Transforming your work into a book: what is involved?
Last month I wrote about the book ‘getting it published’ and spoke about how it helped me get on the right track with my manuscript.
Now that my book is pending publication I feel like those early days of transforming my research into a book format are starting to become a bit hazy. So I am going to share some of my experiences before the next phase of the book’s life come to overtake everything else and I lose touch with those first steps.
After I was awarded my doctorate it was very clear that the whole moment of celebration and catharsis that I was expecting was not actually ever going to arrive. Other activities of publishing journal articles, attending conferences and looking for jobs quickly fill the void left by the PhD. The examiners of my project were positive about the work and one in particular really urged me to pursue the publication of the entire work.
Quickly I found that this possibility could become a reality. I approached a variety of publishers and discussed the project that I had. I recognised that as my work was a PhD project there were many hurdles to get over in terms of publishers having the faith and conviction that you could make an academic thesis become a marketable book. This is clearly not going to happen with some projects. Their field of enquiry is often simply too narrow to warrant a book. However, there are other avenues to promote and publish your work.
The key thing that I want to share is the actual time that was invested in the process. I took about 2 years reworking my writing, redrafting, doing additional research, and additional writing. This was quite challenging at times because of the energy already invested in the doctorate. Many academics simply don’t pursue the publication of their doctoral research because of the challenge of reworking something you have already invested such a long time in.
I realised that I had spent so long on the project that I had to get some distance from it before I could return to redrafting it. I had about 6 months break to finish off other projects that I was involved with. After all preparing your work for examination and then preparing it to present to publishers are very different things and require quite different modes of thinking. I had some positive feedback but there were key things I had to do
1. Remove the defensive argument.
(this is a key characteristic of a thesis, but not a book. People reading a book are already aware that you are speaking from a position of experience. They are reading out of interest, not like an examiner who is reading to audit.)
2. Too much theory, too much literature review.
(Another hallmark of a thesis is that it contains way too much information that is intended to highlight you know everything that has already been published in the area you are working. This is cumbersome in a book and obstructs readers getting to the original content of your own work.)
3. Appeal to a broader audience that simply the academic world.
Each one of these posed a challenge. But item number 3, was perhaps the simplest. I found writing in less formal way and opening up other tangents that I previously dismissed, made my whole project endlessly more readable.
Typically when you present your manuscript to a publisher they will internally review it and see if it has merits to send out for peer review. If you are a first time author, and that is really who this post refers to, the publisher is going to be cautious. If it does get sent for peer review then this is the first step in having your work seriously considered for publication. The professional feedback you get from other academics, or experts in the field, in this review process is priceless. It may be hard at times to listen to some of the critique, especially if they identify issues you feel you have been diligently managing. Give yourself time to digest what they are saying. It is often the case that the comments are well considered and have important value.
It is also often the case that reviewers want additional information, further research, or in some cases they may simply dismiss the book as unnecessary and unmarketable. It then becomes your job to respond to these questions and recommendations. What you choose to do will ultimately dictate if your publisher will go any further with the project. However much they like your work they will not ignore the professionals they have enlisted to help them make their decision.
So in sum for anyone out there working on a non-fiction book, reworking a thesis, or seeking a publisher, this is some advice and guidance. Be informed about the process and then you are in the best position to prepare for its challenges and the ups and downs of what can be a very long process.
Of course let us not criticise the book process in any measure. In this world of tweets, Facebook status’s and instant messaging, too much of what we present to the world is instantaneous. Decided upon in a whim, prepared in a second, forgotten about moments later. Thoughtful academic work, to borrow again from Les Back, holds value because of the time and consideration invested in it.