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Is Your Thesis a Book: Part II

f you’re still with me, and have decided to go ahead and at least think about publishing your thesis, the second thing to do involves looking at it in a completely different way. I have no advice on how to get the perspective you need for this next part except to suggest that leaving the thesis alone for a while (months if you can) would help, as would performing some sort of ritual purging of the ‘thesis-thinking’ (I destroyed my desk, but this was rash, you will still need a desk to work at!).

But the point is, you need to look at your thesis with fresh eyes and as much as possible, without seeing it as a thesis!

At a practical level, you are now tasked with analysing whether your thesis has a future as a book or not and, if not, whether it is a set of articles instead (assuming you haven’t already published several articles from it, in which case its neither as the material has already been published). But don’t think that article-writing is the easier or even faster option and plump for that out of laziness. Boiling a thesis down to standalone essays and then submitting them (one at a time, mind) to a range of journals some of which wont actually publish your work – even if they are doing back-flips over it – for a couple of years, takes time and effort.

If you still think it’s a book, then I’ve got a set of tests to help you confirm this:

  1. Google your topic every which way and trawl Amazon and make sure your thesis really does offer something different. For an academic book the ‘original contribution to knowledge’ needs to be ever so slightly more apparent than it did for an academic thesis. Is this really, truly new research/findings? Really? Be honest!
  2. Establish a set of comparable books either in terms of content or style – hopefully you already own these and are very familiar with them – and make a list of what they’ve done that’s good and bad and how you’d like to emulate/improve upon them. Sarah Caro also suggests at this point that you make a list of their key points, and compare this with a list of the key points presented in your thesis, asking yourself (yet again) if your thesis truly brings something new to the table. (Your plans to publish your thesis might end here, and like I say, be brutally honest with yourself, and let go if you realise your thesis isn’t book-shaped after all. Console yourself with the fact that you’ve got a list of the successful elements of good academic books which can be your cheat-sheet for future endeavours, and that you haven’t wasted months – maybe years – flogging a dead horse).
  3. Look even harder at the characteristics of your thesis. For example, is it context rich? That is, does it need to be a book because there is literally lots of explaining to do, or did you do lots of explaining to get your PhD but could actually convey the information core in an essay? Another way of thinking about this is to consider the conferences you have spoken at, and ask yourself whether  you presented the gist of your entire thesis or just an element of it? If the latter, then it sounds context rich and quite possibly bookish. You might also ask yourself at this stage whether your research has a sell-by-date? Is it particularly relevant now and could it become less relevant quite quickly? If you have material that could easily expire, you might consider the article route – especially the online journal article route – and accept that its quite possibly not bookish.
  4. A final test at this stage is whether your thesis-as-a-book would be selected for course reading lists. Again, this shouldn’t be too difficult to research. Look at the lists you yourself have used when teaching courses relating to your specialism – or even look at lists for classes you’ve attended (in the not too distant past, maybe on your Masters?). You might also ask colleagues for their reading lists (where relevant) and scrutinise those. What you are looking for, in each instance, is to get an idea of the types of books selected as core texts and to list some of their shared features? Would your book be a useful addition to this list? Might it even replace a book on this list by updating or seriously challenging it?

This should be enough for now, these tests will take a little while but what they will confirm – for now at least – is whether your thesis has book potential.

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