Thomas Hauck
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Transforming an Academic Text into a Mass-Market Book: Not an Easy Task!

Academics who have written a peer-reviewed manuscript sometimes want to jump genres and have their thesis re-written into a popular book.

A client once contacted me and told me that he had written a thesis on the history of the cultural and diplomatic relationship between Sweden and the countries of the Near East, specifically Israel and the Palestinian territories. The history dates back to the time of the Vikings, who first contacted traders in the Holy Land in the tenth century CE. The client hoped that this could become a mass-market book in the American market.

“I would like to keep an ‘academic tone’ in the language,” he said, “but give it more of narrative. I have added quotations and anecdotes to the text in an effort to give it more of a narrative. Some segments of the text have many anecdotes while other sections are more academic. Is there any possibility of giving the text even more of an interesting and captivating narrative, as some sections are still too technical? In the best of worlds, I would like to end up with a factual text based on facts combined with a captivating story.”

This is much more difficult and expensive than you’d think. Peer-reviewed academic papers are structured very differently from mass-market books. Imagine if you took your BMW to a mechanic and said, “Can you transform this BMW into a Mercedes?” The mechanic would say, “Okay – but because I have to replace every single part of the car, it will cost you eighty thousand dollars.”

The most common problem is that the author thinks his or her subject matter is inherently boring, and that by somehow “spicing it up” it will become interesting. It is at such times that the kindly editor, in an effort to save the client from spending many thousands of dollars on a wild goose chase, will say, “Are you sure you want to do this? It will require writing a completely new book. What sort of narrative do you have in mind? The story of a family over many generations?” Such a project could quickly become an epic James Michener novel.

My advice? Be happy with what you have, or be prepared to pay many thousands of dollars to have a ghostwriter write a new book for you.

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