Converting your Dissertation into a Book: Not as Easy as it Might Seem
August 16, 2018
The day has come: your dissertation is finished, you passed, it’s all bound up and in your hands. After a much-deserved break and some relaxation, you might be considering turning your dissertation into a book – after all, it’s a fascinating topic, you’ve thoroughly researched it, and you have a lot to say about the topic. Surely, other people would want to read it, too, right?
Well…yes and no. A dissertation or thesis is just that: an academic paper. Though it’s lengthy, turning it into a book is a bit more complicated than simply changing up the headings and formatting, even for an academic press. This is because academic papers are written in a different style and voice than books, even academic and nonfiction books. The most successful nonfiction books have a definitive voice; they speak to the reader and are compelling stories. Dissertations just don’t have that same hook, which is why considerable revision goes into turning a dissertation or thesis into a book. We wrote about this several years ago here, but thought it was time to revisit the topic.
There are a variety of things to think about: who is your new audience? Does your book fill a need in the marketplace or in academia? How will you approach the book? How does it contribute something different, in topic, approach, or voice? Our dissertation-to-book services can help you with all of this. Our services include phone consultations to discuss your dissertation and how you see it evolving into a book, outlining the vision for the book, revising and rewriting the dissertation, and if necessary, ghostwriting sections to smooth out any gaps between the dissertation and the book. (You can also add new sections if you’d rather we not ghostwrite; we are always happy to edit and revise these new sections!) We also offer guidance, assistance, and support with whatever publishing route you choose to pursue, whether that be self-publishing or through a traditional academic press.
If you’re thinking about converting your dissertation into a book, here are some tips:
Forget the dissertation. Don’t think in the dissertation mindset. Forget about all the rules of the dissertation, forget about your committee or pleasing anyone. Let the writing, ideas, and form evolve into something new. A book is going to be much more relaxed and accessible than a dissertation. Take some time after graduation to relax, but also just to think about the dissertation and what it might look like as a book – don’t rush into book mode. Think about what worked, what didn’t, what you want to cut, and what you want to explore in more detail, now that you have the freedom to do so. Let ideas percolate and see what comes to the surface.
Rethink your purpose. You had something to prove with the dissertation, and needed to cite and cross-reference extensively to prove your knowledge. In a book, you don’t need to do that as much (although you do cite when necessary). It is assumed you’re knowledgeable about the subject – that’s why you’re writing the book. Take another look at your topic and your objective with fresh eyes. What might be changing as it turns into a book?
Cut it out. All that clunky, academic jargon? Rewrite it into more conversational, yet smart language. You want people to be able to read and enjoy your work, and the jargon isn’t necessary. It’s likely that you’ll need to cut a lot of the cross-referencing, data, and footnotes, or at least incorporate much of it into your actual text, if you keep it.
Find your voice. You’ve been in school for so long, and with the dissertation, were at the mercy of your committee, with multiple people to please. This can result in a lack of voice on the page. Take the time to find your voice and writing style. Do some free writing or journaling. Write some op-eds or response pieces, even if it’s for your eyes only. Write about something you love or find interesting, and ask others to read it and provide feedback. The voice on the page can make or break a book, no matter how fascinating the subject is – if there’s no voice, there’s no book. Some great books to help you find your writing voice include Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott; On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser; and The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Don’t let the last one scare you off – it’s wonderful for writer’s block and developing your style and voice.
Seek assistance! Converting your dissertation into a book can be tricky to do by yourself. We can help you with brainstorming, outlining, revising, rewriting, ghostwriting, editing, and formatting your book project, as well as provide much-needed support during the process. If you’re self-publishing, we will assist you with designing the book cover, as well as format it per the publisher guidelines. If you choose to go the academic press route, we have an additional service where we can help with developing a book proposal and query letter, as well as any additional formatting changes that need to take place. Contact us today to learn more about our dissertation-to-book services.