Publishing your dissertation is an integral part of building an academic career. There are, however, several ways to do so, and each should be evaluated in terms of your short- and long-term goals and the time you have available.
Let’s imagine that you have taken a smooth, predictable path through graduate school: you did the coursework, had your proposal accepted, conducted your research, wrote up your findings and defended them.
Along the way, you’ve presented your research on panels at academic conferences, held court among your colleagues at workshops in your department, and received feedback from your dissertation committee.
You’ve even demonstrated your unique contribution to the field in some of the many job talks you’ve been invited to at universities where you have applied for a teaching position.
You are frantically packing to leave for your new position at a vibrant institution in an eclectic town where you’ve always want to live. Stop. Don’t hide your dissertation papers too far down in the boxes: it’s not over yet. You need to publish your dissertation to make it work for you.
When does the clock start?
The clock for measuring how long it takes to publish your dissertation could theoretically start ticking from the moment you submit your dissertation proposal, but that would be too intimidating, too disheartening. Moving from proposal to defence takes, on average, two years alone. Instead, let’s start the clock once you have submitted your thesis and successfully completed a final oral examination in your defence.
Depending on whether you choose to publish segments of your dissertation as journal articles or believe the main part of your work warrants a book, it could take anywhere from six to twelve months and up to three years or more.
Here are some steps to consider along the way:
Step 1: Take a break
Amount of time: 2-4 weeks
At some point, you probably had to put the blinders on and just forge ahead with your dissertation. Then, there was the exhausting push to the end. Now, consider stepping away from it for at least a month. If you can, find a tropical island or an anonymous big city, turn off your smartphone and relax. Once the champagne bubbles begin to settle, you’ve caught up with good friends you might have neglected, and returned all your books to the library, take a deep breath and begin again.
Step 2: Decide which format
Amount of time: 2 weeks
There are several criteria to help you decide the journal article(s) route or the academic book route. (A lesser travelled path is to publish your work as a book for general audiences, but this tends to be more of a mid-career accomplishment.)
To accurately estimate the length of time it will take, you need to consider what format you are aiming for and which publisher is most appealing. Do your research:
- A single journal article – top tier, peer reviewed, open access
- Multiple journal articles – top tier, peer reviewed, open access
- A book – mainstream publisher, niche publisher, self-published
Speak to dissertation committee professors, peers and colleagues about the various options.
You may have previously contacted editors at academic conferences – dig out your notes to refresh yourself on advice or feedback they may have offered.
Step 3: Find the right publisher
Amount of time: 2-4 weeks
If, indeed, you did halt your reading while writing your thesis, start again now. Read a few books or articles in your field, or at least in the topic area where you think you might publish. Identify which journals or publishing houses are hosting this work.
Go through your thesis literature review with a fine-tooth comb and make a list of journals and books where your peers have published. Add this information to make a hit list. (You may be delighted to know that this will likely be the last time you look at this section of your dissertation because it will be eliminated when you revise the manuscript, whether it’s for an article or a book.)
Find the publisher’s website and read what they have to say to prospective authors and how they describe their submission policies and procedures. This may give you a good sense of a specific timeline between submission and publication.
Step 4: Revise your thesis
Amount of time: 1-6 months
Dissertation writing and writing for a journal article or a book is radically different.
You will need to write, review, write, and review some more. If you find you are too close to your work, consider joining a writing support group, which many universities offer, or find a professional workshop.
If you are aiming for a book, there are many tips on how to reshape a thesis for this mode. You will be dropping your literature review and your methodology section for certain, and you will need to change your tone and language to appeal to a broader audience.
If a journal article or set of articles is your goal, most of your effort will need to be on isolating particular topics that can stand alone and then writing to match the style of the journal you are targeting.
Step 5: Submit
Amount of time: 1 week
Make sure you abide by the guidelines included on the publisher’s website. Dot your “I’s” and cross your “T’s” – there’s nothing quite like being an editor and having a manuscript come across your desk with typos.
Remember, too; it is considered unethical to submit the same work to multiple publishers simultaneously.
Step 6: Wait
Amount of time: 4-6 weeks if you are extraordinarily lucky, or 4-8 months on average
The time spent on this step differs if you go through peer review or straight to open access. Open access, by its very nature, is faster. And the peer critique and feedback follows publication.
However, for the traditional peer review process, the time between submission and acceptance can be drawn out. Your manuscript needs to go via the editor to an editorial board that is allocated to a group of reviewers. From there, the editor relies on reviewers, who do this work voluntarily, to meet their commitments in a timely fashion. Next comes a report back to the editor, who feeds back to you along with reviewer reports.
Having a book published will typically take even longer.
Step 7: Revise and resubmit
Amount of time: 1 week – 1 month; 3 – 6 months for a book
Once your reviews come back, it is, naturally, up to you to see how much time you can allocate. You are likely to be teaching, so you will have to organise your time efficiently. Or, perhaps you are spending more time developing a decent work-life balance and having personal or family commitments you enjoy. Whatever it takes, though, once you have reviews in hand, make a plan and get it done.
If you are working on a journal article, you could take anywhere from a week to a month or two to respond to feedback. A book, of course, may take longer. And there may be a few rounds of editing, rewriting and proofing. Resubmit and go to Step 8.
If your first submission is rejected, you can now revise and send it to the next journal or book publisher on your list. It is probably worth your while to review the comments and integrate them into your next draft. Resubmit and go to Step 5.
At this stage, you are probably on your own in terms of the writing process, hopefully just tweaking and polishing. However, a return to a writing group or professional coach might help. Your publisher might also have resources to recommend.
Step 8: Resubmit and wait to publish
Amount of time: 4-6 weeks if you are extraordinarily lucky, or 12-18 months on average
Resubmit. And wait some more. Until your editor tells you it’s ready to go. Some journals will publish within three months; others have been known to take up to three years. For a book, two years between acceptance and publication is not unusual.
Keep in mind you will probably be involved in proofing the galleys before the final print production stage so keep time aside for that. Then… breathe.
Step 9: Celebrate
Amount of time: 1 night
Bring out the bubbles again. Rest. Start again.
There is no easy answer to – How long it will take? There is so much variability across journals, across fields, and within the book publishing industry.
The short answer is: Work hard, work efficiently, and be patient.
If you are asking if it’s worth it, the short answer is: Yes. If you want to develop credibility among your colleagues, accelerate your career trajectory, and develop relationships with others in your field, you must get your work into the professional space. And publishing is a crucial way of doing so.
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