At the PhD Life blog, we like to predict your reading needs. That’s why Felicity Chaplin is here to give you advice on anticipating the expectations that a publisher might have of your own writing. That’s right! This post is all about turning your thesis into a book…
There is a scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope in which reference is made to the kind of books philosophy professor Rupert Cadell (James Stewart) publishes: “You know… big words, small print, no sales!” Generally speaking, publishing houses don’t want to publish academic theses for one reason: they don’t sell. That is not to say that there is a huge market for academic books (the hardcover editions of which can retail for around $100). What it does mean is that if you want to publish your thesis as a book, the general advice from publishers might be: “don’t make it too ‘thesisy’”.
Academic publishing houses want you to consider a broad readership for your work. In practical terms, this means transforming your thesis into something someone would actually want to read. This is something you should consider before submitting sample chapters to a publisher. Try it out on a loved one first. If their eyes glaze over after the first paragraph, go back to the drawing board. Of course, realistically, academic monographs are going to be of little interest to the general reader, but you need to aim in that general direction.
With this in mind, and having gone through the process recently with my own thesis-to-book project, I can offer the following advice on how to make your book or book proposal less ‘thesisy’:
- Remove as much academic signposting as possible (you still need to guide the reader through your book, but in a more subtle fashion than in a thesis). The reader needs to know they are in capable hands and too much signposting may cast doubt in their mind.
- Make more of the aspects of the thesis that might be considered to be ‘of general interest’.
- Shrink your literature review and methodology sections. A necessary part of the thesis is to show your examiners that you are an expert in your field and your place within it, this can be redundant and less interesting for a general reader. While it is still important to set up your argument and the contribution it makes to your field, don’t be as exhaustive as in the thesis.
- Take out the dry academic language and liven up your writing. If you manage to do this during your actual thesis this will save you time for the rewriting for the book.
- Take out footnotes except when absolutely necessary.
- Consider your cover image for the book – that is, if you are permitted to choose one (this depends on the publisher). You may have to pay for the image, but it is worth it to have the cover you want. I paid about $400AUD for an image of Audrey Hepburn for two reasons: first, because the image best captured the subject matter of my book; and secondly, because, let’s face it, Audrey sells books. Consider your cover the first point of contact with a potential readership.
- Every publisher is different. Take a look at a few recently published books in your field from your targeted publisher. This will give you an idea of the kind of books they publish and of what is expected of their writers. Publishers usually have their style guides and other requirements online, so familiarise yourself with their websites too.
Finally, remember that every publishing experience is different. There are many factors which will need to align for you to receive a positive response from a publisher. Luck plays its part, too; but if you consider the above points (by no means exhaustive), you will give yourself the best chance of having your proposal accepted.
Are you hoping to turn your thesis into a book? Do you actively write your thesis by keeping a potential book in mind? Have you started to restructure your thesis into a book? We all want to hear your advice: tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at email@example.com, or leave a comment below.
Felicity Chaplin is a Scholarly Teaching Fellow in French Studies at Monash University. Her book La Parisienne in Cinema: between Art and Life is published by Manchester University Press. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Image: Courtesy of Felicity Chaplin.