In my previous post, I suggested strategies for overcoming common challenges to developing your dissertation into a book. If you are just getting started in this process or have run into some roadblocks along the way, here are six steps for jump-starting your book revisions.
Step 1: Be realistic about your timeline for revising & publishing
Although the demands of teaching and service are often substantial, in most cases, it is possible to your finish book revisions in less than a year. Of course, many people spend a lot longer on revisions, but for most scholars, time is of the essence.
“A revision, even a deep one, can be finished in less than twelve months.”William Germano, From Dissertation to Book, e-book
An important reason to keep your revisions within a reasonable time frame is that many early-career scholars underestimate the amount of time required for book production. In many cases, it will take roughly 1 to 1.5 years from the time you submit your full manuscript to a publisher to the book’s actual publication.
During most of this time, progress on the book will be largely out of your control. (For an excellent overview of the book production process from proposal to publication in the Humanities, see the MLA’s “Advice for Authors, Reviewers, Publishers, and Editors of Literary Scholarship.”) Therefore, it is crucial to establish a clear timeframe for completing your original revisions that allows for sufficient time to meet your final deadline.
Step 2: Get re-inspired
Start the actual revision process by doing a light re-reading of your dissertation. Use the time to re-immerse yourself in your project. Do not get bogged down in identifying what’s wrong, that comes later.
Instead, take some general notes focusing on the dissertation’s strengths, particularly in terms of argument, organization, and tone. Be sure to note new areas of inquiry as well as questions left unanswered by the dissertation.
This is also a good time to start identifying more recent scholarly books and articles on your topic that you were not able to include at the dissertation stage. But be careful–spending too much time identifying and reading the latest scholarship is a common rabbit hole for many academic writers.
Assign yourself a specific amount of time–say a week–and then cut yourself off. This step is about getting re-inspired and identifying new developments in the current scholarship on your topic.
Step 3: Assess what needs to be done
As you review the manuscript at this stage, keep in mind that you are looking at the “big picture” and not line-by-line revisions. Now is the time to identify the major structural and stylistic changes that need to be made.
For example, to what extent does the book’s overall structure need to change to reflect your revised argument? Are all of the existing chapters still relevant? Do any chapters require substantial reorganization or rewriting? Will you need to add a new chapter? How much new research is required?
Again, it is crucial to focus on the deep revisions and to leave cosmetic changes for a later stage in the revision process. I strongly recommend working toward an updated and annotated table of contents for the book manuscript. This should include your revised argument(s) and major themes. Be clear about how each chapter reinforces your main argument.
Pro Tip: If you have made it this far, be sure to give yourself a pat on the back–or better yet, schedule a massage, go out to a nice dinner, or even plan a guilt-free weekend trip! You are making great progress and are well on your way to jump-starting your book revisions. Writing a book is a long and largely thankless project so be sure to reward yourself along the way.
Step 4: Identify your resources
It is important to consider all of the resources that you will need to complete the book revisions. What kind of support does your institution, if any, provide for early-career scholars? Can you apply for outside grants or fellowships? How will you balance family responsibilities in order to make the time for your writing? Be sure to do your research and utilize your professional and personal networks.
This is also the time to determine what kind of writing support would be the most helpful for finishing the revisions in a timely and successful way. Check out my previous post on Why Scholars Should Never Work Alone for some ideas.
Step 5: Make a plan
Germano uses this great analogy for how to approach your revisions: do not treat the book like a jigsaw puzzle that you casually stop to work on one small piece at a time. Instead, think of revising your book as building a house:
- What is the book’s foundation?
- What is its overall structure made of?
- How are you going to put it all together?
In other words, you need a plan or set of blueprints. Everyone’s plan is going to be a bit different, but the goal at this point is to create a list of “do-able” tasks that will provide the basis for your revisions.
To get started, write out the manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses based on your notes from the previous steps. Again, these are “big picture” items only–do not get bogged down in line-by-line revisions at this point. Include recommendations from outside sources, e.g., colleagues, committee members, or a professional editor. Then turn your notes into “do-able” tasks that will provide the basis for your revision plan.
Step 6: Create a schedule & work log
In a future post, I will go into greater detail about how to create an effective research and writing schedule, but for now I’ll just provide the basics. A research and writing schedule is a great tool for keeping you honest and ensuring that you are on track to submit your manuscript in a timely way.
An effective schedule includes several components: one or two objectives, monthly goals, weekly goals, and even daily goals. All of your goals must be clear and have realistic deadlines.
Along with a writing schedule, I highly recommend creating a work log. Your system can be as formal or informal as you want. The point of both the schedule and the work log is to establish some accountability and create momentum.
Caveat: avoid creating complicated systems that take more than the absolute minimum amount of time to maintain. Time spent on assessment and reflection can be useful, but don’t let it spiral out of control.
One final piece of advice for making consistent and effective progress on your book: never forget that there is no such thing as the “perfect” book. Therefore, always keep in mind that the best book is a finished book!
I hope that these strategies will be useful as you revise your dissertation into a book manuscript. I would love to hear from others about what has worked (or not worked) for them.
In upcoming posts, I will discuss how to create an effective research and writing schedule as well as strategies for how to keep the revisions going by developing a regular writing habit.