01 August 2011

What's the test?

Nicoleandmaggie asked "Is there a test you can take to see if you're with book or not?"

This is precisely the question I have. How do you know when you're writing a book?

I haven't done this before. I did not turn my dissertation into a book. It was conceived as a series of linked studies, discussions of the way a single theme worked in multiple texts. I mined it for articles (one good one, part of another, one bad one that never got published), and got tenure by writing articles. I'm not exactly an article-producing machine, but I do have a good idea of how to write an article and what one looks like.

Over the years, I have planned two books (two different takes on the main idea, since there came a point where it seemed the first version wouldn't work), and worked on them in fits and starts: a conference paper here, another there, chapter "dump files" on my laptop into which I put quotations and insights I hope to use in that chapter. These files are not even zero-drafts, just a place to collect bits and pieces. For the last couple of years, I have been trying to clear the decks of various articles in various stages of production so that I could stop being distracted by such unfinished material and work on the latest version of the Putative Book as my sole project.

So this summer's article project was supposed to be part of that deck-clearing. I did not expect a conference paper to turn monograph-sized. But having finished writing up the first section of my outline and coming in around 6000 words this morning, either I am being incredibly long-winded, or I'm looking at a longer project.

Five chapters of around 6000 words each would be 30K words. I'm looking a friend's monograph, 128 pages before the notes and bibliography. Assuming 250 words to a page, that's 32K words. I think I'm in that ballpark.

So what's the test? How do you tell? How and when did you, gentle readers who have written books, know that that was what you were doing?

7 comments:

Sapience said...

Only 30k for a monograph? My advisors keep telling me 100K for a monograph! My dissertation is currently at 70k...

Fencing Bear said...

Books come in all sizes. Publishers like shorter books because it means less copy editing (and, thus, expense). 30k is short for a book, but it is still long enough to need publishing as a book.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

The series I have in mind includes books from that 128 pages to significantly longer than that. I haven't budgeted for the introduction, either, and there's a piece that, in a book project, might be another chapter. When my writing group read the outline for what we thought was an article, they suggested spinning that piece off as a separate article, but if all the pieces of the outline have similar heft, it could work as a chapter.

Sulpicia said...

I knew the only publishable version of my thesis would be as a book because the bits of it all need each other to work. This has been a bit of a pain on the publications front, as I wasn't ready to rewrite it as a book for a while. My publisher had a preference for books between 60K-100K, including footnotes and bibliography, but that's not true across the board, and I'd rather read a shorter book that works as a whole than some of the flabbier ones you come across, that seem to have run out of steam a few chapters in. I hope the book's gestating nicely!

Jonathan said...

It's a scale issue. Apocryphal Lorca began as an article, but then I realized I could not say what I needed to say on that scale. It's also a question of unity, when the chapters need the support of other chapters in a way an isolated article doesn't. It's also a question of work habits and momentum.

Anastasia said...

I was told that academic books run more like 300-400 words/page but I have absolutely no idea if that's true or not. Seems like it would depend on typesetting and that depends on publisher. My book, which I just sent off, is for a general educated audience and probably less then 400 words/page. It came in right around 37K words. This is fine with everybody.

As far as knowing whether I might be wish book, I had no idea. I was like one of those women who feels vaguely uncomfortable for months and then accidentally passes a full-sized infant into a toilet or something. This is a graphic metaphor. Sorry.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

Anastasia, no problem! I started the metaphor, after all. Thanks to everybody for commenting.