Why Should I Turn My Dissertation into a Book?
May 9, 2014
Why You Should Convert Your Dissertation into a Book
There are only two reasons to convert your dissertation into a book, and they’re both really good reasons. In fact, they apply to almost everyone who has earned a PhD in hopes of pursuing an academic career.
Because You Want to Convert Your Dissertation into a Book
“I want no such thing!” you may be thinking. “I’m thoroughly sick of this project and I never want to think about it again.”
This is a common and natural way to feel at the end of the long slog that is writing your dissertation. But think back to the reasons why you started this degree in the first place. As an academic, you want to think both deeply and broadly—and you want to share your thinking. You want to be a part of the conversation in your field. You’ve listened to what others had to say (that was your literature review). You’ve formulated your thoughts on the topic (that’s the argument you’ve made in your dissertation). Your first book is your chance to say something, and as William Germano points out in From Dissertation to Book, you’ve already written “a full-dress rehearsal of a book-length manuscript” (pg. 7). Why rehearse a show you’re not going to produce?
It’s likely that you’ve got a lot of revising to do before your dissertation will be a book manuscript that publishers can take seriously—but even revising your work is part of what you, as a scholar, want to do. This is your chance to reshape the project into the book you always wanted it to be. There’s no committee making demands on you anymore; you are no longer bound by the requirements of the degree. Whom do you want to address? What are the most exciting questions and insights your doctoral work led you to? Revising your dissertation into a book lets you sharpen not just your prose, but also your ideas—and now, for the first time, you’re the one in charge of what it is you want to say. As you broaden your project’s focus in order to address an audience beyond just your committee—an audience with whom you have something valuable to share!—you will see your project stretch and develop, possibly in exciting directions you haven’t foreseen.
Because You Have to Turn Your Dissertation into a Book
If you want to be tenured, you have to publish a book. In fact, these days, many scholars who are up for tenure already have their second books under contract. Starting a new project from scratch may sound fun and inspiring, but how quickly can you bring it to completion? As Germano points out, “If four years into your first job you don’t have a book under contract because you gave all your attention to the better book rather than the first book, you may find that the powers that hired you are getting a bit nervous on your behalf” (pg. 35). Life is long; you’ll have a chance to get to that inspiring new project, but right now, you’re under time pressure to publish a book—and you’ve already written a book-length manuscript. Even though your dissertation, as filed, probably isn’t already a publishable-as-is book manuscript, it’s a lot closer to being one than that promising idea germinating in the back of your mind. Do yourself the favor of using work that you’ve already done. Frankly, your career demands it.
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Germano, William. From Dissertation to Book. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.