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5 tips for publishing a book from your dissertation by Gina Neff

Today’s post is by published author Gina Neff. She is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at the University  of Washington. She is also a Chair of the Communication and Information Technologies Section, American Sociological Association and the author of Venture Labor: Work and the Burden of Risk in Innovative Industries. You can follow her on Twitter at @ginasue.

1. A dissertation is not a book. Figure out what makes your research useful, interesting, and relevant to your field. There are obvious differences between dissertations and books, of course, but when you start to “speak” like a scholar instead of a graduate student your work and your ideas will be heard differently. The wisdom of William Germano’s From Dissertation Into Book cannot be overstated.  Repeat: cannot be overstated. If you get a rejection notice (and expect to get one) that says you should read Germano, you’ve not done your homework.

2. Get advocates for your book. Books do not publish themselves (unless you’re thinking of self-publishing, and if you are thinking such silly thoughts as a junior academic then shame on you). Books, like all cultural and media products, are produced in social networks. Figure yours out and get advocates for your book who are established within that network or scholarly community. You already have advocates for your dissertation (presumably your chair, your committee, co-panelists from professional presentations). Figure out who will support you in revisions, proposal writing, picking the right press, finding the right series, etc.

3. Focus. This is advice for both you and your manuscript. Revising a dissertation into a book is hard. Figure out what you want to say to your field, what contributions you have, and focus that into a coherent manuscript. Along the way, you’ll need to find time to focus yourself – turn off the internet, step outside of the classroom, get to the library or shut your office door, and sit down and write.

4. Think about markets. Books are products. Even if you’re in a relatively small and specialized field (or perhaps because of it) you’ll need to think about who will buy your book and why. Your potential editors will be thinking these thoughts. Does your work speak across disciplinary lines? With a little work can you make your work relevant, readable, and intelligible to interested scholars in related fields? Thinking about how the book might be marketed shouldn’t be your first or primary consideration, but it should be one thing you consider when revising your dissertation.

5. Write your book. A first book is not for your dissertation chair, your department chair, or your tenure review committee chair. Those voices, or fears of those voices, may be in your head as you tackle the difficult job of revisions. But the book is yours—own it and advocate passionately for the ideas that lead you to pursue this work in the first place.

Susan Nance, the Grad School Ninja talks book publishing with an academic press
(C) http://www.flickr.com/photos/james_scott/

(C) http://www.flickr.com/photos/james_scott/

Today’s post, is the third in a short multi-authored series on PhD2Published where I have been collecting hints and tips from published academic authors, all about successfully getting an academic book published.  Today’s tips are offered by Susan Nance, an Associate Professor of US History and Affiliated Faculty with the Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare at the University of Guelph. Her next book, Entertaining Elephants: Animal Agency and Business in the American Circus, is due out from the Johns Hopkins University Press in January 2013. For more information, you can visit her website.

My big five principles for getting a book out with an academic press:

1. Write your manuscript as a message to the best people in your field and for those who will accept the basic premise of what you’re trying to do, even if they might argue on the details and/or will learn something from your research. Do not write for people who don’t ‘get it’ about what your basic research assumptions are.

2.  Choose the right press for your needs. Just need to get tenure? Pick a no frills press that won’t make you do endless revisions. Do you want to sell books, for course adoption or trade audience? Pick an academic press with a strong trade title list since they have existing networks to market scholarly books to trade audiences. For example, the book I’m researching now I will try to publish with a Western US university press that has a robust trade list because I want my book to appear in all the touristy gift shops and the souvenir parlors of the national parks, historical societies and local history museums where lay history readers will find them.

3. When promising manuscript deliveries, don’t set self-imposed deadlines you can’t keep. We’ve all done it, but that doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t win friends at the press.

4. Realize that you are making a big investment in the press, not just that they are investing in you. So, you have a right to have them treat you well, keep you informed of staff changes at the press, not abandon you because your editor leaves the press, give you a cut of e-book sales, publish the ebook or paperbook promptly, give you a say in the book cover design, trust you about what your audience will expect to see in the manuscript, etc.

5. Always be patient and NICE to production staff. They have more power over your book than you realize and don’t probably get paid as well as they should.

Top 5 tips for getting your book proposal accepted by Beatrice Hale

Todays post is by Dr Beatrice Hale. Her most recent, and first academic book is a co-authored book entitled The Age of Supported Independence, published by Springer, Dordrecht, with Dr Patrick Barrett and Professor Robin Gauld.  They’re next book is currently in preparation. Here Beatrice provides her top 5 tips for getting your book proposal accepted by a publisher.

1. Conduct a thorough search of relevant publishers,

2. Send them a well written book proposal,

3. Be courteous and inform the publishers whom you contact that you will be contacting a number of publishers

4. Ensure that the proposal gives a brief outline of the related literature of theory and data (social science here). You must identify and stress where your book has its place/or can fill a gap,

5. Do a thorough reading of the publishers’ websites, and comply with their list.

Publishing your Thesis as a Book: a Question of Planning. Part One by Karen McAulay

In this post Karen McAulay shares her experiences of planning and publishing her first academic book. In the first of two posts, she reflects on planning to publish.

     ‘And when I get my PhD’, you muse, ‘then I’ll publish it as a book’.  Admit it!  Haven’t we all thought this, in an unguarded moment?


Several years ago, I stumbled across this advice:

  • Leave it a year or so after getting your PhD
  • Deliver a few papers and/or publish a couple of articles
  • Start thinking about publishing your thesis as a book.
  • You’re a more attractive proposition to a publisher if you have already published on your subject.

I graduated in December 2009.  I diligently wrote papers – and published a few things – and didn’t start thinking about ‘the book’ until Autumn 2010.  But where to publish it?  I really didn’t want to go down the self-publishing route.  I didn’t want the expense, or the bother of production and marketing.  I did want to be published by a reputable company that would (a) know where to get the book reviewed, and (b) be as keen as me to sell a reasonable number of copies.

I could see that my topic would probably fit into the scope of several academic publishers.  I also wondered about a couple of publishers who might have been interested in my topic for its regional connections.  However, I was fortunate enough to be approached by the series editor of one of my target publishers, before I’d even contacted their publishing house, and that was the one I decided to go with.

The Book Proposal

So, what can you expect when you have a publisher interested in your title?  Submitting a book proposal comes first.  You have to be able to describe your target audience, and demonstrate how your book fills an unfilled niche.  It’s crucial that you’re up-to-speed with what has recently been published in your field.  If A says this, and B covers that, but you can demonstrate that you’ve devoted a good part of your thesis to some other aspect – or taken a different approach – then that’s all good!

You may have to submit a demonstration chapter.  Only you will know if the tone of your thesis reads like a book, or would still need more work to make it more accessible.  I suspect this is partly a question of writing style, and partly of subject matter.  I was asked for the link to my e-thesis, and that was that.

If you’ve published scholarly articles, you already know about the peer-review.  This can take a long time.  (I wouldn’t venture to pronounce on how long is too long, because I don’t know what’s normal in the book-publishing world.)  Similarly, I imagine there must be a wide range of responses, between “No, thanks”, and “Yes, please”, but I can only speak for my own experience.

The Contract

At the end of the day, I wasn’t asked to re-write anything.  However, I was asked if I could add another chapter, so that the book would have added value over and above the online thesis.  I was only too pleased to do this, since I’d gone on researching post-graduation, and this offered the perfect opportunity to get it in print, in context.  (I’d spoken on my subsequent research, and had a paper that would serve as a draft, but more work was needed before it would be a chapter that I could feel proud of.)  I agreed to supply the manuscript in four months.

It was by now just before Christmas 2011.

Once we’d taken down the Christmas tree, I decided, I would get started….To be continued.

About Karen

Websites and Contact Details

  • Tweet me @Karenmca
  • Email: K.McAulay@rcs.ac.uk

My day-job is Music and Academic Services Librarian at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.  After hours, I’m a musicologist specialising in historical Scottish song collections.

My first degree in Music at Durham, was followed by a research Masters in mediaeval English plainsong uses at Exeter, then doctoral studies into mediaeval English music.  A subsequent postgraduate librarianship diploma at Aberystwyth left me with insufficient time to finish the mediaeval music research.

Librarianship at the University of East Anglia, Metropolitan Borough of South Tyneside and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland has filled in the decades before I resumed research again, this time into Scottish song collecting c.1760-1888. After 5 years’ part-time study concurrently with my full-time work, I graduated with a PhD from the University of Glasgow in 2009. I submitted my book MS at the end of April 2012: Our Ancient National Airs: Scottish Song Collecting from the Enlightenment to the Romantic Era.

Weekly Wisdom #99 by Paul Gray and Simon E. Drew

SPECIALIZE. GET KNOWN FOR SOMETHING. It helps visibility. Sadly, brilliant, restless people who work on several topics simultaneously usually do not achieve as much visibility as those who plod along in the same area for many years.

Publish or Perish. Impassioned reflections of an Early Career Researcher
(c) Moyan Brenn Berkut83@hotmail.it
(c) Moyan Brenn Berkut83@hotmail.it

Todays post by Tom Brock, an Early Career researcher at Durham University, is an impassioned reflection on the difficult journey ahead faced by many of his career stage with the desire to progress; that of getting journal articles published.

 Across the academic spectrum, the phrase ‘publish or perish’ has been heard by many. Today, it might be thought of as the condicio sine qua non of academic and researcher development. The idea behind it is simple: we must publish our research material or we will be cast out as failures of the system. We perish: we suffer complete ruin in a sudden or untimely way. It is a provocative phrase. It is meant to spur on progress. However, it resonates deeply with the early career researcher. It echoes throughout our day-to-day lives as we fear that in order to qualify our academic prowess (beyond the mere possession of a doctorate) we must face peer-review. If we do not publish, then we perish, and the alternative that we face translates into something quite unsettling.

Like the protagonist of 1995 hit-film, ‘Judge Dredd’, the unpublished academic is met with one choice: to face the ‘long walk’ alone. It is an uncomfortable truth but there are few options remaining and often each ends with the same inevitable call for peer-reviewed material. Unsatisfied by this, the unsuccessful scholarly graduate must leave the refines of the ivory tower to be greeted by the ‘Cursed Earth’: a space in the employment line where the skills of a doctoral researcher rarely translate into ‘business acumen’. In my case, this means a Ph.D. in Sociology, which does not directly translate into what the market requires: quick judgments, fast/competitive calls and rapid solution-based decisions. On the contrary, my forté is built around taking the necessary time to think, or explore and analyse. It often involves processes of rinsing, repeating and repeating again. If this is the case for other researchers, then, is it any wonder why the phrase resonates so deeply? Given what is at stake, there will be those for whom the publication process is both an emotional and physical challenge.

It is within this context that I jumped at the chance when Durham University’s Centre for Academic and Researcher Development (CARD) recommended that I attend a course entitled ‘Publish or Perish: an introduction to publishing and reviewing journal articles’. The course was straightforward enough. Participants submit a short article (1000 words), which is then peer reviewed by other participants. The article must be accessible to a general audience. Participants are asked to review two such articles, in accordance with set quality criteria, and are asked to supply referees reports for these items. Participants are then asked to revise their original submissions and resubmit it for acceptance. The whole process takes approximately 4 months (June-September) and finishes with a publication launch. I am currently waiting to receive feedback on my original submission but I have completed my referees’ reports.

The experience has been overwhelmingly positive and has served to contextualise the sobering depiction of ruin and catastrophe outlined above. Writing an argument in 1000 words, for a general audience, was no easy task. It took time and reflexive-critique. Through the process, I learnt the importance of writing shorter, snappier sentences. I learnt to omit concepts that I had no space to define and I would try to limit myself to a single idea or point per paragraph. These common-sense principles were impacting my writing style and it enabled me to keep the central argument of the article at the forefront of discussion. The course taught me something of paramount value: effective writing is what makes our ideas not only accessible but real. It gives our imaginarium a break and allows us to take hold of our ideas, communicating them in a style which has impact.

This moment of clarity had a lasting effect. It became the viewpoint from which I refereed the other articles. Many of the corrections I suggested were balanced on the issue of a clear and concise writing style. Unclear phrases or terminology were redressed and where conceptual rigour was an issue, I recommend omitting entire sections of the paper for straightforward, descriptive, prose. Each comment I made served an important function: it prompted a reflexive-critique of my own writing style. I was left with a new perspective on why we write as well as how we do it.

Taking this new stance, I still face the wider environment and it remains unchanged: there is a sense of urgency to publications and without them there is little chance of securing a place on the academic-tenure track. However, though the sobering nature and pressures of the environment echo in the distance, the process of publication has been demystified. The importance of effective writing has been crystallized in my working consciousness. Publishing content appears to be more straightforward when you know why you must turn your ideas into clear and concise prose. I only hope that this welcome development is enough to stave off the ‘long walk’ alone.

Dr Tom Brock is currently a Research Associate in the School of Applied Social Sciences at Durham University. His research interests lie in realist social theory, histories of radical thought and movements of political action. You can follow him on Twitter and see his website here.

Weekly Wisdom #95 by Paul Gray and Simon E. Drew

SELECTING A PUBLISHER INVOLVES TRADE-OFFS. With a large pub­lisher that issues many books in your field in a year you gain the advantage of mass marketing and advertising. Large publishers em­ploy reps who visit campuses. However, these reps are given many books to push and their commissions depend on the number of books sold. As a result, they concentrate on freshman and sopho­more texts for required courses. Furthermore, since they receive the same commission no matter which book is adopted, they have little incentive to sell a particular book. Thus, you run the risk that pro­motion of your book will be lost among the many others with simi­lar titles being offered by that publisher. Small and specialty commercial publishers and university presses give you much more individual attention. You can judge whether they are a good fit for your book by looking at their publications list on their Web site, themailings you receive from them, the advertisements in your profes­sional journals, and the experience and recommendations of your peers. If a publisher looks reasonable based on these probes, go to your school’s library and look at their books they have published. Before signing a contract, make sure that (a) your publisher will have your manuscript peer reviewed, and (b) the publisher you chose “counts” with your field’s tenure committee. Under no circum­stances publish with a vanity press, that is, a publisher that charges you for publishing your book.

Weekly Wisdom #91 by Paul Gray and David E. Drew

REWARDS FOR ACADEMIC PUBLISHING. The old saw “virtue is its own reward” applies to most of your academic publications. There are exceptions. If you write a scholarly monograph in the humanities or the social sciences you receive a small royalty. Journals invariably do not pay you. Your annual review to determine whether you should receive a raise, however, tends to reward you for publishing, particularly in high-repute journals. Of course, if you work abroad in a school such as one we know about in South Korea, you may be awarded a bonus every time you publish, with the size of the bonus depending on the journal.

Josie Dixon – From Planet PhD to Destination Publication: A Traveller’s Guide. Part 5. Features vs Benefits
Image from christmasstockimages.com

Image from christmasstockimages.com http://christmasstockimages.com/free/ideas_concepts/slides/festive_gifts.htm

This post is the fifth in a series by Josie Dixon, a consultant with 15 years’ experience in academic publishing, as Senior Commissioning Editor at Cambridge University Press and Publishing Director for the Academic Division at Palgrave Macmillan.  She now runs her own business, Lucian Consulting, and gives training workshops on publishing and other forms of research communication for postgraduates, postdocs and staff in over 50 universities internationally, alongside her training and consultancy work in the publishing industry. In this set of blog posts for PhD2Published, Josie examines some of the polarities between Planet PhD and the world of publishing, and offers strategies for how to bridge the gap. 

In the first post of this series, I took as my starting point the importance of recognising that publication is inevitably a commercial activity.  Pitching a book to potential publishers involves a degree of salesmanship, which doesn’t always come naturally.  In the publishing workshops I give for early career researchers, participants do an exercise in pairs, much like the well-known ‘elevator pitch’ in which entrepreneurs must make a concise and compelling case for the value of their enterprise to an investor.  The process of seeking a publisher for a book is, if you like, a kind of Dragon’s Den, in which presses will be looking for projects which will repay their investment.  Doing the exercise in pairs ensures not only that participants produce their own sales pitch, but also that they get to be a consumer of someone else’s, to encourage critical thinking about how the case for publication may look to an outsider.

This commercial turn is not about selling out on your academic values, but encouraging others to buy into the importance of your research.  It’s a difficult transition because most academics dislike the idea of having to market their work.  For some this spills over into disdain for anything so vulgar as promotion, and even a sense of hostility towards commercial values.  In an article in the TLS, addressing the recent controversies in the UK surrounding the introduction of impact as a criterion for funding research, Stefan Collini set out a dystopian future in which academics will have to become ‘accomplished marketing agents’ and ‘door-to-door salesmen for vulgarised versions of their increasingly market-oriented products’.  Collini’s desire to defend the independence of academic research and stand up for the cultural values of the humanities is of course commendable.  But it’s interesting that he sets this in such bitter opposition to a pejoratively framed notion of marketing and commercialisation.  I recognise in this a familiar, deep-rooted cultural cringe, most pervasive in the arts and humanities, based on the sense that scholarship and business are not just different worlds, but mutually hostile value systems.

Working in publishing has increased my respect for what marketing can do, in finding wider audiences – bringing greater recognition and impact – for academic research.  In retrospect, one of the most important lessons came surprisingly late in my publishing career, when as a publishing director I sat in on a copy-writing workshop run for my team of editors by the marketing department.  Our marketing manager spelled out a fundamental law of salesmanship – basic stuff in the shopping mall but a new way of thinking to most ivory-tower types.  This was the difference between features and benefits.   Features describe the characteristics of what you are trying to sell – for a book this might involve the content, coverage and approach, all of which is a good start but could still provoke the ‘so what?’ response in a jaded sales rep, bookseller or customer.  Benefits go further and make a more effective sales pitch, by making explicit how those elements will be useful and beneficial to the reader (whether in scholarly, pedagogical or even non-academic terms).   These might be methodological tools or analytical models with transferrable applications, new resources for further research, insight and guidance for policy-making, information and techniques for professionals and practitioners, and so on.

My experience is that most academics can elaborate for hours on the features of their work, but find it surprisingly difficult to articulate the benefits.   You would not sell a disposable coffee cup on the basis that it was made of cardboard (a mere feature), but rather by pointing out that it was heat-resistant and recyclable (two resulting benefits).  When you put together a book proposal you will likewise need to articulate not only the features but crucially the benefits of your research for your prospective readership.

Here are five tips to help you make this transition effectively:

i) Work out the features of your project – as many as you can think of!

ii) Convert each one into a benefit – explain why and how it will be of use to your readers

iii) Clarify who will benefit– e.g. researchers, teachers, professionals, practitioners, policy makers, or any other stakeholders you can identify.

iv) Concentrate on those benefits which are unique to your research

v) Be concise in communicating this as part of a publishing proposal – can you distill them into bullet points couched in terms that are accessible to non-specialists, rather than burying them in more elaborate, detailed or technical description of your research enterprise?  This will help to highlight your USPs more convincingly (see tips in Blogpost 1 in this series) and make clearer the reasons to publish your work.

Good luck!

Josie Dixon – From Planet PhD to Destination Publication: A Traveller’s Guide. Part 4. Process vs Afterlife

This post is the fourth in a series by Josie Dixon, a consultant with 15 years’ experience in academic publishing, as Senior Commissioning Editor at Cambridge University Press and Publishing Director for the Academic Division at Palgrave Macmillan.  She now runs her own business, Lucian Consulting, and gives training workshops on publishing and other forms of research communication for postgraduates, postdocs and staff in over 50 universities internationally, alongside her training and consultancy work in the publishing industry. In this set of blog posts for PhD2Published, Josie examines some of the polarities between Planet PhD and the world of publishing, and offers strategies for how to bridge the gap. 

When you have lived with your PhD thesis as work in progress for several years, it’s hard to imagine it as a finished product.  Often that sense of perpetual process infects the language in which the project is framed, and I have often been surprised by the extent to which would-be authors are still writing about their aims, hopes and intentions at the point when they are submitting it to a publisher.  Aims and objectives are perfectly proper in a grant proposal at the outset of your research, but when your work is being published for a paying market, there is an expectation of completion, results, and a focus on what your work actually achieves and delivers.  That requires a good deal more confidence, since readers will look for a measure of authority in a publication; in the minds of commissioning editors and the referees involved in the peer-review process, your work will appear less convincing if your claims are watered down in formulations which suggest that you are merely aiming, attempting, intending or hoping to achieve the desired outcomes of your project.  Nobody’s hopes ever made a selling point in a marketplace as tough as the current one for academic publications.

Arriving at destination publication means completing the journey, moving from process to product, and achieving a degree of closure.  On the other hand, we could also see this as an opening out, from the inward focus on the foundations and analytical processes of your own research which is often characteristic of a thesis (documented in literature reviews and chapters on methodology), to look outwards to what it will now offer to your audience or readership.  This change of outlook is also a change in direction: insofar as a thesis is required to document those processes of your research for the benefit of your examiners, it looks backwards, charting its own development; a publication must look onwards, anticipating its afterlife in the hands of your readers.

What your project will do for its readers may be very different from what it has done for you.  In the second blogpost in this series, I looked at the outward movement from micro to macro, particularly relevant to case-study research.  Here the case study material which formed the end point of a thesis may only be the starting point for a publication, if it is to anticipate the ways in which its readers will be interested in transferring your insights or models for application elsewhere.  That afterlife of your project will be less about the research itself and more about its implications and applications – where does it take us, and what does it yield?  What difference will it make?

Here are five tips to help you ensure you make this transition effectively:

i) Use confident and purposeful language in the framing material outlining the rationale for your project– aims, attempts, hopes and intentions won’t do here.  If you really can’t say categorically what it achieves, then at least strengthen the auxiliary verbs and say what it is designed to do, rather than leaving a degree of doubt.

ii) Cut down methodology sections and literature review (see also Blogpost 3 in this series) to move the focus away from process

iii) Highlight your original research findings to emphasise the outcomes of your analysis

iv) Make explicit the implications and applications of your research

v) Look ahead to the afterlife of your project in the Conclusion – this should not merely recapitulate what has gone before, but point outwards and onwards to articulate where your research leads, and what difference it will make.

Josie Dixon – From Planet PhD to Destination Publication: A Traveller’s Guide. Part 3. Passenger vs Driver


This post is the third in a series by Josie Dixon, a consultant with 15 years’ experience in academic publishing, as Senior Commissioning Editor at Cambridge University Press and Publishing Director for the Academic Division at Palgrave Macmillan.  She now runs her own business, Lucian Consulting, and gives training workshops on publishing and other forms of research communication for postgraduates, postdocs and staff in over 50 universities internationally, alongside her training and consultancy work in the publishing industry. In this set of blog posts for PhD2Published, Josie examines some of the polarities between Planet PhD and the world of publishing, and offers strategies for how to bridge the gap. 

A publishing proposal needs to make clear the project’s contribution to work in the field, and define its originality with reference to what has gone before.  You aren’t working in a scholarly vacuum, so you will need to contextualise your research in the discipline, but in a very different mode from that of a PhD literature review.  Coverage of secondary sources is no longer of interest for its own sake: your mastery of the field can now be assumed, rather than requiring demonstration at every turn for the benefit of your examiners.  As an editorial colleague once put it, ‘A publisher is interested in what you think, not what you think other people have thought’.   The journey from PhD to publication involves rethinking not just the quantity, but also the quality and manner of your citations.

In the first blogpost in this series, I referred to an article by Peter Barry which offers equally useful observations in this context.  Barry complains, rightly, that ‘much academic writing seems to hamper its own flow by footnoting, quoting or citing in almost every sentence. Its own argument never gathers any proper momentum or direction, like a car being driven with the brakes half on’. He pinpoints in particular the problem of ‘constant self-interruption (“as X has argued”, “as Y points out” and so on)’.  Barry’s stylistic point is a good one, but I would go further, since I have additional reservations about ‘as X has argued’ as a critical manoeuvre, in terms of what it suggests about the author’s confidence in their own independent contribution to the field.

A PhD has been traditionally viewed as an apprenticeship for an academic career, and that sense of being an academic underling working in the shadow of the established authorities often betrays itself in formulaic citations of this kind, in which you can risk overplaying the homage to senior figures in the field (X and Y are typically gurus like Foucault or Habermas).  The ‘as’ in ‘as X has argued’ suggests an alignment of your own point with one that has already been expressed by someone else, and this formula usually introduces a main clause which recycles their point (likewise ‘According to X’) in the attempt to bolster your own argument.  Too much of this kind of ‘straight’ citation in order to agree suggests a dependent or derivative relationship, and insufficiently novel or critical thinking on your part.  Turn that around with a different formulation – ‘whereas X has argued…’  – and you automatically make space for your own new and different contribution to take centre stage in the sentence – a much stronger form of argumentation.

A similar principle applies to framing material outlining the relationship of your work to predecessors, models, or sources of methodological and theoretical inspiration.  Too many would-be authors characterise their project as ‘drawing on’ or ‘following’ the work of existing authorities in the field, suggesting a position that is derivative or lags behind.  Editors want to publish the leaders in their field, not the followers!  So a stronger pitch would be to characterise your project as ‘building on’ its predecessors, making clear that their work is only the starting point for yours, which pushes further forward and achieves something more.

So have the courage of your own convictions here – Foucault, Habermas & co have enough disciples, and you won’t distinguish yourself by adding to their number.  Rather than joining the chorus, make sure you are singing solo.  Don’t be a passenger on other people’s bandwagons: be the driver of your own!

Here are five writing tips, to help you manage your relationship to secondary sources in ways that foreground your originality to best effect:

i) Avoid ‘as’ and ‘according to’ when introducing citations – concentrate on differentiating your viewpoint, rather than aligning it with others’

ii) Beware ‘c.f.’ and referencing sources without making explicit the relationship of your viewpoint to the ones being cited – the risk is that you will appear to be recycling others’ views uncritically

iii) Avoid too much summary of critical debate without your own intervention – this can make you look like a bystander or commentator rather than an active participant, and at worst turns into a bibliographical laundry list

iv) Use dynamic rather than passive verbs – you will make a more compelling case for your contribution if you make clear how your project challenges or overturns previous work, rather than simply complementing it (too neutral), filling the gaps (too humble) or drawing on your predecessors (derivative rather than critical)

v) From problem to solution: while you will of course need to give credit where it’s due, you will make a stronger and more positive case for what you bring to the scholarly party by explaining the deficiencies in existing scholarship which your research aims to remedy, and making clear the pay-off for your distinctive approach

Why so Shameless? On Self-Promotion and Networking by Amber K.Regis

Todays post is about the value of blogging and promoting research through social media. It is written by Amber K. Regis who completed her PhD in Victorian life-writing at Keele University. She is an Associate Lecturer for the Open University and teaches English literature at the Universities of Chester and Liverpool John Moores. She blogs at Looking Glasses on Odd Corners on life-writing and life-narratives across different media. She has published work on John Addington Symonds, Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West. You can follow her on Twitter: @AmberRegis

I started a research blog in the final months of 2011 in a wave of enthusiasm. I was going to become an overnight internet sensation; I was going to get my research ‘out there’, reach new audiences and make a name for myself! And do you know what? I thoroughly enjoyed the act of blogging, and while I’m still waiting go viral, I have managed to share ideas and start conversations with a multitude of readers (including many beyond the ivory tower of academe). But blogging is also a commitment that takes up time, and in recent weeks time has been desperately lacking.  Like so many other post-PhD researchers, I’m juggling multiple jobs while I seek the ‘holy grail’ of a permanent academic appointment. Prepping, marking and commuting has taken its toll and I’ve been neglecting my blog.

But, rather surprisingly, the blog has remained active during my absence. Others have started to take notice.

Shameless self-promotion?

I’ve already admitted that increasing my online presence was a key motive in setting up my blog, and it has received several special mentions in recent weeks:

  • A post on material objects and life-writing was quoted by Charlotte Mathieson, an Associate Fellow in English at the University of Warwick, in a recent piece on literary tourism for the Journal of Victorian Culture Online.
  • A keynote speaker at a recent Victorian Studies conference referred to a post on souvenirs and collecting. I was sitting in the audience. It was all terribly flattering, but I blushed and looked at my feet.

As a means of self-promotion, blogging appears to be paying off. Each special mention resulted in increased traffic and a number of Google search hits. Internet sensationdom is just around the corner…

But why is this kind of ‘self-promotion’ so consistently paired with the pejorative ‘shameless’? And why did I blush when my blog was mentioned at a conference? After all, wasn’t this what I wanted? But alas, was my face now registering the inevitable ‘shamelessness’ of attention seeking in the blogosphere?

Not-so-shameless self-promotion?

I do not believe that self-promotion is a shameless or even a necessarily selfish activity. Indeed, the three instances above demonstrate a range of benefits to increasing online visibility and engaging with social media. Attention has been drawn to my work, yes, but I have also engaged directly with other researchers, forging connections with peers and more senior academics. Social media have thus transformed self-promotion into a mode of continual networking—formerly an oft-dreaded activity that required awkward conversations over coffee cups during breaks in conference schedules. But networking can now extend beyond the temporal and physical space of a conference; conversations can start before an event and continue long after, mediated online.

So yes, all this blogging and tweeting is a form of self-promotion, but it is certainly not shameless. The clue is in the title: social media and the social web. Making connections, forming communities, offering support; in getting your name ‘out there’, you are not a voice crying out in the wilderness. Self-promotion in the age of the social web is very much a team sport; plugged-in academics are networked and networking all the time.

Josie Dixon – From Planet PhD to Destination Publication: A Traveller’s Guide. Part 2. Micro vs Macro


This post is the second in a series by Josie Dixon, a consultant with 15 years’ experience in academic publishing, as Senior Commissioning Editor at Cambridge University Press and Publishing Director for the Academic Division at Palgrave Macmillan.  She now runs her own business, Lucian Consulting, and gives training workshops on publishing and other forms of research communication for postgraduates, postdocs and staff in over 50 universities internationally, alongside her training and consultancy work in the publishing industry. In this set of blog posts for PhD2Published, Josie examines some of the polarities between Planet PhD and the world of publishing, and offers strategies for how to bridge the gap. 

It’s well known that PhD stands for ‘piled high and deep’.  What’s sometimes harder to admit is that depth is usually achieved at the expense of breadth.  Burrowing down that scholarly rabbit hole inevitably limits the audience for a PhD, so when you’re thinking about publication, it’s vital to come up for air and look around at the larger field in which your burrow is located.  Managing the relationship between the ‘micro’ dimension (where the project is most specifically defined) and the ‘macro’ (where its broader applications may lie) will be key to maximising your chances of getting published.  Commissioning editors’ instinctive reaction to most thesis topics is that they’re too narrow to find a viable market in book form.  So unless you’re happy to publish in specialist journals, developing the macro dimension will be essential to making the transition from PhD to publication.

It’s worth recognising that the distance between the two has grown over the last couple of decades.  Universities have been under pressure to improve PhD completion rates, and one major instrument in a successful crackdown on this problem has been tighter control over the choice of thesis topics.  Today’s PhDs are better focused, but narrower than the more ambitious projects which waylaid academic career development in previous generations.  Meanwhile, in the publishing world, monograph sales have been falling year on year, and publishers’ efforts to shore up the viability of this form of publishing have focused on filtering out over-specialised titles and concentrating on broader topics.

The narrower focus of today’s PhDs is often exemplified in case studies.  Social scientists are generally taught to recognise, make explicit and theorise case-study research, to understand its value and also its limitations.  It’s not always readily acknowledged that this applies to the humanities too.  The study of a particular figure or theme or work (of art, literature, music, philosophy or theology) will be a limited exercise unless we explore its relationship with broader phenomena – the development of the genre, the culture of the period, wider intellectual movements or philosophical ideas.   To that extent, our chosen works or examples become case studies for these broader phenomena which are otherwise too large and diffuse to give meaningful boundaries to a project.  Without some version of the case-study principle, we’d all be embarking on that archetypally impossible search for the key to all mythologies.

When it comes to publishing, there’s a bigger imperative to develop and make explicit what your research yields beyond the terms of your case-study material.  If you are studying a topic which has received little attention to date, the very factor which helps to secure the originality of your research will also limit its audience (and the market for a publication), unless you can show what difference it makes to the mainstream of your discipline.  How will a new study of Charlotte Lennox change our view of eighteenth-century fiction or the development of women’s writing?  What impact will a study of Guicciardini have on our understanding of early modern political thought?  It’s easy to forget the need to elaborate on these larger implications when you have spent years burrowing down your own scholarly rabbit hole, but this factor will make a vital difference to the size of your audience and the level of interest you will be able to raise outside the circle of paid-up, card-carrying fellow-specialists in your sub-field.

The same is true when it comes to applications.  A typical linguistics PhD, offering a grammar and morphology of an endangered language with a tiny number of native speakers, would have an impossibly small market if pitched only to fellow specialists in that language.  But if the analytical framework developed can be applied to the study of other languages, then that macro dimension – in this case methodological – will open up a far wider potential readership with clear benefits for other scholars’ research.

Here are five key questions, to help you to take the macro perspective on your research:

i) Understand the limits of your PhD – first define your thesis topic at its most micro, according to all the relevant parameters such as region, time period, language, genre, approach, and the specific examples you have chosen to study in detail.  Then you will be better able to work outwards towards the macro.

ii) What is the larger significance of your research? Think about ways to locate your chosen topic in a broader context.   What is the contribution made by your research in relation to its own and related sub-fields, the larger discipline, methodological school, etc?

iii) How can you do justice to that breadth?  Think about ways to widen your coverage and bring those connections to the fore.

iv) What do you see as its larger implications? These can often be explored more freely in a publication than a PhD.

v) What will be its applications, in the hands of your readers?   Remember, the PhD was for you (and written for a couple of examiners), but publishers will want to know more about what value a publication offers to the reader, and what broader purposes your research will serve for them.

Weekly Wisdom #76 by Paul Gray and David E. Drew

TENURE COMMITTEES LOOK ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY AT REFEREED PUBLICATIONS that appear in peer-reviewed journals or in scholarly books. It is, in a sense, a tragedy that you get much more credit for what appears in a “write only” journal (i.e., a journal with minute circu­lation) than for what appears in a high circulation, widely read pop­ular magazine. But that is the way the game is played.

Should You Make Your Thesis Available Online? Part 4: Introducing EthOS by Sara Gould

Today’s post, which contributes to our series about publishing dissertations and theses online is written by Sara Gould. Sara is the EThOS Service Manager at the British Library, UK. She is managing the transition of this e-theses website to a sustainable Higher Education shared service.

Anna has been wondering whether to publish her thesis. Or if not ‘publish’ then put it online somewhere to share the results of her work more widely, and gain the benefits she mentions, like raising the level of interest in her research and making connections with like-minded researchers.

EThOS is the UK’s e-theses website that gives instant access to 55,000+ doctoral theses. Pretty much all UK universities have their theses listed in EThOS so there’s around 300,000 records in all, with a variety of routes to get hold of the full text if it’s not already available.

That’s a fantastic resource for students and all researchers, not just to be able to dig deep into research that’s already happened, but to see who’s researching what and who the key players are – individuals, departments, institutions, even funders.

It almost goes without saying that open access to research theses is a ‘good thing’ for new researchers, for those looking for source material. But what about for thesis authors themselves? Should Anna try to make sure her PhD thesis appears in her university’s repository and/or EThOS, or not?

Here are a few frequently expressed concerns:

1.    It’ll spoil my publication chances later

Well, it might, but in a recent survey only 7% of institutions cited this as a frequent concern amongst their students, and no concrete examples were found of publication being refused because the PhD thesis had been added to an open access repository. If reassurance is needed, then an embargo period can be applied, with may be the record plus abstract still being available to all.

2.    My work will be plagiarised

It’s possible, but then again people can plagiarise from printed theses too, and in those cases there’s no automated way to detect the crime.

Allowing open access to your thesis does open it up to all sorts of people who may come along and use the content in whatever way they like. But plagiarism detection services can help to mitigate the risks, and in EThOS at least, users have to register their details, so we could if necessary track all users of a particular thesis. So far that’s never been needed. And as people get more and more used to open access and theses become increasingly available in institutional repositories, it may be that the login process is becoming a tiresome deterrent to use and has had its day.

Brown J. (2010) Influencing the deposit of electronic theses in UK HE: report on a sector-wide survey into thesis deposit and open access. UCL. http://eprints.ucl.ac.uk/116819/

3.    All that hassle with third party copyright

We do need to take copyright ownership seriously and it can be really time-consuming to seek permissions from any third party for permission to publish. Some university libraries are able to support their students to make sure any third party copyright is managed properly, but most don’t have the resources to undertake such a massive task. Take-down policies and embargoes come into play here, and digitisation services, whether through EThOS or another route, will carefully redact any sections, diagrams etc that aren’t copyright cleared on instruction from the institution.

List of redactions from a 2002 thesis held in EThOS.

The world of repositories and open access is moving fast. EThOS celebrated its third birthday last month. When it launched – on the same day as another auspicious event – theses were held in paper format in the university library and a microfilm copy held by the British Library. Now those microfilms have been packed away, and an average of 450 people a day download a copy of a full-text thesis from EThOS. With possibly the same number again accessing copies held directly in university open access repositories, it appears that full-text open access is here to stay.