Authors, Editors, and Librarians on Turning a Dissertation into a Book

Leonard Cassuto

It has been a big week for the American Association of University Presses. It launched a redesigned website and the annual meeting began today with a keynote address from Wire creator, David Simon. (For those unable to attend the meeting in Baltimore, you can follow it virtually on Twitter.)

While the meeting’s program reflects the innovative ways university presses are adapting to a quickly changing publishing environment, some things remain constant. More specifically, university presses are still committed to publishing exciting books by first-time authors. However, what does this process look like for the somewhat anxious author, eager to get published and improve their chances for tenure. In a recent article in From Dissertation to Book published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Leonard Cassuto, author of Hard-Boiled Sentimentality: The Secret History of American Crime Stories, polled a variety of university press editors on issues ranging from how many chapters from the book should an author publish in journals prior to the book’s publication to whether or not to keep the same title for the book as the dissertation.

The article which also featured advice from our own Jennifer Crewe has a lot of solid advice while also giving insight into the editorial process as well as the buying habits of libraries. While there are disagreements from the various authors, Cassuto does summarize some points of concordance among the editors:

* Don’t overexpose yourself. Editors may disagree about precisely how much to publish from your manuscript, but they all agree there is a ceiling on the number of articles you should excerpt from a book in progress—and it’s ordinarily no more than two.

* Be very, very careful about publishing an article that encapsulates the argument of your book. If Louis Menand is right that many scholarly books are “just journal articles on steroids,” then writers would also do well to avoid the inverse formulation: Don’t put your book on a crash diet to turn it into an article. As Mitchner [editor at Rutgers University Press], puts it, “if the core argument is in your article, then no one will want to read your book.” That doesn’t mean that you should keep your argument a secret, but it does mean that you should not offer up a blueprint of the book to come.

* Don’t make your dissertation available online. Book editors seem unanimous on that point for obvious reasons. Many university libraries routinely add dissertations to their electronic holdings. If yours does, then opt out. If your thesis is already online, then have it taken down. Information may want to be free, as the earliest hacker generation first avowed, but if it’s free, then you can’t expect a publisher to pay for it, even in a later version.

*Make sure that your book and dissertation do not share the same title. If you have a great title picked out for your dissertation, save it for your book.

Leave a Reply