When I first decided to turn my doctoral dissertation into a book, I purchased all the available “How To” literature on the subject. As a result of reading these manuals, I gleaned no useful insights and felt very discouraged from even embarking on the project. For one, each of the books I read on the subject started off with a lengthy chapter trying to get the readers to reconsider their idea of transforming their dissertation into a book. Thirty+ pages of stories about how editors are sick and tired of getting submissions of books based on dissertations and how nobody wants even to read such proposals are usually followed by exhortations to the readers to consider whether the entire project might be a huge waste of time. These are usually followed by stories about people who decided to forget about their dissertations and move on to something completely different and how they benefited from that wise decision. Even the most determined amongst us might get discouraged as a result of reading something like this.
The only practical suggestions that I ever encountered in such books are the following:
a) Expand your topic, and
b) Remove all signs that this used to be a dissertation. For example, substitute the word “dissertation” in the text with the word “book.” Remember that this is aimed at the people who already have a PhD and have probably arrived at this profound insight on their own. (I never used the word “dissertation” in my text to begin with, precisely because I wrote the entire dissertation knowing that I will want to publish it later on).
As for expanding the subject, this advice is based on the assumption that all doctoral dissertations are extremely limited in scope. One of the books I read offered a lengthy list of suggestions on how to improve a dissertation dedicated to studying one novel by one author. I’m not even sure that anybody writes such doctoral dissertations any more, so it’s difficult for me to imagine a person who will benefit from such advice.
Another staple of manuals on how to publish your doctoral dissertation is an inevitable protracted explanation of the differences between trade books, popular appeal books, and academic books followed by a treatise on how a university press differs from Random House. Once again, one has to doubt the value of a doctoral degree whose recipient hasn’t been able to figure this out on their own during the course of their graduate studies.
The main problem of such manuals is, in my opinion, that their authors condescend to the readers to a degree that I find annoying. If I made a decision to transform my dissertation into a book, I have probably thought long and hard about it and considered all of my options. When I buy a “How To” manual, I’m looking for practical advice on “how to” do what I have decided to do and not for suggestions that “maybe you shouldn’t do it at all.”