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Revising Your Dissertation: Advice from Leading Editors

EDITED BY BETH LUEY
With a New Foreword by Sandford G. Thatcher
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 2
Pages: 280
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt13x1g8x
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  • Book Info
    Revising Your Dissertation
    Book Description:

    The aftermath of graduate school can be particularly trying for those under pressure to publish their dissertations. Written with good cheer and jammed with information, this lively guide offers hard-to-find practical advice on successfully turning a dissertation into a book or journal articles that will appeal to publishers and readers. It will help prospective authors master writing and revision skills, better understand the publishing process, and increase their chances of getting their work into print. This edition features new tips and planning tables to facilitate project scheduling, and a new foreword by Sandford G. Thatcher, Director of Penn State University Press.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93444-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. FOREWORD TO THE 2008 EDITION
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Sanford G. Thatcher

    At the time this volume was originally published, it was already becoming clear that the market for books based on dissertations was eroding. Twenty years ago, even ten years ago, there was no evidence to suggest that books based on dissertations were being discriminated against in purchases made by libraries through their approval plans with wholesale vendors like Yankee Book Peddler. But since the late 1990s it has become apparent that libraries do place such books in a special category.

    The reason is simple and, from a librarian’s standpoint, compelling. The traditional centralized repository of dissertations, University Microfilms (UMI), always...

  4. INTRODUCTION: IS THE PUBLISHABLE DISSERTATION AN OXYMORON?
    (pp. 1-14)
    Beth Luey

    Undergraduates consume knowledge. Scholars produce knowledge. Graduate school is the place where students make the transition from consumer to producer. There are exceptions, of course: Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.’s first book began life as his undergraduate honors thesis. But most of college is spent in lectures, labs, and libraries learning what other people already know. In graduate school, passing qualifying exams or completing prescribed courses demonstrates that you have absorbed enough established knowledge to move on. Research seminars allow you to begin learning and communicating what others donotknow. The dissertation is the culmination of this process: a significant...

  5. PART I. RETHINKING AND REVISING

    • 1 YOU'RE THE AUTHOR NOW
      (pp. 17-23)
      William P. Sisler

      OK, so you’ve passed your orals, defended your thesis successfully, gotten your union card. So far, so good. But the pressure is intense and immediate. To get ahead, to stay ahead, you need to get that book out. You have the raw material, but it’s not a book; it’s a dissertation, and that won’t do. Why? Because when you wrote your thesis, you were an acolyte not yet empowered to speak with authority and gravitas. Now, as you begin to think about moving that dissertation into book mode, you’ll need to make a gestalt shift, in which you stop seeing...

    • 2 WHAT IS YOUR BOOK ABOUT?
      (pp. 24-39)
      Beth Luey

      By the time students finish graduate school, they may react fairly violently to the question, What is your dissertation about? Every relative, new graduate student, and casual acquaintance asks, and the wise job candidate has one-minute, five-minute, and forty-minute answers for interviews. Now you have to figure out what yourbookis about, and the answer had better not be the same. Chapter 1 talked about audience, so you know that the people asking the question will be both more numerous than and quite different from those who asked about your dissertation. They will be, first, book editors and then—...

    • 3 TURNING YOUR DISSERTATION RIGHTSIDE OUT
      (pp. 40-69)
      Scott Norton

      Most academic authors seem to assume that their subjects will interest only other specialists in their fields. Yet, as an editor who has worked on books in areas ranging from medieval Japanese literature to the political applications of game theory, I rarely encounter a manuscript that does not yield an insight I find personally illuminating. True, those nuggets are sometimes buried on page 314—but they are there. The trick is to excavate those rough gems and place them in the discursive foreground, to recast the book in such a way as to appeal not only to a broader array...

    • 4 BRINGING YOUR OWN VOICE TO THE TABLE
      (pp. 70-103)
      Scott Norton

      One of the more memorable tables I’ve eaten at was an unhinged door laid flat and held up by sawhorses. It had white linen thrown over it and was situated at the end of a full-sized bed in a railroad apartment crammed with books and cat hair. Around this table four nights a week would gather the intelligentsia and not-so-intelligentsia of the Princeton area; one evening I’d find myself rubbing elbows with an astrophysicist and a novelist, the next with an ancient ballerina and a manic socialite. The host was a fiery Irish poet from Boston, a lank fussy man...

    • 5 TIME TO TRIM: NOTES, BIBLIOGRAPHIES, TABLES, AND GRAPHS
      (pp. 104-128)
      Jenya Weinreb

      Book editors groan when they see the phrase “revised dissertation” in a proposal. The words bring to mind a manuscript heavy with scholarly apparatus. In this chapter I discuss how to revise and trim your notes, bibliographies, tables, and graphs to shape a book that is authoritative but not pedantic.

      Having just spent months or years completing a dissertation, you may be understandably reluctant to delete a large chunk of it. There are several reasons why publishers ask scholars to trim notes and omit tables.

      First and most important is the question of audience. Thesis writers are encouraged to display...

  6. PART II. DISCIPLINARY VARIATIONS

    • 6 CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE: THE HUMANITIES
      (pp. 131-147)
      Jennifer Crewe

      In recent years it has become more and more difficult for a scholar to publish a specialized monograph in the humanities. At the very moment when administrators are increasing the publication requirements for tenure and promotion, university presses are cutting back in these fields because so many of the books—particularly revised dissertations by unknown scholars—do not sell enough copies to earn back the costs of publication. So junior scholars are caught in the middle—trying to publish one, two, and sometimes even three books before they come up for tenure, only to find rejection letters in the inbox...

    • 7 PUTTING PASSION INTO SOCIAL SCIENCE
      (pp. 148-165)
      Peter J. Dougherty and Charles T. Myers

      On a recent visit to a used book dealer on Nassau Street in Princeton, New Jersey, we listened to the proprietor intone a deadpan, even deadly, comment: that no book published in the field of politics in the past decade is worth a plugged nickel on the used book market. This earnest dealer, who pays the rent by playing the spread between the price at which he buys used books and that at which he can resell them, had essentially given up political science—and, we think fair to say, large portions of other social science fields such as geography,...

    • 8 FROM PARTICLES TO ARTICLES: THE INSIDE SCOOP ON SCIENTIFIC PUBLISHING
      (pp. 166-181)
      Trevor Lipscombe

      The oral examination is over and any necessary corrections have been carried out. With the appropriate forms signed, a graduate student is now transformed into a card-carrying Ph.D. She is not yet a scholar, but she is entering the last phase of the journey. What lies ahead is the rocky road to publication.

      Scientists, as a rule, do not get tenure through writing books. They must rack up a suitable number of important articles in high-quality, peer-reviewed journals. While some universities, such as Harvard, ask a tenure-track professor to pick out her ten most influential articles, the majority still wish...

    • 9 ILLUSTRATED IDEAS: PUBLISHING IN THE ARTS
      (pp. 182-200)
      Judy Metro

      As good a place as any to begin a discussion about publishing dissertations in the visual arts is at the source: the submissions pile on the desk of a university press art editor. The first thing we notice, with relief, is that the pile is not about to topple. This is because it does not contain actual completed manuscripts. Those are on the floor (you see where I’m going) or on the couch if the editor is lucky enough to have one. The submissions pile is where every working day the art editor learns just enough about a book project...

    • 10 A SENSE OF PLACE: REGIONAL BOOKS
      (pp. 201-211)
      Ann Regan

      We all know what regional books are. The section is usually right up front in the bookstore, not far from the cash register, beckoning impulse buyers. Its shelves are full of lavish picture books, hiking guides, state and local history, and—well, books published by regional publishers. A regional book is a book about the region.

      But aren’t most books about a region?

      Regionalis a publisher’s marketing designation for books that are expected to sell mostly in one geographic area. Sometimes this categorization is indisputable. Books on a state’s flora and fauna, bike trails and canoe routes, historic sites...

    • 11 MAKING A DIFFERENCE: PROFESSIONAL PUBLISHING
      (pp. 212-230)
      Johanna E. Vondeling

      When I applied for a job in the editorial department of Jossey-Bass in the late 1990s, I had never heard of “professional publishing.” I had worked in a variety of publishing capacities: in addition to writing a dissertation, I’d worked for newspapers, college and high school textbook publishers, and scholarly and literary journals. Professional publishing, however, was unfamiliar territory. I studied Jossey-Bass’s backlist and assured myself it couldn’t be that different from other kinds of editing. In some ways I was right, as there are key convergences between scholarly, textbook, technical, literary, and trade publishing. However, I’ve also learned that...

  7. CONCLUSION: THE TICKING CLOCK
    (pp. 231-240)
    Beth Luey

    Perhaps the greatest problem young scholars face in revising their dissertations is the shortage of time. Tenure review comes up surprisingly fast. Postdoctoral fellowships that free up a year or two for research and writing are hard to get, and part of those years must often be devoted to finding a job for the following year. Those with teaching posts must cope with new responsibilities as teachers and colleagues, along with the responsibility to publish. Department chairs and tenure committees may expect them to publish articles along the way, which they casually say could be plucked from the dissertation, ignoring...

  8. FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
    (pp. 241-244)
  9. PLANNING TOOLS
    (pp. 245-252)
  10. USEFUL READING
    (pp. 253-256)
  11. ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. 257-258)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 259-263)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 264-264)