Taking your hard-earned PhD or Master’s thesis from the dissertation phase to publishing is a daunting task.
A dissertation is a very different product from a book or journal article regarding length, content, purpose and audience. Think carefully about what you want to accomplish and why.
…And be prepared for a somewhat lengthy process.
If you are ready to proceed, the next set of questions should help inform whether you should publish your thesis as a book or a series of articles.
Publishing a book
1. Why should I publish my thesis as a book?
Suppose your research topic has the relevant scope and quality, or you believe it would appeal to a broader audience than those in your narrow academic field of study. In that case, your work may be qualified as a good prospect for publication as a book. There are, however, significant differences between a thesis and a book and several fundamental strategies to adopt, including making the manuscript more personal, focused, essential, and readable.
2. Why can’t I just submit my thesis to a book editor?
A thesis starts with a question. A book starts with the answer. Your audience, too, is different: a thesis is for your committee; a book is for a much wider audience. As Pat Thomson argued, “The book from the thesis is, in reality, a whole new text which starts with the set of findings to communicate, rather than with a problem to solve or a question to answer.”
There is much structural work that needs to be done to a thesis to make it readable as a book, including condensing the literature review and methodology section or limiting quotations and examples. Sometimes these elements will need to be shortened significantly, omitted or only integrated briefly into the introduction or pushed into footnotes.
3. How do I write a book proposal?
Never send an unsolicited manuscript to a publisher. Seek out publishers in your field, test the waters at conferences, do research on their websites, or contact their commissioning editor. Here is where you are likely to find an overview of precisely what their requirements are.
Writing a good book proposal is an art unto itself. In general, you will need a cover letter, which provides an overview of your topic, audience, and proposed length of the manuscript and a short proposal, which provides an overview of the book’s flow and purpose.
4. Do I get paid if my thesis is published as a book?
No, it is very unlikely that you would get paid to publish your thesis as a book.
Publishing journal articles
5. Why should I publish my thesis as an article?
There are several reasons to try and publish parts of your thesis as a journal article, most notably for career advancement in your chosen field and to contribute to the body of knowledge. If you are a recent graduate, you may be faced with a choice between publishing a few articles in moderate quality journals or one article in a top-quality journal. These definitions will, of course, vary by subject area.
It is, however, probably less time-intensive to break your dissertation into one or more articles than it is to rewrite it as a book. Concurrently, it is likely that the process of publishing in a top tier journal involves more time than publishing in medium-tier journals.
6. Why can’t I just submit a chapter of my thesis to a journal editor?
Just as with converting a thesis to a book, there are structural and tone adjustments required to publish for a journal. The first stop, as always, is the website of the journal you are targeting where you can get a sense of content, focus and the more mundane yet important elements, such as word count and citation style. There is unlikely to be a chapter in your dissertation that can simply be copied and pasted into an article format, and there are many steps to take between the two.
7. How many articles could I generate from my thesis?
This answer depends in large part on the specifics of your subject area and research findings. Each finding, for example, could be a separate article. Or results could become two to three journal articles. If you used an innovative methodology, this could be rewritten for a journal that focuses on this topic.
8. How do I submit an article?
First and foremost, select a set of journals in your field. Then read their submission requirements or information for the author’s section carefully. Keep in mind; it is considered unethical to submit to more than one publisher at a time.
Pay attention to your abstract’s quality which will be very different from your dissertation abstract in terms of length and focus. Select the most relevant portion of your work to submit as an appropriately structured, bounded and formatted article for their journal.
Don’t forget, if your article is accepted for publication, you are likely to be asked for a rewrite as part of the peer-review process.
9. Are there copyright issues if I have already uploaded my thesis to an electronic site?
No, typically, you retain copyright to your dissertation, and publishers will not penalise you for having your dissertation online. Check your targeted publisher’s website for further information.
10. Should I wait for a period of time or go straight into the process of submitting to an editor?
If you have the option for a post-doctoral year, this is a good time to decide where you want to publish and get the work done. If you are leaving academia for another career, it is probably best to prepare your work for publication as soon as you have received your degree.
However, if you have the luxury of time, placing a little space between the research and writing of a thesis and the rewriting for a book or journal article can help give you some distance from and allow you to shift your focus to the new project at hand.
If you are looking for more support and guidance on this process, your home university librarian in your subject area can be a phenomenal resource. They can help with advice about journal selection, copyright issues, the pros and cons of open-source publishing, and more. The members of your dissertation committee can assist, too, as can the writing centre at your university. Of course, some publishers also offer advice and tips, and it is well worth your time to start there.
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