believed my focus would be on four narratives of nature that show how climate crisis is imagined is twenty-first-century British fiction. As the project progressed it slowly became clear to me that the real argument of my book is slightly different. It’s not, as I thought, just that these books depict certain narratives, but rather that they participate in and reflect a wider cultural awareness of climate crisis. In practice this meant that at the beginning of every chapter I explicitly referred to a film or other non-literary example to show this cultural awareness, and that I did that even more in the introduction. My book now starts with a reference to Leonardo DiCaprio’s 2016 Oscar-speech.

When I drew up my plan I made sure to include plenty of time for revision. In general I don’t edit as I write – I very much believe in the principle of shitty first drafts and try to keep my internal editor at bay while I’m writing.

 

I’m a list-maker so naturally I made a revision-checklist for myself:

astrid_3_1_book-checklist

  • Make back-ups in more than one place!
  • First read-through and edit, paying attention especially to structure;
  • Second read-through and edit, with special emphasis on the argument on section and sentence level;
  • Revision based on first reader’s comments;
  • Revision based on feedback of other scholars in the field (this revision includes the next steps);
  • Is the argument of the chapter clear?
  • Do all sections contribute to the chapter’s overall argument?
  • Does every chapter have a strong conclusion?
  • Do the chapters contribute to the argument set out in the introduction?
  • Does the conclusion follow logically from the chapters?
  • Do the parts of the book taken together feel like a whole? Have I signalled shared themes and other connections between the chapters? Is the overarching argument reflected in each of the chapters?
  • Final revision: publishers’ stylesheet (spelling and punctuation preferences; reference style); final spell-check.
  • Manuscript ready for submission, including all the preliminaries requested by the publisher.

I left writing the introduction and the conclusion until the very end. First I read all four chapters again and revised based on the feedback I had received. This helped me immensely to get the distance and perspective I needed for the introduction and conclusion. More than once I complained that I thought the introduction was the most difficult part of the book to write (that is until I started on the conclusion and I complained about that…).

The introduction is where you probably make – and write about – most of your choices. This is where you concisely set out your argument, but also where you decide how much you want to write about the wider field, how your book fits in with other work. My book ties in with two fields of literary criticism. Choosing to focus on four ‘narratives of nature’ means explaining why these four are important. Focusing on twenty-first-century British fiction means explaining why British literature and why twenty-first-century fiction.

The conclusion is really about finding that sweet spot where you don’t summarize too much, but still bring together the main points, and showing the wider relevance of your book without going off at a tangent about other directions.

And then, much faster really than I had anticipated, most of the work was done. I put all the chapters in one document and set out to check whether it followed the publisher’s stylesheet. Although they recommended using it from the beginning, I hadn’t. I ended up writing the four chapters according to the stylesheet I used most often, and had to make the changes at the end. It wasn’t too bad though: I was going through the individual chapters again anyway and had made a list for each chapter of the things I had to change.

The publisher’s stylesheet also specifies what you should include when you submit the manuscript – not only the text of your book, but also preliminaries (or prelims). Depending on the publisher, preliminaries consist of one or more title pages, a series page, acknowledgements and the table of contents. At this stage you don’t yet have to provide the index: your contract will specify if and when you’ll need to provide it, generally a few weeks after receiving the final proofs.

Once you’ve submitted the manuscript it’s time to congratulate yourself for pulling this project off. And that’s when the wait starts to hear back from the publishers and the reviewers. In my next post I’ll write about the final element of writing a book: communicating with the editor(s) and publisher.

Writing a book, from start to finish I by Astrid Bracke
astrid

Astrid Bracke writes on twenty-first-century British fiction and nonfiction, ecocriticism, narratology, climate crisis and flood narratives. Her monograph, Climate Crisis and the Twenty-First-Century British Novel, is under contract with Bloomsbury Academic. This is the second of four blog posts she will write for AcWriMo 2016.

astrid_2In the previous post I explored the differences between writing a dissertation and writing a book. In this post and the next I’ll write about the process of writing the book, both in terms of practical matters and in terms of deciding on the kind of book you’ll write.

There are two ways of going about writing a book: either you write a book proposal first, submit that to a publisher and wait for them to accept it (fingers crossed!), or you write the entire book first, and then submit that to the publisher. While some people go for the second option, most academic publishers don’t want you to send them an entire book immediately. If you do want to write the book first, or you want to publish your dissertation, you could write a proposal based on the finished manuscript and submit that. All academic publishers have a section on their website with details, so make sure to check that out first.

There’s a few risks involved with writing a book without having secured a contract from a publisher. The publisher might not accept it, or will require changes to be made to fit the book in with a series. Most importantly, though, having a contract in hand can be stimulating: having a deadline adds a sense of accountability to a project that can be quite lonely at times. Also, even though you haven’t yet written the book, having the contract gives you something to be proud of (and it looks much better on job and funding applications to have a book ‘under contract’, then just to be working on it as anyone can say that).

At the same time, I know of a few publishers who will express interest based on a proposal but won’t offer a contract until they’ve read a substantial part (i.e. a few chapters), or all of the manuscript. In that case it’s really up to you to if you want to proceed: if the publisher is renowned, if your book fits their list well and/or if you feel secure enough to go through with the book without the contract, you should.

I spent a few months researching and planning the book and then submitted a proposal with detailed chapter descriptions to a publisher. I was lucky to immediately be offered a contract. In my final post of this series I’ll write a bit more about this process and communicating with the publisher in general.

By the time I was offered the contract the timeframe that I had sketched in my proposal didn’t fit anymore. Hearing back from the publisher had taken longer than I had anticipated and I had decided not to start on the book until they had accepted it. Before I could start on the project I also had to write two articles I had committed to. With this in mind I asked for the delivery date of the manuscript to be pushed back a few months, which wasn’t a problem.

The process of writing a book has a practical dimension and a more content-focused dimension. You’ll have to figure out when you’re actually going to write it and, even though you’ve already written a proposal, you’ll have to figure out what kind of book you’ll write. Although I thought I had a pretty good idea about this going into the project, it did take quite a lot of work clarifying what I wanted to write, and what my emphasis would be on. I’ll discuss that process more in the next post.

First, though, the practical side. Once I actually started on the book I had about ten months in which to write it. In the beginning that felt like forever – I had all the time in the world to write this book! It would be fine! By nature I’m a very disciplined and organized person so despite feeling like I had plenty of time I drew up a detailed plan first.

My book consists of four chapters (13,000 words long each), an introduction (10,500 words) and a conclusion (5,000 words). I also needed time for revision at the end, as well as after every chapter, and wanted to schedule enough time so that I could ask other scholars for feedback.

My preferred method of making a plan for any kind of project is to use both a paper calendar – I currently use this one by Moleskine for my research projects – and an app, OmniFocus. I need to see on paper how much time I have available, so I began sketching out my plan using my paper calendar. I started off by planning in big chunks: around average 2½ to 3 months per chapter. When I began work on a chapter I drew up a more detailed plan, which I added to both my paper calendar and OmniFocus.

The benefit of my paper calendar for me is that I get a month at a glance – and I find it easier to plan on paper. OmniFocus, on the other hand, syncs with the app on my phone and iPad, so I always have it with me, and allows me to create projects. My book was one of those projects, and I could add to it even tasks that I didn’t need to schedule immediately but that I didn’t want to forget. Using the review-function, I was able to go back to these tasks and assign a date to them when they became important.

While planning, try to be realistic. The first chapter I wrote was the sample chapter I had submitted with the proposal, so I was rewriting more than writing from scratch. Consequently, this took me about two months at most. The next chapter’s subject matter was already very familiar to me from my PhD, so I knew beforehand that I wouldn’t be needing that much time for it either. Chapters three and four, on the other hand, were on new material, so I needed about three months for each.

Using my calendar helped me to keep other commitments in mind. I knew that by the time I had to write my introduction and conclusion I wouldn’t be teaching so I planned one month in which I wrote both. In practice, though, I wrote the book on one day a week.

While I wrote the book I used the proposal as the basis, but as I went along I ended up making changes and had to figure out in more detail what kind of book I was actually writing. I’ll discuss this process in my next post, as well my revision process.

Deciding on a publisher for your book by Astrid Bracke
Astrid Bracke

Astrid BrackeIn this series of posts, Astrid Bracke writes about the process of moving from disseration to book. She has a PhD in ecocriticism and contemporary British fiction and teaches English literature at the University of Amsterdam and HAN University of Applied Sciences.

At the same time that you’re thinking about and starting work on your book proposal, you’ll also have to decide on a publisher. Although you needn’t have a definite list by the time you’re starting on the proposal – particularly since most publishers’ guidelines are so similar – it’s good to familiarize yourself as early as possible with suitable publishers and their criteria.

One question to think about is how important it is to pick a renowned publisher. Should you hold out for a prestigious publisher if that means taking years to get a contract? In the end, a book contract from a publisher that is not a top-ranking university press like Harvard or Oxford is worth more than no book contract at all. Particularly a first book will be difficult to publish with a top university press, since you will most likely not have made a name for yourself yet, while these top presses usually publish work by authors who are authorities in their fields and thereby ensure a certain level of sales.

More important in choosing a publisher are the books that the publisher publishes, and whether they’ll be able to display your monograph at conferences. Find out where the books you admire are published, and which publishers have series that match your monograph. Reviews in journals, as well as announcements on forums and listservs are also useful in this respect. It makes sense to pick a publisher that has a relevant series in your field, or which has a list broad enough for your monograph to fit in. While many authors are critical about ‘mega-publishers’ like Routledge and Palgrave Macmillan, these are often well represented at the academic conferences your intended audience attends, which is worth to take into account when making your decision.

Conferences also present a good opportunity to talk to publishers, who are often as keen to hear about your research as you are to discover whether your work fits in with their lists. In rare cases, publishers contact delegates before the conference to set up an appointment, but approaching a publisher yourself while there is also a good idea. Publishers are continually looking for new authors, and conferences are one of the ways in which they meet them.

Colleagues and others in your field can alert you to publishers and series, but may also be able to tell you about the workings of individual publishers, for instance, the quality of the editorial process, and how much work the author has to do in terms of proofreading and indexing. In all of this, you’ll also have to feel good about the quality of work published: a series might be right up your alley, but if the quality of the monographs are consistently mediocre, you need to ask yourself whether you want to publish in this series at all.

While I know people who submitted a proposal to only one publisher and immediately succeeded, it usually takes several tries. A friend recommended making lists of publishers: an A-list with the ones you’ll try first, a B-list with back-ups, and maybe even a C-list. If your book fits into several fields, research publishers in those fields, and tailor your proposal accordingly. For instance, you can tweak the market section for each publisher: while it should show your knowledge about existing work in its full breadth, referencing works that are published by the publisher you’re addressing shows how well it fits in particularly with their list.

Once you’ve decided on your A-list, and have finished the proposal, it’s time to submit. Keep in mind that while it’s acceptable to submit your proposal to several publishers at the same time, some publishers explicitly ask you for sole consideration. The academic world is a small world, publishers frequently know each other, and peer reviewers are often asked by several different publishers, making it a real possibility that the publisher discovers if you’re cheating – so don’t.

The time it takes for a publisher to review your proposal varies, and you can always ask: a commercial publisher I recently talked to said that it took them two months from submission of the proposal to decision. Finally, never, unless a publisher specifically asks for it, send your entire manuscript: while publishers want to know as precisely as possible what you are planning to do with your monograph, they also want to know that you can still tweak or adjust things if the peer reviewers suggest it.

Writing a book proposal part II – the market section & avoiding dissertation style by Astrid Bracke
Astrid Bracke

Astrid BrackeIn this series of posts, Astrid Bracke writes about the process of moving from disseration to book. She has a PhD in ecocriticism and contemporary British fiction and teaches English literature at the University of Amsterdam and HAN University of Applied Sciences.

In the previous two posts I wrote about making the decision to turn your dissertation into a book, and what to include in the book proposal. In this post, I’ll continue by discussing the market section of the proposal and the importance of making your book look – and sound – less like a rewritten dissertation.

While the market section may seem a particularly difficult section to write, you’ve established yourself as an expert in the field through your dissertation, so you most probably already know what’s out there in terms of other works. For the publisher, this is a vital aspect: they need to know that the book will sell, otherwise they’re unlikely to take it on. This section is not just about proving how unique your book is: just writing “no one has ever done this before” is not enough. In fact, you’ll have to explicitly refer to other books that are somehow similar to yours, or that present an argument that you’ll continue, in order to show that their readers will also be likely to read your book.

Rachel Toor’s very useful article on the market section really helped me to think this through more: she recommends starting to think about the author questionnaire, which asks specific questions related to marketing your book, early. While writing the market section of your proposal, it is also useful to think about the conferences that where your book might be put on display, and the professional organizations that you belong to of which others members might be interested as well.

In the previous post I wrote that the piece of advice I got most frequently when I asked people about their experiences of turning their dissertation into a book, is that you should only do it if you can find the time, but especially the motivation and energy to do so. Another piece of advice that I heard again and again is the importance of making your monograph – even if it’s based on your dissertation – look less than a dissertation. Although it may seem that this is a matter that can wait until you start writing the book, it is actually an issue that you need to think about when you’re writing your book proposal. Some publishers explicitly ask whether the monograph is based on your dissertation, but even if they don’t explicitly do so, you’ll have to demonstrate in your proposal that the monograph is an actual book, not a dissertation.

So what is the difference between a dissertation and a book? One of the biggest differences is its purpose: the purpose of your dissertation is to prove that you are worthy of belonging to the academic community. The – published! – monograph, on the other hand, implies your membership of the academic community, so you don’t need to explicitly show it. Instead, the monograph will have to be both intellectually thorough, and broad enough to appeal to an audience large enough to merit the publisher taking it on.

William Germano, in From Dissertation to Book, also provides an interesting discussion of the dissertation versus the book. He suggests that in addition to differences in purpose and audience, a dissertation “rehearses scholarship in the field,” while the book “has absorbed scholarship in the field, and builds on it” (157). For instance, many dissertations include lengthy literature reviews or initial chapters that set out precisely what kind of work has gone before. While these demonstrate your so-called “cabinet making skills” as a PhD student, they are less relevant to readers of monographs, and often need to go. The audience for your book is interested in your argument, and far less in seeing that you know everything that has gone before in your field.

Other signs of “dissertation style” that Germano warns against are an overdependence on citation and reference, and repetitious statements of intent (“In this section I will demonstrate that…”, “Following the preceding discussion of X, I will now move on to analyze Y…”). These are all things to avoid when writing your book, and require you to take considerable critical distance from your dissertation before turning it into a monograph. Rewriting the dissertation, then, may very well turn out to be more about extensive cutting and revising, than about giving it a mere polish.

While you’re determining the focus of your book you’ll also have to decide on a publisher to submit your proposal to, which I’ll discuss in my next post.

Writing a book proposal part I – structure & significance by Astrid Bracke
Astrid Bracke

Astrid BrackeIn this series of posts, Astrid Bracke writes about the process of moving from disseration to book. She has a PhD in ecocriticism and contemporary British fiction and teaches English literature at the University of Amsterdam and HAN University of Applied Sciences.

While every publisher has their own book proposal guidelines – available on their website – these tend to cover the same elements, such as the title, short summary, a longer chapter-by-chapter outline and a section on the significance of your book. Some publishers ask you to fill in a form that covers all of these elements, and others simply require you to submit a document that incorporates all the required elements in a running text.

An obvious but nonetheless worthwhile piece of advice is that if a publisher suggests a certain structure, follow it. While you may feel that deviating from the requested structure reflects originality and individuality, the editors and reviewers that will evaluate your proposal are used to a certain structure. Choosing a different structure will more likely confuse or even irritate the editors and reviewers – who usually have little time – rather than make your proposal stand out positively.

When I started working on my book proposal, I found it nonetheless hard to determine what my book proposal should look like. Asking a friend who works more or less in the same field as I do whether I could look at her – successful – proposal helped me a lot. Another valuable resource is Palgrave Macmillan’s Open Peer Review Trial. Although primarily meant to encourage open peer review of submitted book proposals, its archive gives examples of book proposals and the feedback they received.

Eventually I decided to write a proposal as a running text that includes the elements that most publishers require. This allowed me to really conceive of my proposal as a whole, rather than a series of fields to be filled in as part of a form. Once I’d written the proposal – and had asked feedback from trusted colleagues – I could tweak and adjust the proposal to the specific forms or guidelines provided by individual publishers.

I structured my proposal as follows:

  • A longer section describing the book’s main argument, the gap(s) it will be filling and the texts and theories I’ll be concerned with. This section ends with a paragraph that sums up the specific contributions the book will make (total length about 6 paragraphs);

  • Table of contents with titles of chapters and word count. Includes notes and bibliography;

  • Chapter outline (about 500-650 words per chapter);

  • Market;

  • About the author;

  • Timeline for completion.

A number of these elements are particularly important, and worth thinking about some more.

First, you’ll need to demonstrate the significance of your book. Why should others read it? What does it contribute, and to which fields? This may require you to broaden the scope of your dissertation somewhat. The challenge is to turn your dissertation from something that is interesting primarily to your supervisor and committee members into a book that will gain the interest of a larger group of scholars.

For instance, my dissertation was aimed explicitly at expanding ecocriticism through readings of contemporary British novels. While this may be of interest as well to some scholars working outside of ecocriticism, my primary audience consisted of ecocritics, and I explicitly engaged with and responded to existing work in the field. In order to appeal to a wider audience – and hence make the book more interesting to publishers – my monograph is less explicitly concerned with ecocritical theory and practice. Instead, I’ve shifted my focus to the second element of my dissertation: an analysis of representations of nature in contemporary fiction. Since my own interest as well as work in the field is moving towards post-millennial British novels, I’ve adjusted my corpus from novels published between 1975 and 2011 – as was in the case of my dissertation – to British novels published since 2000. Consequently, the audience for my monograph increases, as I aim to appeal to several scholarly communities equally: ecocritics as well as those working on contemporary fiction, especially post-millennial British fiction.

In the next post I’ll discuss another key element of the book proposal – the market section – and one of the most frequently heard pieces of advice for recent PhDs: making your book sounds less like the dissertation you based it on.

Should you turn your dissertation into a book? by Astrid Bracke
Astrid Bracke

Astrid BrackeThis is the first in a series of posts from Astrid Bracke regarding the process of moving from disseration to book. Astrid Bracke has a PhD in ecocriticism and contemporary British fiction and teaches English literature at the University of Amsterdam and HAN University of Applied Sciences.

Over the past months I’ve been working on a book proposal for a monograph based on my dissertation. In this and the next three posts I’ll be sharing my experiences and advice on getting from finishing your dissertation to submitting a book proposal, and going on – hopefully – to publish a book. In this first post, I’ll be talking about making the decision to turn your dissertation into a book, and everything that comes with it.

It’s easy to follow the advice of only those in your Department, such as your supervisor and immediate colleagues. This may not be the best advice, though, no matter how well meant. For instance, in the Department where I did my PhD, most of my colleagues focused largely on articles – and barely on monographs. Hence, the advice to recent PhDs was to turn their dissertation into a series of articles, rather than seek to publish it as a monograph. Indeed, as I learned later, the monograph – while seen as the Holy Grail in many academic fields – is of considerably less importance in others.

Either way, it’s important to seek advice outside of your immediate academic environment, by asking external advisors or committee members, people at conferences or even following discussions on Twitter and using websites such as PhD2Published or The Research Whisperer. It can also help to look at job adverts when making this decision: they don’t always specifically list The Book as a requirement, but often do add a published monograph to their list of desired qualities.

That should be one of the first questions you ask yourself: how much do I need The Book for my career, or does a series of articles carry equal or greater weight in my field? Of course, in literary studies, the monograph is generally seen as very important, which made working on and submitting a book proposal important if I wanted to get a job outside of my own Department. At the same time, the dissertation doesn’t have to be your first monograph – although it will probably take longer to publish a book based on a wholly new project, than one based on your PhD project.

I deliberately gave myself a year from my PhD defense to decide whether or not I wanted to turn my dissertation into a book. During that year I didn’t look at my dissertation at all. Instead, I talked to people – mostly outside of my own Department –about their experiences and advice. The number one advice I got is that you should only turn your dissertation into a book if you can find the motivation to do so. If you cannot be enthusiastic about it, don’t take it on. Similarly, if you realize that large parts of your dissertation are already outdated, or make it unfeasible as a book for other reasons, you’re better off turning the best parts into articles – if you hadn’t done so already – and move on to a new project.

One of the biggest reasons why I eventually decided to turn my dissertation into a book is that I felt that otherwise the work I did in the four years it took me to write the dissertation would go to waste. I still believed in my dissertation as a whole, yet also realized that although I wanted to use the material, I also wanted to rework it. Consequently, the book proposal that I’ve now written describes a book that is more a spin-off from my dissertation than actually based on it.

In the following three posts I’ll discuss the next steps: writing a book proposal and deciding on a publisher.

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #46 by Linda Levitt
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Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Consider your audience. An often-repeated reminder: your dissertation or thesis cannot be repackaged as your first book without significant revision. Many students find themselves in a position where they are writing primarily for their director and committee, each of whom plays a critical role in the student’s success. If your committee does not see your project making a meaningful contribution to the field, you may get sucked into a spiral of revision that keeps you from completion.

Once you have succeeded and graduated, your audience changes. Do you have a publisher in mind? A press that you would most like to put out that first book for you? Take a close look at what that press publishes. Will your manuscript be a good fit? Is there a particular editor to whom you would submit the manuscript? What books are in that editor’s repertoire? The degree to which you would write toward a particular audience/market changes from one discipline to another, but it can be helpful to bear in mind that an editor will need to know your book is marketable before offering you a contract.

Guess What?! NOBODY failed AcWriMo!
Thinking From Dissertation to Book, and back again…A review of William Germano’s From Dissertation to Book by Helen Wainwright
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Todays post is written by Helen Wainwright. Helen is a final year PhD Candidate from The Department of Art History at The University of Nottingham, researching conceptual art’s supposed demise in the early 1970s in New York, and the concurrent redefinition of the spaces and/or places of artistic practice and dissemination stemming from the period. She is particularly interested in the work three separate artists: Stephen Shore (1947-present), Gordon Matta Clark (1943-78) and Anthony McCall (1946-present), and the gap that exists between their early works and later (re)interpretations of them.

Twitter: @adxhw1

http://nottingham.academia.edu/HelenWainwright

Recently, the thoughts of what to do post-PhD have started to worm their way into my mind – a good six months ahead of schedule. Rather than ignoring my subconscious efforts to prompt me into a premature job search, I used them as a nudge in the right direction to think about what I really want to accomplish in the year leading up to my viva, and likewise what I would need to accomplish in the subsequent year (or two) after it. This is when I metaphorically stumbled, via Twitter, across William Germano’s book From Dissertation to Book, an extremely useful and accessible text first published in 2005 by University of Chicago Press. I initially approached it with caution, thinking it would ultimately lead to a flurry of self-doubt, but what I actually found was an insider’s guide to what it takes, and how to make the first moves towards publishing your thesis as a book, and what decisions and barriers will more than likely be encountered along the way.

As the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social sciences at Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, and a former Vice President and Publishing Director at Routledge, William Germano knows exactly what it takes to take those first steps towards publication. The message running throughout the book is clear: be willing to revise, rework and even rethink your PhD research. This advice is coupled with a hefty warning: a thesis is not a book manuscript and will more-often-than-not be rejected by a publisher without any form of editing. Germano provides his readers with a list of eight options to choose from when considering what to do with the thesis once complete: ‘do not resuscitate’; ‘send the dissertation out as is…’; ‘publish the one strong chapter’; ‘publish two or three chapters as articles’; ‘revise the dissertation lightly’; ‘revise the dissertation thoroughly’ or ‘cleave the ample dissertation in two’ (p.38). It is safe to say that readers of From Dissertation to Book are most likely seeking advice on just that topic, and are thus left with the sole prospect of gentle/hefty revision. However, reading between the lines, I think the underlying message of the book is clear: there are more routes towards writing your first book than simply turning your doctoral dissertation straight into a manuscript.

One suggestion is the transformation of chapters into publications. Not only will this allow ideas to be transmitted to a larger audience; gaining much needed publicity, but it will grant the opportunity for a moment’s pause to deliberate whether these ideas could actually form the basis of further research, and lay the foundations for an entirely different book proposal. Likewise, such reflection may aid in the dissection of the thesis as a whole; allowing it to be sliced in two, moving both parts in separate directions, and therefore furthering the possibilities of future research and publication. Alternatively, as Germano continually recommends: revision is the key. Whilst attempting to re-work the thesis, it is also highlighted that a publisher who can recognise the potential audience for a book is far more likely to accept a manuscript or proposal, because they can clearly see who the text is aimed at and who it will be sold to. In contrast to the doctoral thesis, which will only ever meet the eyes of a handful of people, despite best wishes, the book must have a definite audience, and therefore a direct and highly relevant message. If you can argue this case straight away, then perhaps you are on to a winner.

The awareness of your thesis as something far from finished, but as the stepping stone into the world of academia is a daunting prospect, given the amount of blood, sweat and tears which are poured into the work. However, this realisation is also entirely invigorating when realisation dawns that all the routes of thought that had to be closed off in order to concentrate on getting to the finish line, could one day be re-opened. As a researcher you are expected to be adaptable and full of belief in your ideas, and From Dissertation to Book echoes these basic assumptions, asking its readers to think in the same way about their doctoral research: that it is malleable and full of potential, whether published as a book on first attempt, or not.

A primer on preparing to publish by Prof. Jan Draper
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Today’s post by Prof. Jan Draper reflects on her own experiences of carving up her PhD thesis into publications and provides excellent advice for post PhD-ers about what to consider and how to do it. Jan is a Professor and Director of Nursing at the Open University, UK, in the Faculty of Health and Social Care.

I don’t have an academic book (unfortunately!) but when I completed my PhD (2000) I did approach a number of publishers to see if they were interested. I think my recollection from this (very dated now of course) was that the publishers could ‘spot’ a PhD ‘conversion’ a mile off, so you have to be very careful in this regard. Some publishers are very happy to consider conversions from PhDs, others are not. So in order to maximise chances, I think one needs to be very well informed about which publishers do what.

With that in mind here are my Top 5 Tips for getting published:

  1. Write a good PhD in the first place! Sounds obvious but you would be surprised at the range! Include in this writing a very solid theoretical foundation. Theory can really liberate and help make connections that otherwise might not be made.
  2. Make sure that you have a good publication strategy arising from your PhD. You may need to seek some help in gauging this – either supervisors or other colleagues, depending on the nature of your work. If you are located in a practice-based discipline for example, in addition to conventional academic papers arising from your thesis, there will also be professional/practice-related papers that you could write. So think very carefully about how you ‘cut’ your thesis.
  3. Think creatively about the above. Don’t just think the obvious i.e. the description of the project and the findings. Is there something about the method that was innovative, that I can write about? Was there something about the theory I used? How helpful was this theory? Did my work advance the theory in any way? Was there something about ethical considerations that was more unusual in my study that could be of benefit to the wider community in some way? Think also about conference presentations – not just papers.
  4. Think very carefully about where to publish. This may sound very obvious. But, I was very fortunate that I ‘stumbled’ across this important factor. Don’t settle for low impact journals but think about your academic career – if of course, that is something you wish to develop and enhance. Go for high impact journals that will get your work noticed. Not only will it get your work noticed, but it is likely that the feedback you get from reviewers will be of excellent quality. I learned so much from the feedback from reviewers working for The Sociology of Health and Illness not only about the papers but also about the process of reviewing. Their contributions to me as a writer have influenced by ongoing, longer-term work as a reviewer. Strange!
  5. Don’t underestimate the time it will involve! Cutting up a thesis is a traumatic and bloody affair! It has taken so long to write the thesis to get it to its current format, so to think about carving it up in a different way can actually be quite difficult. This is where wise counsel from either supervisors or other colleagues can be helpful. But my advice would be that no matter how hard it feels – just do it! To get to this stage and not publish would be a travesty so I would always encourage students that no matter how hard it feels, you must do it! From my own personal experience, I know that getting 5 good papers out of my PhD created a solid platform for my ongoing academic career. So it is worth it – honest!

Publishing your Thesis as a Book: a Question of Planning. Part Two by Karen McAulay
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Todays post by Karen McAulay follows on from her first, and discusses her experiences of publishing her thesis as a book. At the end of Part One, Karen had received the contract for writing her book and Christmas 2011 had arrived. So what next? This is when the Planning, Prep and writing really began.

Planning and Preparation

Although I hadn’t been asked to rewrite anything, I wanted to go through the manuscript with a fine toothcomb, looking for anything too wordy, unclear, or where a footnote could be pared down or incorporated into the text.  Adopting the same approach that I’d taken with my thesis, I counted the chapters, introduction, appendices and bibliography, and allocated a set portion of time to each, with a bit more for the new chapter.  So long as I kept to my own deadlines, I knew I’d be fine.  To ensure I wouldn’t come unstuck, I booked a couple of weeks’ leave from the day-job, in the run-up to submission day.

Now, I know that sometimes one fixates on trivial details as a form of procrastination.  In my case, I awoke on 2nd January, after a dreadful night’s sleep, convinced of just one thing: I needed a new laptop.  Showing resolution over and above my customary bloody-minded determination, I went online, checked the PC World website, then leapt in the car and bought one.  (In my own defence, I have to explain that my very old PC had a couple of problems that I’d been unable to resolve.  USB drives and dependable internet connections are somewhat crucial when it comes to writing a book!)

And I treated myself to a new mug (featured in the image above): ‘Writer’s block – when your imaginary friends refuse to talk to you.’  I’ve often said that I know more dead people in Edinburgh than live ones.  Since they were all getting an honourable mention in the book, I decided my ‘imaginary friends’ might just as well sit right there on my desk with me while I wrote!  I only used that mug when I was working on the book, as a point of principle.  Don’t knock it: it worked for me!

That sorted, I was able to get on with the job in hand.  I started a blog (another blog) for the purpose of monitoring my progress, in the hope that friends and colleagues would occasionally murmur the odd word of encouragement.  ‘True Imaginary Friends’ has been a useful outlet.  It provided me with somewhere I could write informally, and jot down any problems I came up against.   Such as the day I realised that the new chapter was far from the walk in the park that I’d anticipated

On the whole, the existing chapters didn’t take long to tidy up, but I had to pare down the chapter that would precede the new one, add some of the pared material to the new chapter, and rearrange the entire new chapter to accommodate the work I’d done in recent months.  Apart from the intellectual exercise involved, it was also rather time-consuming.

Time

Having a full-time job places constraints on my writing time – I’ve become used to that.  I did my PhD part-time, after all.  I just book annual leave when the need arises.  Where I nearly came unstuck, though, was when I then got the opportunity to do a few lectures at another institution.  I was already committed to the book; and to writing and presenting two conference papers; and now I had lecture-plans to prepare.  There followed an invitation to speak to a local piping society.  (Bagpipes, that is. I’m not a piper myself, but my subject interests pipers.)  Could I say no?  Certainly not!  It’s all advance publicity for the book, after all.

Images, Maps …

Whilst I had no illustrations in the thesis, I thought a few well-chosen images would enhance the book.  One per chapter … so I scanned some of my Victorian song-collections.  The scans weren’t quite up to publication quality.  I ordered up the appropriate images from the uni library.  They, and another one, had permissions to be sought.  Gradually I whittled away at the list, until there was just one problem: finding a map.  I didn’t want just any old map – it had to have the names of various Hebridean islands and key Scottish locations, but nothing else.  If you want a map drawn, Daniel Dalet, c’est l’homme – he’s the French cartographer who runs D-maps.com.  And he’s very helpful indeed!

And an Indexer

As I worked on the manuscript, questions kept occurring to me.  One concerned the indexing.  Find out what your publisher prefers: I had the choice of having the indexing fees subtracted from my royalties; doing it myself using the facilities available on a pdf; or engaging my own indexer.  Conference networking proved its worth, when I was lucky enough to be put in touch with an indexer actively looking for indexing in my general subject area.

Looking Ahead

At the time of writing, my book has an ISBN; is in editorial/production; and is advertised on Ashgate’s website.  Oh, and it has a publication date: March 2013.  It’s really happening!   There’s only one problem: what shall I write about next?

Websites and Contact Details

  • Tweet me @Karenmca
  • Email: K.McAulay@rcs.ac.uk

5 tips for publishing a book from your dissertation by Gina Neff
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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.

Susan Nance, the Grad School Ninja talks book publishing with an academic press
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Today’s post, is the third in a short multi-authored series on PhD2Published where I have been collecting hints and tips from published academic authors, all about successfully getting an academic book published.  Today’s tips are offered by Susan Nance, an Associate Professor of US History and Affiliated Faculty with the Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare at the University of Guelph. Her next book, Entertaining Elephants: Animal Agency and Business in the American Circus, is due out from the Johns Hopkins University Press in January 2013. For more information, you can visit her website.

My big five principles for getting a book out with an academic press:

1. Write your manuscript as a message to the best people in your field and for those who will accept the basic premise of what you’re trying to do, even if they might argue on the details and/or will learn something from your research. Do not write for people who don’t ‘get it’ about what your basic research assumptions are.

2.  Choose the right press for your needs. Just need to get tenure? Pick a no frills press that won’t make you do endless revisions. Do you want to sell books, for course adoption or trade audience? Pick an academic press with a strong trade title list since they have existing networks to market scholarly books to trade audiences. For example, the book I’m researching now I will try to publish with a Western US university press that has a robust trade list because I want my book to appear in all the touristy gift shops and the souvenir parlors of the national parks, historical societies and local history museums where lay history readers will find them.

3. When promising manuscript deliveries, don’t set self-imposed deadlines you can’t keep. We’ve all done it, but that doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t win friends at the press.

4. Realize that you are making a big investment in the press, not just that they are investing in you. So, you have a right to have them treat you well, keep you informed of staff changes at the press, not abandon you because your editor leaves the press, give you a cut of e-book sales, publish the ebook or paperbook promptly, give you a say in the book cover design, trust you about what your audience will expect to see in the manuscript, etc.

5. Always be patient and NICE to production staff. They have more power over your book than you realize and don’t probably get paid as well as they should.

Top 5 tips for getting your book proposal accepted by Beatrice Hale
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Todays post is by Dr Beatrice Hale. Her most recent, and first academic book is a co-authored book entitled The Age of Supported Independence, published by Springer, Dordrecht, with Dr Patrick Barrett and Professor Robin Gauld.  They’re next book is currently in preparation. Here Beatrice provides her top 5 tips for getting your book proposal accepted by a publisher.

1. Conduct a thorough search of relevant publishers,

2. Send them a well written book proposal,

3. Be courteous and inform the publishers whom you contact that you will be contacting a number of publishers

4. Ensure that the proposal gives a brief outline of the related literature of theory and data (social science here). You must identify and stress where your book has its place/or can fill a gap,

5. Do a thorough reading of the publishers’ websites, and comply with their list.