Saturday, October 17, 2009

Revising the Dissertation

Publishers want my dissertation. They've told me so. But of course that doesn't mean they want it as is; the more well-regarded of them want it fixed up. There haven't been any specifics on this, but I know they want the footnotes trimmed, the literature review (which I didn't want to write anyway) trimmed or excised, the title improved, and all that sort of thing. And the book proposal has to be finished up and then (like a basic grant proposal) recreated in several different formats to suit the various publishers to whom I will submit it.
Exactly when I'm going to do all this when teaching full time and preparing new classes, I don't know, but pretty much everyone with a new PhD and a job has that problem.
I'm not sure my dissertation needs huge amounts of revision, but whatever it does need is bound to seem huge to me. With all that in mind, I took a look at William Germano's From Dissertation to Book.
As with any how-to or self-help book, the question facing me as a reader was "What brilliantly useful bit(s) can I glean from this? Will there be anything that just rockets me forward?" It really only takes one of those tidbits for a book of this kind to be worthwhile. But unfortunately, or fortunately, as the case may be, I'm already rather familiar with writing and publishing. It's not easy to give me the pleasant surprise of "that's just what I needed to know." All through the first half of the book, I kept muttering "Get to the revision." That first half was full of information and counseling that I'm sure a great many people need, but which for me were bloody obvious. Germano doesn't get going on actual pointers for revision until halfway through, but that wasn't really clear until I got there. After all, you never know where some informational gem might be hidden. I might not know as much as I think I do.
Germano has useful tips on coming up with a new title (something I had already done, at least provisionally); on subheading the chapters (sections with subheads had been a big help from a book on writing the dissertation itself, but my subhead titles will benefit from the Germano touch, as will the chapter titles themselves); and while people generally think I write well, I was decidedly charmed by Germano's advice not too quote too liberally from authors whose prose style is far better than one's own. "Strong writers, like strong perfume," says Germano after throwing a fine chunk of M. F. K. Fisher our way, "should be used with great care. Comparison with your own prose will be inevitable." Indeed. I like to think I have a pretty good prose style, but its best examples are not to be found in everything I write. You are not finding my best style in this blog post, nor will you find it in most of my dissertation, despite the compliments I have had on the latter.
The overuse of the passive voice is not, I think, one of my major sins, but I very much like it when Germano says "Some passives we're glad we haven't had to see:

In the beginning the heavens and the earth were created by God.
Arms and the man are being sung by me.
Ishmael is what I'm called."



  1. You are leaving us in suspense ... what is the new potential title???!!!


  2. Magnetic Woman: Toyen and the Surrealist Erotic.

  3. It's a great thing to have a thesis wanted. Congratulations. Any more info?

  4. There have been a few inquiries, but I'd rather not go into details at this point. Basically, I need to finish the proposal, send it to appropriate houses, see who wants it then and what choices I have in terms of such things as print run, illustrations, my contract, etc. It's nice to know people are interested, though! They mostly find out about it because I chose to make the dissertation itself publicly available.

  5. "Dissertation Writing Help" said:

    "Whenever i see the post like your's i feel that there are still helpful people who share information for the help of others, it must be helpful for other's. thanx and good job."

    Unfortunately this comment linked to a service that I do not condone, so I have deleted it.

  6. "James" said:

    "Thanks a lot for a bunch of good tips. I look forward to reading more on the topic in the future. Keep up the good work! This blog is going to be great resource. Love reading it."

    Unfortunately this comment linked to a service that I do not condone, so I have deleted it. Hey dudes, rest assured I'll summarily delete all links to paper-writing services and other obnoxious products. Don't waste your time linking to those here!