Having written a 400 page dissertation and being two years into revising it for a, considerably shorter, book manuscript, I can attest to the fact that the “dissertation to book” advice can only get you so far. If you’re currently reading one of these, here’s what they can do:
-give you a template of a successful book
-remind you, a billion times, that a “dissertation is not a book”
-offer thin-lipped pep talks about believing in yourself (and although true not particularly useful)
-scare the sh*! out of you about the publishing industry, the standards of your committee, and all of the ways that your project might yield you neither money nor job
And many of these things are important to keep in mind. You do need to write for a more sophisticated audience. Neither your dissertation nor the book will, by itself, just automatically land you a job. And writing a dissertation is very different than writing a book and writing a book is very different from writing a book proposal.
But when you’re 300 pages deep with paragraphs strewn across OneDrive folders as far as the eye can see, picking up one of these books or advice columns doesn’t get you the answer you want: how do I turn this dissertation into a book! How do I actually sit down to WRITE this book proposal!
I have a strategy for you: write a practice book jacket blurb. And hell, if you like Photoshop or have spare time to roam the internet, you could even start fantasizing about your cover photo, but I don’t consider that an important part of your time.
Instead, follow these steps and, when you find yourself adrift in the sea of the document, take a break a work on your book jacket:
1. Find your dream book. Go get a book that you love, something that makes you think, “this is the kind of book I want to write because this is the kind of book I want to READ.” I, for one, am digging so hard on Eugenie Brinkema’s Forms of the Affects right now.
2. Find your dream book’s publisher. So, for me, that’s Duke University Press. Go to the website and find the book. Don’t go to Amazon or Google Books; you need the publisher’s website.
3. Open a new document.
4. Think carefully about where you store the document and DO NOT store any drafts. If it were me, I would put this somewhere away from the dissertation or the albatross of a cloud where your book folders are currently stored. The project should be exciting, pithy, and fun. Some ideas:
-store it on your desktop if you don’t store things on your desktop already
-make a google document unless your google drive is already ridiculous
-start a new gmail, call yourself “dr. so and so” “or Author Extraordinaire” and create a NEW drive where your blurb can live.
-use Academia.edu’s “Drafts” section to just put the damn thing out into the open immediately!~
-write it as a blog post
5. Copy into your free-standing, non-stressful google document the Title, Description, Table of Contents, Keywords, and Author Bio from your dream book’s publisher’s website. This should be roughly one page long. DO NOT exceed one page.
6. At all costs keep your book jacket fantasy to ONE page. If you’ve copied too much from the publisher’s website, delete things like keywords and the author bio. At minimum keep description and table of contents.
7. Seriously keep it to one page. A two-sentence bio is all you really need because ultimately that’s all that would be on a book jacket anyway.
8. After you’ve made sure everything will fit on one page, start writing! There are lots of things you SHOULD do: borrow phrasing from your dream book that suits you, ask and answer exciting questions, pretend someone is going to read this in Barnes and Noble with a latte in one hand and some indie album in their headphones, do google image searches for phrases like “play of the signifier” and “syntax sins” to break up the monotony. Use clever turns of phrases. And, most importantly, GET TO THE POINT. What is the book’s argument? What is it going to investigate? Why should somebody read it? What important life/society conundrum is it going to solve? Then there are many things you should NOT do, including:
- Do not define key terms. Use words that a person can understand without needing explanation. If you don’t think people know what “syntax” is, then say “word order” or “the arrangement of sentences.”
- Do not use dyads. (the book investigates and researches, the book uses theory and practice, the dissertation offers timely and timeless advice, etc.)
- Use very few lists. Places where lists are acceptable: case studies (you probably have several), fields of study (you should have 2-3), intriguing questions to incite reader interest (you can use 2-3). Otherwise, do not use lists.
- Do not say WHAT you are going to do–say what the reader will know after they have read the book. So rather than, “this book investigates cultural controversies to understand how people relate to each other in a mediated world” say “the book argues that in a mediated world people relate to each other more through fantasy than they ever have before.”
Then write yourself a quick table of contents, just to round things out, and enjoy looking at a project that is finally, completely done! Now, when you get back to your writing, keep your eye on the prize. The book jacket was pithy, to the point, and insightful without excessive jargon or over-explanations; you’re book and dissertation (to a lesser extent) should be the same.
9. Circulate! Words are meant to be written. Post your book jacket fantasy publicly, share the link to your google doc, take a photo of it, add an image, and put it on social media. Hell, write fake advertisements for the book and tell your friends and network, “coming in 2020…The Dissertation!.” Trust me, no one is going to scoop you. And when you are sending out interesting ideas into the world you find the kind of motivation and excitement that will get you through the drudgery of explaining the difference between contemporary and 20th century Soviet approaches to film and montage.
But, then again, do you really need to explain it? Or can you just write it, the first time, in accessible language and then just get to the point.