Yesterday I sent my manuscript off to the publisher who expressed interest in it. Assuming they send the thing out for review, I'll likely have several months where, for the first time in what feels like a bazillion years, I don't need to be actively working on or thinking about my book (or feeling guilty for not doing so).
In the interim, I'll be sending the manuscript to my dissertation director, who hasn't seen it since it was a dissertation; I'll probably also send a copy to another mentor, and I'm already thinking about who among my friends and associates I can persuade to read a chapter or two at a later date. But mostly, I'm looking forward to doing some serious work on my scholarly edition and starting a new article-length project.
But since I'm sure I have a number of readers who are grad students, recent PhDs, or others wondering how the hell to wrest their dissertation into something like a book, I thought I'd break down my own process and timeline.
My dissertation consisted of four chapters, each one on a different author, and a short introduction. When I finished, I knew I wanted the book to have a new first chapter on a fifth author, and I thought it might make sense to add a new final chapter on a sixth. I also knew I'd eventually have to write a new introduction and revise the existing chapters to a greater or lesser degree.
That's actually pretty close to what I wound up doing, but it took much longer than I expected. If you'd have asked me, back in September 2005, how long all the above would take--the researching, writing, and revising, while also adjusting to a full-time faculty job--I'd have guessed two or three years. And I'd have thought of that timeline as a sane and generous one.
In the end, it took me five years.
A lot of stuff happened in the first couple of years. I started a full-time lectureship, which involved commuting a hellacious distance and teaching 3/4 for a total of four new preps (after never previously having taught more than one seminar-sized class per semester). I went on the job market for a second time. I moved to a new city to take a tenure-track job. I had to adjust to another new department and set of students. And I went through the catastrophic end of a long-term relationship.
But it's not as if those things prevented me from finishing my book sooner; they're just the stuff that happens in a junior scholar's life, and though I wasn't working especially vigorously on the book for while, I was still working: I wrote a rough draft of my new first chapter just a year after finishing my dissertation; I published several articles (some from or related to the book, some not); I got a couple of short-term research fellowships; I got recruited to co-edit a scholarly edition (based on the work in one of my chapters); I gave a couple of invited talks; and I did the usual conference-paper thing.
However, it wasn't until last summer that the project really came into focus for me--and it's taken me 15 months of pretty steady labor since then just to revise my five chapters and write a new introduction and a coda (the subject of the intended sixth chapter having turned out to be so entirely dull, from a literary perspective, that he got demoted).
Basically, it took me four or five years to grow enough as a scholar to write this book. My dissertation and my book share most of the same raw material: the authors, the texts, and even most of my close-readings remain the same. But the book conceives of that material and presents it in a totally different way, with a larger argument that progresses and develops through each chapter, rather than each chapter being, in effect, a separate case study. There's a reason now for this to be a book rather than five articles.
So although I think Bill Germano's From Dissertation to Book is in almost every way an excellent guide to the process, I have to take issue with his claim that a new PhD should be able to complete a course of "major" revisions in a year and "minor" (cosmetic) revisions in three months. I don't know anyone who has made major revisions in anywhere close to a single year--and that includes people who wound up with fancy-pants post-docs that gave them two years of uninterrupted research time immediately after finishing their dissertations.
Sometimes, you have to live with a project for a long time before you realize what it's about. Sometimes you have to set it aside. And there's a reason why we get six years before tenure.
Readers: what have your dissertation-to-book experiences been? And what revision advice would you give recent PhDs?