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Is Your Thesis a Book: Part I

K, the second post for this new blog (on how to get a book published, and advance your career and understanding of academic publishing after completing your PhD) comes in two parts and is about considering the publishing potential of your thesis.

So, you’re still on board? You still think that publishing a book is your (academic) destiny? Well, now you need to decide what your book is going to be about. This may sound like a very simple task, no doubt you’ve spent X amount of years fashioning your cosy niche and now you’re ready to tell everybody about it; not to mention have them remark (in their droves) upon what a clever, cosy little niche it is. But its actually not that simple.

This is because there are in fact lots of options for how you might break into academic book publishing. These include, but are not limited to: editing or co-editing a volume of essays; publishing your thesis (or something very close to it); expanding a chapter or sub-section of your thesis into something book-length; or writing on something new (and possibly even going back to your thesis as a potential book later on).

First things first, do you try to publish your thesis? Is your thesis a possible book?

There are a variety of opinions on the career benefits and indeed likelihood of an early-career academic publishing his/her thesis (or something resembling it). In reality, publishers can shy away from publishing a thesis as the thesis document is written for a very different audience compared to that of a published book, and the work involved in getting it book-shaped can be enormous. It can also be very difficult for you, having spent years making it into one academic product to try and fashion it into another. And it might in any case be that you are sick of the sight of it. You might be sick of academia altogether, in which case see my earlier post and back away from the computer, your work here is done!

On the other hand, you may have somehow managed to write a thesis which in many respects is more book-shaped than thesis-shaped. You might still be thoroughly engrossed in the subject and know that you want to build your career around its findings. Or it might be a subject that has a wider audience appeal than the average, somewhat narrowly focused, thesis. Given the amount of work that has already gone into it, if nothing else, it should offer you with a good starting point.

So, to summarise, you need to think about:

  • The extent to which your thesis supports your career plans,
  • Whether or not you can bear to work on the same topic/body of research some more,
  • If you’re ready to have it knocked back by publishers because it retains a whiff (however faint) of thesisiness.
  • If you even like writing…

That last point is an important one. Along with deciding whether academia is for you, its also essential that you think about your relationship with writing. This is something we’ll come back to, but its worth considering at the outset whether your skills might be more pronounced in, say, teaching, for example. We can debate the degree to which you’ll become a ‘successful’ academic without publishing later but for now, at least think about how you might scale a mountain of writing and if, in fact, you’d rather hike round it?

In the next installment, we’ll look at the stages involved in deciding whether your thesis is at all book-like, and start some practical tests to help you look at the material afresh.

  1. A good guideline to check, even if you have already finished your PHD thesis, is this report on supervising PHD students http://grin.im/2011/08/23/phd-guide-keep-talent/. It gives a great insight what you’ve probably been missing during your studies and helps to overwork your thesis to become a book – just from a very different point of view. I’m only just starting to have my thesis revised to get it published. So far I’m comparing different publishers like GRIN http://www.grin.com
    Anybody who has experience with this German publisher? Any advice is very welcome – thanks.

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