Wondering how to go about getting your thesis published? In this guide Georgina Collins provides information for early career researchers on the process of converting your thesis into a published book.

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From PhD to publication

Following the PhD, if you wish to remain in academia or move into a related profession, publishing your thesis is often considered essential. Few PhD theses are published in their original form; the PhD is an academic exercise aimed at gaining a qualification and a set of skills, whereas a book is intended to be read by others. Converting your thesis into a book can be used as a building block to an academic career, to influence your discipline and expand your knowledge of the field.

One practical way in which the academic exercise and publication process differ is over copyright. Your thesis may contain content which is copyrighted to others that you will need permission from rights owners to include in publication.

Adapting a thesis

When 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.

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.

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.

Choosing a publisher

There are different types of publishers – university presses and commercial presses are the most common ones. Some will pay you, while others that 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 audience. 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.

Writing a book proposal

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:

  • 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.

Rewards, royalties and subsidies

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.

The challenges of PhD publication

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.

This article is based on a paper given by Professor Charles Forsdick, Series Editor at Liverpool University Press. Listen to his paper in full here (podcast of event: Publishing Your Thesis in the Humanities and Social Sciences)

Click here for a guide to publishing for first-timers.

Image: Alex Proimos, Wikicommons