Monday, May 14, 2012

The Twelve Steps from Dissertation to Academic Book

When I finished my dissertation, I knew I wanted to transform it into a book. I did not, however, know anything about the publishing process. As I am now finished with this long process, this is an ideal time for me to outline the steps so that others can know how to publish a book from your dissertation.

In this blog post, I will explain the book publishing process. However, keep two things in mind: 1) there is a lot of variation beyond what I describe here and 2) this is generally the process for the first book, not necessarily for the second or third.

My first book, based on my dissertation

Step One: Write the Book Prospectus

Although it seems daunting, a book prospectus is not a complex document. I describe the book proposal in detail here. Briefly, it contains: 1) a summary of your book that outlines the main argument; 2) a one-paragraph summary of each chapter; 3) a timeline for completion of the book manuscript; 4) a brief description of the target audience and potential classes for course adoption; and 5) the competing literature. Usually these are short documents. Mine have ranged from four to seven single-spaced pages.

Step Two: Submit the Book Prospectus

The second step is to find a press that might be interested in your book manuscript and to send them a book prospectus. I explain how to find a press here and how to contact the aquisitions editor here. Once you have selected the press and found out the name of the acquisitions editor, you can send them the prospectus.  Often, the press also will want one or two sample chapters. You can send your prospectus to as many publishers as you like. Most publishers list submission guidelines on their websites. These guidelines often indicate exactly what materials they would like to see: usually a prospectus, one or two sample chapters, and a two page CV.

Step Three: Submit the Book Manuscript

When acquisitions editors receive your prospectus, they make a decision as to whether or not they will send your book manuscript out for review. If they do not, they will send you a letter with their regrets. However, if they are interested, they often will call or email you with a request to see more materials. Some presses want to wait for the whole book manuscript to be completed. Others will send out just the prospectus for review. Others will send out 1-4 finished chapters. That depends on the book and the press. They will let you know.

Step Four: The Press Sends Your Manuscript out for Review

You wait between one and twelve months for the reviews to come back. If just the prospectus is under review, this will not take very long. If it is the whole manuscript, usually you will wait several months.

Step Five: You Get a Contract

The press makes a decision based on the reviews. They can decide to a) offer a contract based on the reviews; b) ask you to do more revisions and send it out for review again or c) decline to offer a contract based on the reviews. If it is c), you go back to Step Two.

Step Six: You Sign a Contract

If the reviews are favorable, the press will offer you a contract, which you first negotiate and then sign. Here are some items often up for negotiation: 1) who will pay for the index; 2) who pays for the cover and inside pictures; 3) who pays for the copy-editing; 4) the royalties rate; and 5) when and whether the book will be released in paperback. You may or may not be able to negotiate these items, but it does not hurt to ask.

Step Seven: You Revise the Manuscript

You revise the manuscript based on the reviews. Some presses will send it out for review again once you revise it. Others will review it internally and ask you to make further revisions. Still others will send it as is to the copy-editor after you make your revisions.

Step Eight: Copy-Editing

Once the book manuscript is revised, it goes to the copy-editor and they proofread the text. This usually takes 1 to 3 months.

Step Nine: Revision

You revise it again, based on the suggestions made by the copy-editor. You then send it back to the copy-editor who sends it to the press after your final approval. You usually have one month to respond to the copy edits.

Step Ten: Page Proofs

Your book is put into page proofs that you get to read and revise again. At this stage, however, you can only make very minor changes. You correct any mistakes and then it goes to the printer.

Step Eleven: In Press

The page proofs are sent to the printer, and you wait for your book to be printed. Printing usually takes a couple of months.

Step Twelve: On the Shelf

Your book is available for sale! Now that your book is for sale, be sure to include a link to the publisher's website or to in your email signature to advertise your book.

As made clear in these twelve steps, publishing an academic book is often a very long process. It is important to keep in mind that it can take years to publish a book, even after you have completed the manuscript.

For example, I completed the manuscript for my first book in May 2009 and sent it to a publisher who had agreed to review it. I received the reviews in November 2009, and the publisher offered me a contract on the basis of the reviewers’ evaluations at that time. I signed the contract and then revised the book according to the suggested revisions and returned it to the publisher in March 2010. In June 2010, I received and reviewed the copy-edits. In October 2010, I received and reviewed the page proofs. The book was released in February 2011 – nearly two years after I had originally “finished” the book manuscript! Keeping this timetable in mind is particularly important if your university prefers you to have a bound book when you go up for tenure.


  1. Out of curiosity, did you rewrite/add any chapters of your dissertation before submitting the prospectus? or is that something you're doing while building up to step #3?

    I fear that my dissertation will need further work (the broadening of its chapters, perhaps an additional survey chapter, etc.) that just didn't make it into the project when I had a defense deadline to meet. If you have any advice about that process, I'd enjoy a blog post on that. Thanks!

    1. Ryan: My dissertation only had three chapters. My book has six - so I wrote three new chapters, in addition to drastically revising the other three. I did new historical research, more ethnography, and a lot more reading. I did all of that prior to submitting the prospectus to the publisher. In the end, only one of the book chapters even vaguely resembles the dissertation. For that reason, it was not until about three years post-PhD that I had a finished manuscript.

  2. Just to clarify, is it the case that I should have a complete draft of the manuscript finished before submitting my prospectus? Thanks for the informative posts!!

    1. I think you can submit the book prospectus for your first book as soon as you have a firm completion date. So, if you are sure you will be finished by December 2012 or even February 2013, then you can submit the prospectus now and indicate in the cover letter when you expect to be finished.

  3. Dear Tanya, thanks for this post, which de-mystifies the process a bit. I am actually between step 4 and 5. The reviewer recommended publish with revisions. But the press wants those revisions before sending the manuscript out to the second reviewer. Is that standard? I'd hate to make revisions that the second reader criticizes, or asks me to revise. And my experience with peer-reviewed articles suggests that revisions are made in light of all of the reviewers comments. Any advice?

    1. Anon:

      You should ask your editor if you need to respond to all of the comments. Often, editors want a revision memo similar to what you would send for an R&R to a journal.

      Some presses customarily send books out for two rounds of review. Others do so only when they think is necessary.

      My advice would be to respond to all of the critiques - either by making the changes or explaining why they wouldn't improve the manuscript.

      Good luck and congrats on getting this far!

  4. "Thanks for posting! Its very helpful article nice and impressive. I like it, I have also bookmark it and will recommend it to many other peoples"

  5. Hi Tanya, I am now becoming familiar with the article submission/publication process but the book seems to be a different ballgame altogether!A reputable press agreed to send my ms out for review; it's not yet complete but is a reworking of my dissertation.however,one of the main chapters has been polished into article format and is r&red and now back under review at a top journal.The university press says this will present an obstacle in terms of copyright.I thought it standard that academics publish a shorter article format of their main point/empirical chapter from the diss and then rework the diss into a book.Does this differ according to the Press? how much of an overlap can there be? how do others cope with this problem?The article is the main findings of my dissertation and while I plan to expand on it in the book, there will be verbatim overlap.

    1. Congrats on the interest from the press & the top journal.

      It does differ according to the press. Some presses have a rule of thumb of no more than 30%. My first book has a chapter that is almost verbatim reprinted as an article, and the press had no issue with that.

      You may wish to see if this is negotiable. Point out that the article will attract attention to the book, and that it is a top journal. Most presses would look favorably on this.

  6. Tanya, many thanks.In fact, this is what my advisor recommended as well; he said it's very unusual for the press to refuse to accept reprints at all. He said to negotiate and if they refuse to budge, look elsewhere. Thanks again for your response! and congrats on the move and new job, way to go!

  7. May I ask a different question? If you send out your prospectus to several publishers, do you just accept the first that reacts positively? Or do you wait to hear from all of them? What if you get more than one positive request? Do you pit them again each other?

    1. Dear Robin, What I usually do is have three sets of publishers: an A list, a B list and a C list. I send my prospectus out first to my A list and would usually send the manuscript to the first one that responds positively from that list as those publishers would be equally attractive to me. If two of my top choices were to respond at the same time, I would consider simultaneous submission, but that would depend on the circumstances. If no one from the A list responds after two weeks, it is time to move on to the B list. The key with book publishing is to be open and honest. Most editors are happy to work with you if there is substantial interest in your book to help you figure out the best way forward.