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August 8, 2012 / Matthew Wolf-Meyer

From Dissertation to Book, Part 2

This is the second part in a two part series on the dissertation-to-book conversion process. Part one is here.

Once an editor shows interest in your book manuscript and asks for it, this is what you can expect from the time you turn it in to them:

First, they’ll send it out for peer review. They may ask you for a list of reviewers, or, more likely, they’ll have a sense of who they want to send it to already. Often, they send book manuscripts to authors who have previously published with the press, since they have a sense of the press’ needs. Or they’ll send it to reviewers who they’ve come to know are good reviewers. This can be a pretty slow process — from six months to a year, although many editors strive to ensure that it’s sooner rather than later. When the reviews come back, you can expect to receive fairly substantial documents — three or more single spaced pages from each reviewer (and there might be two to three of them). In addition, the editor may chime in on what he or she finds to be the most important elements of the reviews to help guide you in the revision process.

When you get these documents back, it may be time for your editor to offer you a contract. These come in two forms, advanced contracts and regular contracts. Regular contracts are that the book is now under contract to be published by the press, usually come hell or high water. Advanced contacts are like regular contracts, but they’re pending certain criteria being met. So, for example, you might need to submit a revised version of the book manuscript by a set date; in doing so, your advanced contract becomes a regular one. Advanced contacts can be precarious, and they aren’t a guarantee that the book will be published.

In order to offer that contract, the editor may need to get approval from a faculty board or some other form of oversight. This can require you to write a letter addressing the peer reviews and your plans for revision. Since these meetings often occur at regular intervals, this can take up to a month (or sometimes longer, in the summer) to finally happen.

After receiving comments, your editor will most likely give you a deadline for the revisions on the book manuscript. These can be rather flexible, and I’ve heard of everything from three months to a year. And I know of people who have taken much longer than that to return their manuscripts, with the permission of their editor. When it does get returned, it will usually be sent back to one or two of your previous reviewers, along with a letter that you prepare addressing all of the changes that you’ve made to the text. Expect another three to six months before you hear back from your editor. There may be some changes called for by your reviewers and editors, and this is the last window for substantial changes to the text. And if you have an advance contract, this is where it becomes a regular contract, and it may require your editor to get approval for that transformation.

It’s also possible around this time that you’ll move from being under the supervision of an acquisitions editor (sort of the face of the press) to a managing editor, who is in charge of the rest of the things that happen to your book as it moves from being a Word document to an actual book.

The first step of the production process is that it goes out for copy editing. Most likely, the press will pay a professional copy editor to read the entire text (including end notes and your bibliography) and correct your language. He or she will also identify textual obscurities and other issues with the text. This can take a few months, and your editor will give you a sense of the timeline. And when you get it back, expect to have anywhere between two and four weeks to complete the corrections being asked for. Once you make the corrections, the text will go back to the copy editor for final corrections.

Once the text is concrete, it goes out for typesetting, which can take a couple more months. You’ll get the galleys back to correct any typos (and there will be some), but will only have a couple weeks to do this. (A little typo anecdote: a comma was replaced with a period and it radically altered the meaning of the two sentences it was part of — so it’s important to read closely.) And during this process, you’ll also, most likely, need to put together your index. (I worked on mine while I was reading the copy edited version of the text, and finalized it with the galleys, which worked pretty well.) And then it’s off to the presses… Which can take another several months. And if you’ve ever wondered where blurbs on the back of books come from, this is when they get solicited — your editor may ask you for names, or they may use the reviewers who read the book. Finally, around this time, you’ll move from being under the managing editor’s supervision to being under the supervision of publicity and marketing staff.

In between some of this stuff, you’ll most likely need to fill out an author questionnaire that will ask you about which journals the book should be sent to for review, if there are awards it should be sent in for review for, key ideas from the book for publicity material — like catchy ideas in a sentence, and a lot of other questions regarding how to market the book and who it should be marketed to. And you’ll be asked to write a short author’s biography (about a page), and maybe conduct an interview with yourself to highlight some of the book’s content. You can see all of this stuff on the bottom right of The Slumbering Masses page at UMN press — it’s the press kit. And somewhere in all of this, you’ll be asked about ideas for the book cover, and eventually shown a version designed by the press (which you may or may not have any input in).

And then you get to sit back and wait for the reviews and royalty checks to roll in…

I think I hit everything. If you have questions about any of this stuff, don’t hesitate to post them in comments. It’s a long process — it will be about four years from the first conversation I had with my acquisitions editor to when The Slumbering Masses sees print. This is a little on the long side, but even the short version of this process can still be two to three years. And a lot of that time is just spent waiting. So it’s a good time to start working on new projects or getting other stuff done that you’ve put off. Like working on a blog…

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