Newsletter Fall 2013

Dr. Michael Smith On Publishing His Dissertation

The holy grail of any dissertation writer is eventually transforming all that hard work into a viable book proposal that will convince a publisher that it’s worthy of putting into print. Securing a contract with a publisher is not only a huge boon if you’re in the academic job market, it’s also immensely satisfying on a personal level to have your scholarly work validated.

I began taking my own first few tentative stabs at turning my dissertation into a book proposal shortly after the defense and completion of the final revisions. It is, of course, a good idea not to let the dissertation gather too much dust before beginning to re-conceptualize it as a book. This can be hard to do, however, because by the time you finish the two-year writing process, the last thing on your mind is how to spin your dissertation topic into a narrative arc befitting of a book.

The purpose of the book, even more so than the dissertation, is to further the field of knowledge in which you happen to be working. This means that you have the luxury of assuming the expertise of your audience. There’s no need to rehash the material already in print. Rather, you will use it as a means to further your own critique—and that is, most importantly, what the book is all about: critique, not only as a way of questioning the long-held assumptions which may prevail in whatever field you might be addressing, but also advancing the understanding of it.

Where my project is concerned, such assumptions abound in plentitude. My subject is the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein, one of the twentieth century’s most influential thinkers, and for that reason, one of the most hotly debated as well. The primary aim of my text is to steer the debate around Wittgenstein to an oft neglected feature of his work: his adamant instance on the poetic nature of philosophical rumination, thus recasting Wittgenstein from a stalwart of the Analytic tradition into something entirely different: the artist-philosopher.

I was fortunate enough to have my book proposal accepted on the third attempt. The two previous publishers I submitted it to were gracious enough to offer constructive feedback on my topic and how I might improve it. I took this as a good sign that I was on the right track, and with each rejection I allowed myself both time to reflect on the criticism and the opportunity to learn from it so as to make the proposal that much better. I would have, however, been willing to go through many more rejections if it had come to that. Persistence, more than anything else, is the key to success in academic writing.

Only as a Poetic Composition: Wittgenstein and the Artist-Philosopher is slated for publication by Atropos Press in 2016.