Getting your thesis published
Following the PhD, if you wish to remain in academia or move into a related profession, publishing your thesis is often considered essential. However, very few PhD theses are published in their original form. This is because the PhD is an academic exercise aimed at gaining a qualification and a set of skills, whereas a publication will be used as a building block to an academic career, to influence your discipline and expand knowledge in your field.
One practical way in which the thesis and publication may differ is over copyright. Your thesis may contain content which is copyrighted to others, so you will need permission from rights owners if you wish to incorporate that content in your publication.
When considering adapting your thesis for publication you should take into account the shift in audience: as a thesis your work had a very small readership, but when published it should attract a much larger one. How will you go about amending your thesis to achieve this?
You will also need to consider whether to publish your thesis as a monograph or series of articles. Bear in mind the advice you have been given by supervisors and examiners. Is the complete thesis publishable or just parts of it? Do you need to redraft those parts or just publish the sections that are deemed to be strong?
Consider how these decisions may affect your employability. Sometimes three or four strong papers in refereed journals can be better when applying for jobs than having to wait several years for a monograph to come out. In making this decision, you should also consider how you will balance your publication commitments alongside the inevitable post-doctoral challenges of finding a job, teaching, and pursuing new areas of research.
There are different types of publishers – university presses and commercial presses are the most common ones. Some will pay you, while others will expect a publishing subsidy from you. It is important to get a good sense of the range of publishers in your field, the kinds of work they publish, and their different strengths. Consider how your work could enhance their current series.
You may also consider how you wish to pitch your book – at a general readership, a trade audience or a specialist academic readership. Whether your thesis is published or not is usually decided by the commissioning editor or editorial board. That decision will be made on the grounds of intellectual coherence, whether the research is cutting edge, and also if the book is commercially viable.
It is important to maximise the impact of your work. In publishing a monograph, you need to ensure high quality and wide visibility. This is often reliant on distribution and marketing which varies between publishers. Find out whether a publisher’s books are reviewed in the right places and whether they send publicity materials out to libraries, catalogues and specialist book shops. You may also consider whether your work will be published in hardback, paperback or even print on demand, and how this will affect your readership.
A major step in the process of publishing your thesis is getting the book proposal right. Make sure you read publishers’ guidelines. Catch their eye by being brief and punchy. Carefully proofread your work and do not just cut and paste an abstract from your thesis. There are four key criteria to consider when putting a proposal together:
- Rigour – is it a scholarly piece of work?
- Significance – is it talking to a wide audience?
- Originality – are you doing something brand new?
- Marketability – is the book commercially viable?
Your goal is to convince them that your book will be essential reading in your field.
In the UK, research is judged by the Research Excellence Framework (REF) which is based on peer review. Therefore, whether you are paid or have paid to be published should not make a difference to how your work is viewed: it is the opinion of your peers that will matter.
Most of the big presses do not charge and have very well-established peer review systems of their own – so on the whole, work published by these large publishers tends to be of a higher standard. The ultimate prize is a contract with royalties, but unless your first book is a trade book that will have a huge impact, do not expect much. Also bear in mind whether your publisher is tying you in for your next book – this could be either a good or bad thing.
If you are required to pay a publishing subsidy, find out who is expected to pay. Many university departments will only pay if the book is likely to form part of an REF submission, which means it will have to reach a certain quality threshold – three-star or four-star in REF terms.
With these smaller publishers, you may have to do much of the quality control, proofing and marketing yourself. If this is the case, you may choose instead to go for articles – but on the other hand, sometime these publishers can provide you with a quick turnaround which will allow you to move on to the next book or project.
Don’t leave it too long to publish your thesis. PhDs are perishable and the literature review and methodological foundations will often be out of date after five or six years.
Pitching to a publisher is crucial, and that involves both selling your work and redrafting it. This means moving away from a text that is ultimately an academic exercise to a piece of work that demonstrates true originality. Consider the readership, and aim at an interdisciplinary audience whilst situating yourself at the cutting edge of your particular field.
The next step is to work at expanding the readership, and this will depend on your attention to style, the widening of the context and updating material within the monograph.
Related researcher articles on this site
- Writing research for different audiences: Key points to consider
- Approaching a publisher
- From proposal to print
- Journal publishing 101: the right material in the right place
- Journals and copyright
You may also be interested in...
- This article is based on a paper given by Professor Charles Forsdick, Series Editor at Liverpool University Press. Listen to his paper in full
- Guide to publishing for first-timers
- Advice on turning your thesis into a book
- Guardian Q&A on how to get ahead in academic publishing
Georgina Collins has a PhD in Translation Studies and recently completed an Early Career Fellowship in Warwick’s Institute of Advanced Study. She also teaches world literature for the Workers’ Educational Association and works as a freelance translator.
About the author...
Georgina Collins has a PhD in Translation Studies and recently completed an Early Career Fellowship in Warwick’s Institute of Advanced Study. She also teaches world literature for the Workers’ Educational Association and works as a freelance translator. More…
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