Review of How to Publish Your PhD
Posted by James L. Smith

As a PhD student puzzled and disorientated by the seemingly impenetrable complexity of academic publishing, reading How to Publish your PhD by Sarah Caro was a balm for my anxieties. At present, I find myself occupying a point on the winding and erratic road to doctoral submission at which I am grateful (sometimes pathetically so) for advice, any advice, about demystifying academia. Having read several books on thesis writing early in my doctoral research, I had yet to discover a book that convincingly dealt with the practicalities of publishing a book from one’s thesis. In this ‘publish or perish’ world, it is really never to early to begin thinking about ‘the m word’. Monograph. Even reading the word itself gives me the willies.

This thin volume (a sprightly 136 pages) is packed with valuable material for the angst-ridden PhD student with no idea of where to start, or the confused early career academic staring down the barrel of their first monograph. Filled with sensible advice and divided into self-evidently useful chapters such as ‘Books or Articles?’ and ‘Revising your PhD’, Caro has created a text to be read, re-read and referred to when needed. Every chapter is summarised in point form, making quick checks exceedingly simple. As the current Publisher for Economics and Management journals at Wiley and obvious veteran of the publishing world, Caro is ideally suited to be the author of such a book.

The text provides the reader with a series of things that a would-be creator of an academic monograph can do to help themselves, with particular focus on small and yet oft-overlooked details. Attentiveness to these details, according to Caro, can mean the difference between a submission ending up in the ‘no’ pile or the ‘maybe’ pile (p. vi). To say that Caro has thought of everything in this book would naturally be an exaggeration, but it is definitely fair to say that the book contains all of the major aspects of importance to the author. Given that these points are based on years of experience, I am inclined to believe that they are significant.

Caro never pretends that the task of academic publishing is going to be simple or that success is guaranteed. Rather, the process is presented as a journey upon which the young scholar can make good moves and bad moves. By presenting countless anecdotes from academics highlighting their experiences in the world of publishing, Caro also clearly demonstrates that the journey is one of luck, chance and serendipity as well as a well-ordered process. Thus, the book does not err on the side of presenting publishing as overly fickle, nor does it pretend that predictability is the norm.

In the first chapter, entitled ‘The Ever-changing World of Academic Publishing’, Caro surveys the different types of publishers that one may encounter, their priorities and respective peculiarities. Given the intimidating unfamiliarity of the academic publishing world to non-initiates such as myself (and to many others besides), this is essential reading and an excellent introduction to the stated purpose of the text. In addition to established houses, Caro also discusses the trends in scholarly publishing and predicts some of the changes underway that are transforming the business.

To my mind, the chapter entitled ‘Books or Articles?’ is vital reading for any PhD student considering their publication options. Given the logistical challenges of shaping an entire thesis into a monograph, Caro reminds the reader that “publishing your thesis is not always the most productive and career-enhancing use of your time” (p. 11). The author takes the reader through a series of questions to consider: is your thesis substantial and discursive enough for a monograph, or could it be conveyed just as, if not more effectively through a series of articles? (p. 16). Given the amount of time and labour invested in creating a monograph, this is an important consideration. In certain scenarios one could save a tremendous amount of time by publishing key points as articles and starting on a new project. In others the thesis may well be in a form suitable for a monograph in its original form, and be unsuitable for division into articles. In both scenarios Caro takes the reader carefully through the key points to consider, ensuring that the advantages and pitfalls of any decision are made clear.

The latter portion of the book can only be described as a lesson in the etiquette and the pragmatics of interacting with academic publishers. This follows the entire process from start to finish, covering ‘Choosing a Publisher’, ‘Preparing and Presenting a Proposal’, ‘Surviving the Reviews’, ‘Negotiating a Contract’ and ‘Marketing yourself and your book’. These chapters cover in tremendous detail the stated topic of the book, for it is indeed an exploration of exactly how to publish your PhD in the form of advice, formalities, rules, pitfalls, interpersonal correspondence and, most important of all, presenting oneself to best advantage. In addition to coaching the reader in efficacy and good conduct, these chapters also prepare the potential author to make best use of any and all assistance offered by the publisher.

The prospect of seeking a home within two covers and a spine for my PhD no longer seems quite so mysterious, nor quite so terrifying. The process is painted as a clearly mapped journey from starting point to destination, and yet the vagaries of this journey are always provided. In the bewildering wilderness of graduate ignorance, How to Publish Your PhD is a guide for the perplexed in the navigation of a very perplexing area of academic endeavour. The stated goal of the book is to force the reader to think “with some degree of rigor and objectivity” about the issues to be encountered in the quest to publish an academic book (p. vi). I feel that the book is a success in this respect and many others, and would encourage any graduate or new scholar to pick up a copy.

James L. Smith. Posted by James L. Smith

James Smith is a PhD candidate from the Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies at the University of Western Australia. His current doctoral research explores fluid dynamism as a theme of intellection and imagination in the twelfth century. His project, with the working title of Reading Aqueous Dynamism in Twelfth Century Narratives of Thought, is in its third year. His broader interests are medieval philosophy, intellectual history and literary criticism.

2 Comments Posted in Pitching & Publishing
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  1. Sometimes a single book can make a big difference. “Academic Writing for Graduate Students” help me a lot to write my master thesis.
    I have compiled a list of 42 books for PhD and graduate students, maybe you find something in there that you like.

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