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Phoenix Alexander @happymrphoenix
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Mega-thread on turning your dissertation into a book, drawing on advice from top university press editors who just participated in a panel discussion here @YaleCTL. Share widely! #academicpublishing #academics (1/?)
One of the main differences between dissertations and book manuscripts is the intended AUDIENCE. Dissertations are written for 2-3 people, whereas books should reach a much wider audience. Dissertations are often DEFENSIVE in tone and have to pay their dues via lit reviews, etc.
Book manuscripts should adopt a more poised approach, and editors are often more interested in the STORY or QUESTION behind a book rather than its apparatus. Confidence, and authorial voice, are much more important here.
Authors: you don't necessarily need to have completed a manuscript in its entirety to query authors! Often a book proposal and a sample chapter is fine. This differs between presses and editors, though, so do your research before querying.
Book proposals are a little like dissertation prospectuses: usually around 10-15 pages, containing a narrative overview (statement of argument + intervention in the field), chapter outline, author bio, and book specs. like word count etc.
One of the main issues editors see with book proposals involves an inability to articulate an ARGUMENT. They are looking for a clear stance in the 'narrative overview' section - and an argument that can be stated in a sentence (eek!)
Don't neglect the AUTHOR BIO section of your proposal. List your job title, classes you've taught, other publications/media experience, as this will all help generate interest in your book. Indicate word count and illustration numbers, too.
Articulate the STAKES of your project. Don't focus on your subfield; think about a broader audience. Write your proposal in plain language - if you don't, editors might suspect you don't know what you're talking about...
Get to know editors, and show an interest in establishing a RELATIONSHIP. It's never too early to start researching, and querying, editors! Choose a press that has a clear DIRECTION and vision; see what they've published.
A good place to start is your bookshelf! What are you reading? Who do you admire in your field? Look at acknowledgements, and see who people have worked with. Those are good people to reach out to!
If you're planning to meet an editor at an event (conference etc.), reach out to them and schedule an appointment several weeks in advance and introduce your proposal. Don't spring on editors last-minute at events!
Remember: you have something of VALUE (your book project!) and you want to find the right partner for it. Book proposals are part of initiating that conversation and starting that relationship.
Some presses don't publish interdisciplinary works; do your research! Editors are typically more interested in the QUESTION your book poses rather than worrying whether it is 'disciplinary'/'interdisciplinary' or not.
Remember: the aim of your book is to maximize readership. What's the story you're trying to tell, and how are you telling it? Clarity and confidence are key.
The SIZE of the presses you approach is important. Are you looking for international rights and distributions? Translations? Some editors work with *many* book manuscripts and can't afford to give your manuscript that individual time.
Don't publish everything from your dissertation as journal articles!! Try and hold onto copyrights (or at least ask journals for permission). If you've already published all the chapters of your dissertation editors may not be interested!
Be HONEST with publishers when it comes to simultaneous submissions. Unlike fiction publishing (ha!) having proposals with multiple presses/editors may be beneficial and generate a little competition (if your proposal is desirable!)
However - don't go crazy with this. Some editors want at last some exclusionary periods while they send your manuscript out to readers etc - respect their time. Also, don't send it out to too many people: curate carefully.
R.e. publication in translation and foreign language rights: these are a pain to negotiate yourself. Try and let the presses handle this (although of course you should keep the rights yourself in some circumstances).
Happily, there is not stigma attached to authors from *outside* of academia who try to publish their manuscripts. Editors are primarily looking for good BOOKS- full of good writing and a strong argument - and provenance is not as important.
*Here I grumble something about academic snobbery, hey ho*
When it comes to contracts: pay attention to detail, ask for what you want, and ask explicitly what can be negotiated and what can't. Typically a contract covers the grant of rights to the publisher, distribution, royalties/advances, and book specs.
Think of the contract as a legal and CULTURAL document that is necessary to produce the ideal book!
There are many steps to the manuscript appraisal process, involving peer-reviews (with some presses...), editorial feedback, and presentations to acquisition departments. Multiple levels of feedback are available throughout the publication process.
Submission to publication timelines can vary considerably depending on press and editor (and author). Being FAST isn't necessarily BEST; getting the book right is of foremost concern. Editors have heavy workloads and schedules are sometimes slow!
You should see editors as your advocates. They know the internal culture of presses, how to frame projects/arguments etc., and act kind of like PR agents too.
Final advice for young scholars transitioning from the dissertation phase: write your book proposal (and ms.) with a sense of authority! Don't be defensive, cut out literature reviews, and write clearly and confidently. Sell your project and make people aware of its importance!
If you struggle with argument, tone, etc.: write your way out of it. Draw on the support of your colleagues, peers, professors. Get feedback for your work. Practice articulating your argument in ever-more-succinct prose. Speak confidently about YOUR intellectual question.
Don't worry about previous publication experience; if you have an article or two under your belt, great, but this isn't a dealbreaker by any means. Again: editors are more interested in the QUESTION your book proposal asks.
That's it! Feel free to add your own advice/experiences to this, and share with whomever it can help. Happy writing everyone! May all your manuscripts be published and your writing endeavors be blessed 😊
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