Since then, I’ve done a fair amount of soul-searching about my first book project and have also spent a lot of time talking with other junior faculty about publishing.
For almost every one of us, the formula for successfully drafting and editing a book, and then landing a contract, is mysterious.
So I set out to find out if there is a formula for publishing one’s first academic book in the humanities. The simple answer seems to be no. Yet two university press editors — Elizabeth Ault, editor at Duke University Press, and Jim Burr, senior editor at the University of Texas Press — whom I interviewed on their experiences working with first-time book authors helped me develop a longer, more comprehensive and insightful answer that I’d like to share.
In fact, this essay is for you if you’re an aspiring first-time book author or if you’re undecided about whether or not you want your research to appear in book format. It is part one of a three-part series I’m writing dedicated to answering the question, “What do university press editors have to say in regards to the mystery surrounding first-time book authorship?”
In this first article, I’ll pass along some of the general suggestions Elizabeth and Jim gave me on how to turn your dissertation into a book. Then, in the following two articles, we’ll explore other aspects of publishing your first book.
It can often feel as if the number of resources on book authorship is overwhelming. Many of those resources are field-specific or about writing habits and resilience strategies. For all the first-time book writers out there, including me, I asked the two editors, “What is the one resource I should read as I contemplate getting my dissertation to a publishable state for an academic university press?”
I’ll also provide their perspectives on the relationship of your book project to your other research and on how complete a book needs to be before you start searching for an editor
They both made the same recommendation: William Germano’s From Dissertation to Book, originally published in 2005 by the University of Chicago Press. “It is the classic in this field for a reason,” Elizabeth said. “It’s still full of some of the best advice I know about how to reorient your sense of audience, evidence, voice and more as you think about how to step into the authority you’ve claimed along with the Ph.D.” If you prefer the newsletter format, they both also mentioned the work Laura Portwood Stacer has put together in Manuscript Works.
Both she and Jim stressed the importance of reading good first books in your specific field, as well, and Jim added, “Don’t just read others’ first books but also those by senior scholars who have the knack of communicating their ideas clearly and intelligently.” I took that to mean that I should read to determine my own writing values, with an eye for establishing the kind of writer I want to be.
That’s perhaps due to a variety of factors, including the general irrelevance of the advice of our well-established grad school advisers — who already seem to have many relationships in publishing — and the general lack of attention to this concern until after landing a job
As for other resources, Elizabeth recommended following various university press editors on Twitter and watching a video of a talk by her colleague at Duke, editorial director Ken Wissoker. Jim then suggested that first-time book authors check out a second video and mentioned Rachel Toor’s work on the topic. I’ve since watched both videos, and they are very helpful.