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Monographs: a path to publishing your thesis or dissertation

Published by Alison Moore

This blog post was written by Eleonora Joensuu, PhD

As you approach the end of your graduate work, you may be starting to consider and wonder about the possibility of publishing your thesis or dissertation as a book. Each publisher has their own process, but I am here to share my experiences publishing my doctoral dissertation with a major academic publisher in the hopes that it offers some insight into what the process may be like.

I had the unusual and lucky situation of having the name and direct email address of an editor at the publisher that a colleague of mine had worked closely with on their own book project. Being proactive is important so as to minimize the work on their end and so I chose to send the book proposal with my first email rather than waiting for them to express interest in reading the proposal. The book proposal includes:

  • A statement of the problem my research is responding to
  • An overview of my project and approach
  • Table of contents that includes a brief summary of each chapter
  • Timeline for completion, including word counts for each chapter
  • Intended audience

This publisher did not have specific requirements for the proposal, but some publishers do. Check their websites for proposal guidelines before submitting.

Though having the direct contact of an editor is not a typical route, it is still one to consider. Do you know colleagues that have published a book and might they have a contact to share with you? Is there a subject field you read/research with a series published on a relevant topic that had editors you might reach out to?

Other strategies for reaching out to publishers:

  • Major conferences (e.g., Congress) have most of the big academic publishers attending. And that means that there are also acquisitions editors attending. If you are going to be attending a major conference where publishers will be present (e.g., selling at a book fair), reach out to them ahead of the conference and ask for a meeting to pitch your project. Even better is if you are presenting—invite the acquisitions editor to your presentation.
  • Put those research skills to use! Look at publisher websites. Google “publish with [name of publishing house]”.  If you aren’t sure where to publish, take a look at your own bookshelves or books in your research area—who is publishing work in your field? Most publisher websites have a list of acquisitions editors and their contact information, each assigned to a specific discipline area. If they don’t, they usually have information on what their process is for sending in a proposal.

During your graduate studies, it may be useful to consider doing the following to get you ready for when it’s time to contact publishers:

  • Save any material that gets cut from the dissertation during the writing, revising, and defense stage. One of the first questions the publisher asked me was whether what I was pitching to them was the exact same as what the university library would publish in their dissertation repository. If it was the same, they were not interested. However, because I had saved material and had an idea of how I could turn it into a new chapter, I could tell the publisher in concrete and specific terms how I would distinguish the book project from the dissertation. Many publishers, unfortunately, must think about the bottom line and if you are asking them to publish and sell a book that is available for free via a library, they have little incentive to publish it.
  • Even if you don’t have material to cut, keep a running log of ideas, issues, concerns that you might want to add in revising into a book project. Just like my point above, this will allow you to tell the publisher how your book project is different than the library copy that is available to the public.
  • Consider applying for a thesis publication postponement. This will give you time to shop out your book to publishers and you can confidently tell them that the book is not available in its dissertation form for at least a year.

The publishing process

After sending the proposal in, the editor expressed interest and asked for my CV, as well as some further clarifications on the best disciplinary fit for the book. From there, I was asked to send two sample chapters that were then sent to reviewers. The number of reviewers varies heavily across publishers and so this stage can take some time depending on how many reviewers have to read your work and make recommendations.

In my case, the reviews came back favourably. From here, the project went to the publishing editorial board where the lead editor presented my project and the reviews, and the board voted on the project. If approved, you are sent a contract with details on timelines, delivery expectations, royalties, and the like. The work from here onwards included finishing my writing and revising as laid out in my proposal and contract, working with an editor and proofreader, and approving layouts and book covers.

Overall, the publication process took 14 months from when I first emailed the editor to when the book was published. The most important thing I learned is to be bold in approaching publishers! You never know what might happen.

Further reading

10 point guide to dodging publishing pitfalls from Times Higher Education

Submitting Your Manuscript guide from Georgetown University

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