Turning a Dissertation into a Book

Ever since I finished my dissertation three years ago, my plan was to turn it into a book. Actually a dissertation is already a book. Mine weighs in at 40,000 words. What I mean is that I want to turn dissertation into a marketable book. Dissertations are not marketable. They are academic and boring. I suspect the only people who actually read dissertations are the instructors who have to and other students doing research for their dissertations.

Turning a Dissertation into a BookIn fact, turning my dissertation into a marketable form was one of my goals for 2013. Alas, I didn’t achieve that objective. In truth I never started it. Other writing projects were more interesting and got in the way.

However, the project is back on. I recently generated some interest in the book version of my dissertation, and an editor asked for a proposal. Book proposals are arduous affairs – at least for me. You need to talk about platform and marketing. You need an annotated outline and you need three sample chapters. Yuck.

The outline was easy enough, but it also revealed that the order of my dissertation – as necessitated by academic requirements – would not work for a book. I would need to move sections around and merge others segments for people to actually want to read it and not give up.

For the sample chapters, I pulled out three of the more straightforward portions of my dissertation and set down to edit them. My plan was to pull out the arcane requirements, remove the formerly required repetition, simplify long sentences, and replace the big words. I often do this type of editing at work, so I thought it would be easy for my book. I was wrong.

Turning my dissertation into a book is not going to be an easy edit but a complete rewrite. It won’t be something I can crank out in a week or two. It will take months. I’m not complaining – because I desperately want a larger audience to read my ideas – but the amount of time and work required discourages me.

This points to a larger issue for me. Though I can accurately estimate the time required for smaller projects, such as blog posts, articles, short stories, and freelance assignments, I often struggle to realistically project the amount of time it will take to write books.

Though I know how many words I can write per hour, after a few weeks of staying on track, something inevitably conspires to derail me.

The book version of my dissertation is presently on hold as I await feedback from the editor. However, I may be starting another book next week. And this one will have a deadline. I hope my time estimate is realistic and feasible.

How are you at estimating writing projects? How have you done with deadlines? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Seven Steps to Deal With the Sting of Rejection

I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve received very little rejection with the articles I’ve written. In fact, aside from contests I haven’t won and a few editors who never responded, I can’t recall a single time I’ve heard “No!” But that’s just for articles.

For books, my results are different. Half the time, I hear “no.” And the times when I hear “maybe,” it eventually turns into a “no.” Given my success with articles, I wasn’t prepared for a lack of success with books. Rejection stings.

The first time someone said “no” to one of my books, I went into a tailspin. It lasted several weeks. I stopped writing for three, and when I resumed, my heart wasn’t in it. It took too long for me to bounce back, to reclaim my joy for writing, and write with zeal.

Since then I’ve gotten better at dealing with rejection. Here are my thoughts:

1) Be Realistic: We will hear “no” much more often than we will hear “yes.” Accept this; it’s the reality of being a writer.

2) Be Positive: As they say in sales, each “no” gets us one step closer to “yes.” It’s a numbers game, so don’t stop too soon. Our next submission may be the one that’s accepted.

3) Listen to What Is Said: Consider why our book or proposal was rejected, but don’t make false assumptions. If they say, “This isn’t the right book for us at this time,” they’re not saying our book is bad, we can’t write, or we should quit. They’re simply saying the timing is off.

4) It’s Not a Reflection of Who We Are: Although our work is rejected, we aren’t. Reflection of our work is not rejection of us; it may not even reflect our skill as a writer. Maybe our idea wasn’t good or our type of book isn’t selling at this time. But none of this means we are a bad person.

5) It’s Just One Person’s Opinion: In my critique group I’m amazed at how many times one person doesn’t like something and the next person really does. The same is true for books. Everyone has an opinion, but that’s all it is.

6) Allow Time to Grieve: I give myself time to grouse. Sometimes I only need a few minutes, while other times I take the rest of the day. What I don’t do (anymore) is to ignore the pain; I acknowledge it – but only for a time.

7) Start Again: Then it’s back to writing as usual – even if I don’t feel like it. That’s what the pros do; that’s what I’ll do.

Rejection stings, but it’s not the end.

Four Essential Elements of a Successful Book Proposal

To approach an agent or publisher with our book, we start with a query letter and are ready to follow it with a proposal. For me, writing my first proposal was harder than writing the book. Seriously.

To learn about creating proposals, I read blog posts, listened to podcasts, attended webinars, went to lectures, and took classes. Amid confusion and conflicting information, I realized two things: 1) writing a proposal is as much art as science, and 2) there is no one, right format.

Then I melded all this disparate information together to realize four essential tasks a book proposal must do:

1) Sell Our Idea: In our proposal, we pitch our book. We make it compelling and not give anyone a reason to say “no” or push delete. Our idea must be unique, memorable, and enticing.

2) Show Our Professionalism: Our proposal establishes us as a competent writer who is easy to work with and not flaky, disorganized, or flippant.

3) Exhibit Our Talent: As a writer, our work must always shine, and nowhere is this more important than in a proposal. Make every word count. Our writing voice must ring out, true and clear.

4) Demonstrate Our Ability to Sell Books: A publisher will look to us as the primary person to promote, market, and sell our books. Yes, they will provide logistics and support, along with some marketing, but we need to show we have the ability and means to motivate people to buy our books. This means we need a platform, that dreaded word every writer detests. Regardless of its size, it never seems big enough.

Whatever format we follow for our book proposal or if we choose our own path, we must make sure we include these four essentials.

What’s your experience with writing a book proposal?

Five Ways That Publishing a Book is Like Finding a Job

I like working but not finding work. I like writing but not finding a publisher. Unfortunately, there are similarities. Consider these parallels:

  1. The Search: For a job, we need to find where to apply. This means looking through help wanted ads, researching companies, and networking with people we know. For writing, this means scouring market guides, learning about agents and publishers, and networking with others in the industry. Just as we wouldn’t apply for every job at every business, we don’t query every agent and publisher. We work smart and are strategic.
  2. The Resume: Just as the goal of a resume is to land an interview, the goal of a query letter is to prompt a request for a proposal. Resume equals query letter; both must shine.
  3. The Interview: In a job interview we need to sell ourselves and our abilities. In a book proposal we have the same goal.
  4. The Follow-up: A successful job interview results in more interaction with the company. A successful book proposal produces additional discussion about our writing. Both bring us closer to an offer.
  5. The Offer: Sometimes we grab the first deal that comes along. Other times we negotiate. And occasionally we say “no thank you” but leave the door open for the future.

The same is true for jobs and for books.

How else is finding work like selling our writing? In what ways are they different?

Is Building a Platform Like Walking the Plank?

This week two friends expressed frustration with their attempts at building a platform for their writing. One lamented that with his work, family, schedule, and carving out time to write, he simply doesn’t have time to invest in growing his platform. My other friend is taking an extended break from all blogging and social media. She became so overwhelmed with the pursuit of platform that she even considered deleting her blog and shutting down all her social media accounts.

I know a third person who shares their struggles, understanding too well the crunch of time and the pundits’ insistence on platform. That person is me.

If I weren’t distracted with growing my platform, I’d have twice as much time to write. I relish writing, whereas I hate the distraction of platform performance.

Adding to my discouragement is that I’m mired in creating a proposal for my book, God, I Don’t Want to Go to Church. I’m stuck on the section about my platform. I have too little to proclaim.

I wish we lived in a world were a book could stand on its merits, without the need for a platform to push it. But we don’t, so I must persist with my platform efforts, praying that it will be enough for my future publisher, without destroying my passion for writing in the process.

This is a safe place to share. Be it success or sorrow, what are your thoughts about building your platform?

Why You Should Write Your Author Bio Now

Many writers lament about how hard it is for them to write their own bio. It doesn’t go as quickly as we think and their optimum message is harder to craft. It’s best to have our bios written before we need them. And even if our pre-written bios don’t provide the right slant or hit the target length, it’s easier to tweak what we have already written to match what’s needed, then to start with a blank screen.

Write your bio in the third person, except for a query letter or proposal, when first person is used. There are four typical bio lengths and our goal is to have all four:

25-Word Bio: A 25-word bio is ideal for articles and guest blog posts. It’s usually two to three sentences and contains basic relevant information about you as an author: who you are and your credentials, plus a plug for your book, project, or blog.

50-Word Bio: A 50-word bio is also ideal for articles and guest blog posts, as well as blog sidebars. If you’re not sure which one to use, submit the 50-word version (or ask or submit both). The 50-word bio contains the same information of a 25-word bio, but more of it. (Some authors write a 75 to 100-word bio instead of a 50-word bio.)

Many authors include an intriguing, playful, or memorable line – especially in their 50-word bio.

A 25 or 50-word bio will be ideal for an article, query letter, and one-sheet. Look at the bios found at the end of magazine articles for more examples and ideas.

250-Word Bio: A 250-word bio fits on the back cover of most books; it is also appropriate for your media kit and an “About” page on your blog or website. Start with your 50-word bio and expand it, adding meat and items of interest that relate to your writing and specifically to your book.

500-Word Bio: A 500-word bio may fit on the inside flap of your book; it’s also appropriate for a media kit and an “About” page on a blog or website. Build upon your 250-word bio, adding more substance and human-interest elements.

A 250 or 500-word bio will go in your book proposal, as well as for a book and website’s About section. Look at book covers for more examples and ideas.

Posts about author bios:

What is your bio? Post your short version in the comments section (or link to you long version).

Five Ideas of What to Write

Hopefully, you’ve given some thought as when is the best time to write, as well as where is the best place to write. Even if these decisions are works in progress, needing to be fine-tuned, you need to move on.

Now we get to the question of what to write. Although, it may seem a nonsensical query; for some, especially those just starting out, it is not. Here are some ideas:

  • If you have a project, you need to be working on it. This is an obvious answer — if you have a project.
  • Work on a potential project, something that could turn into a project. That is, work on an article or a book that you could sell in the future. Write a query letter or proposal for this project.

However, if you’re just starting out, you likely need to develop and hone your writing skills before seriously embarking on a project. So, here are some more ideas:

  • Blogging is a great way to release creative ideas and develop a writing style. (I don’t put Facebook in this category, though I do know some who compose intriguing and well-written posts. I do not recommend journaling or keeping a diary as worthy writing exercises either; they are too informal, introspective, and narcissist — however, they may provide useful fodder for a future memoir.)
  • Write book or movie reviews. Work on developing a reviewer style and on being concise, fair, and helpful. Avoid the mistake of many professional reviewers — being unnecessarily critical or writing a review merely to call attention to your skill as a writer.
  • Writing exercises are other worthy considerations. “Exercising” will get you in the habit of writing and provide opportunities to develop your skills. Here are some ideas for writing exercises.

(I am currently working on a project — my dissertation — which is also a potential project, a future book.  I usually blog one day a week and also write reviews — mostly book reviews — which I hope to soon post on my Website.)