You’ve passed your viva, you’ve changed your title to Dr on your bank cards. The next step is usually to turn your thesis into a monograph. Although there’s no shortage of people urging you to get started, they’re probably not falling over themselves to explain exactly how to go about it. Is it just a few tweaks here and there? Or are you going to have to rewrite every single word? What on earth is a monograph, anyway?
Writing a book sounds easy. After all, you’ve already produced a thesis. But this is a completely different project, with additional constraints, more stakeholders, and potentially a tighter deadline. It’s not unusual for publishers to demand completed manuscripts within twelve months of signing the contract. That would be a tall order if you were working on it full-time. Now, though, you probably have a job and a range of other responsibilities.
Perhaps it feels overwhelming. In the olden days, i.e., 20 years ago, it wasn’t unusual for PhD students to have a permanent job and a book contract before they’d even finished their thesis. Now you’re expected to have published several books and hosted your own TV series before a university will consider you for a part-time hourly paid lectureship. But the publishing world has changed, even if academic conventions haven’t yet caught up.
Those traditional pathways no longer exist. While that gives you more freedom to choose your own direction, it also means spending more time working out your next steps. You have to navigate through this new territory, while most of the maps still refer to the last century. And the publishing world has changed. Publishers are dealing with declining sales, huge technological change, and the impact of initiatives such as Open Access.
There’s a lot to understand if you want to embark upon your writing adventure. In this book, I’ll guide you through everything you need to know about academic publishing in the 21st century. It won’t be an easy journey, but I promise it’ll be honest, realistic, and enlightening. I’ll accompany you as you establish your purpose and scope, plan your schedule, approach a publisher, and actually write your book. Although we’ll focus on the monograph, much of what we’ll cover will apply to other publication types, too. Along the way, I’ll also give you ideas about alternatives to traditional publishing.
This is a practical book with lots of activities. I’m not looking to fill your head with heaps of jargon, theory, and historical context. Instead, I’ll be asking you nosy and provocative questions to ensure you find a path that’s right for you. You’ll need a notebook and some sticky notes. Lots of sticky notes. One of the advantages of becoming an author is that you have an excuse to buy more stationery. Worksheets and further resources are also available at www.howtopublishyourphd.com. If you work through all the activities, your experience of writing a monograph will be much smoother than mine.
I graduated from the University of Sussex in 2014 with a PhD on Florence Marryat, a prolific Victorian writer who produced 68 novels and enjoyed a colourful personal life. My research showed her ‘trashy’ fiction was a vehicle for radical feminist ideas, designed to infiltrate the impressionable minds of her female readers (and possibly to frighten her male readers). Given the liveliness of the subject and a growing interest in her work, I imagined publishers would welcome a monograph.
I approached three publishers with my proposal. One responded with “no” after just five minutes. He was very kind about it. It would’ve been even kinder had he given the impression of having thought about it for at least an hour. The other two rejected it more slowly, but no less emphatically. These three rejections made me see the proposal through the publishers’ eyes, which is what I should’ve done in the first place. Obscure Victorian writers make great PhD topics, but they have almost zero appeal for publishers. With an eye on markets, they’re largely interested in household names like Charlotte Brontë and George Eliot.
Although I quietly fumed, I couldn’t blame them, really. I run a small publishing press — Victorian Secrets — which specialises in books from and about the nineteenth century. This gives me a good view from the inside. While it’s a labour of love rather than a commercial enterprise, I need people to buy books. I don’t pay myself a salary and we have no premises beyond a corner of my study. But there are still costs, such as printing, distribution, accountancy, software, and biscuits. And it takes time. Lots of time where I’m not earning anything from my day job as a writer, coach, and trainer. I’ve taken a risk on some obscure titles, some of which have paid off, but there are a few titles where sales are in single figures.
Having abandoned hope of getting my book published, a publisher approached me. They’d created a new series called Key Popular Women Writers and were looking for someone to contribute a volume on Florence Marryat. I’d met the series editors at several conferences, and they were familiar with my work. Although I needed to submit a formal proposal, it was more about demonstrating my capacity to write the book, rather than convincing them of the merits of the idea. Despite my familiarity with the publishing world, I made a number of mistakes with my monograph:
- It took a lot longer than anticipated, the project outlasting my energy and enthusiasm by a considerable margin. By the end, friends and colleagues were far more excited about the book than I was.
- The slow process meant my approach in places seems dated. Although it was published in 2020, much of the material was written five years earlier, when the debates around race, gender, and sexuality were framed differently. Even Victorian Studies moves with the times.
- I had no say in the front cover, which looks like a 1970s textbook. This made me reluctant to promote it on social media. Given I run a press, I didn’t want anyone thinking I’d chosen the design. I should’ve looked at the publisher’s other covers.
- There’s no ebook. Although I signed over the ebook rights, the publisher doesn’t publish electronically. This limits both the market and accessibility. I’ll say more about this in the section on Understanding Rights and Contracts.
- I would’ve been much happier writing a biography of Marryat, rather than literary criticism. This would’ve been harder to write (and infinitely harder to get a publisher), but it would’ve been more fulfilling. I went for the (slightly) easier option, rather than pursuing the book I really wanted to write.
On the bright side:
- The reviewers’ reports provided valuable feedback on my manuscript. It would’ve been hard to get those insights through other channels. Well, one review was quite damning, but you can’t please everyone. The series editors were also supportive and enthusiastic throughout.
- I enjoyed the cachet of having been published and my monograph went through a traditional peer review process. Although I’m not seeking an academic post, I never know when this might come in handy. It’s like having a driver’s license — even if you don’t drive, it’s sometimes useful for other purposes. For instance, with a book on your CV, you can get a blue badge on Twitter and join the Society of Authors.
- I didn’t have to do all the production work myself or cover the costs of it. I could’ve self-published my book much more quickly, but I really would’ve been fed up with looking at the wretched thing by the time I’d written, proofread, and typeset it.
- I got a very good review in an academic journal, along with a clutch of lovely tweets and emails from researchers who’d bought a copy. I felt incredibly chuffed that these people had read my book thoroughly and taken the time to comment on it.
- I can now share my experience with you. As someone who has been published, self-published, and published other people’s work, I have a dizzying 360-degree perspective.
So many of the pitfalls could have been avoided, had I been more alert. But which of us is alert when we’ve just finished a PhD and are desperately working out what to do next? With this book, I’m sharing the information and insights that would have helped me make better decisions. There are a few existing books that go into a lot of detail about the process of publishing your PhD. While they’re all helpful, I didn’t come across one that gave the complete picture, especially not for academics based in the UK. Above all, none seemed realistic about the amount of work involved and whether this was worthwhile. I hope to offer a different perspective.
Apart from my monograph, I’ve published several other pieces: book chapters with Routledge and Palgrave, an online annotated bibliography through Oxford University Press, and an introduction for Valancourt Books. I’ve also self-published three books, including the one you’re reading right now. Even though I have considerable experience of writing and publishing, it’s still a challenge. I promise to be realistic about the difficulties, rather than pretending it’s easy. Isn’t it annoying when authors do that? It’s hard, but not impossible.
This book is primarily intended for researchers in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Although STEM researchers might find the occasional morsel useful, publishing in those disciplines involves different conventions, timescales, and formats. Engineers and scientists, for instance, usually write journal articles, rather than monographs. The advice here isn’t specific to any discipline, either. I know nothing about your topic. And I won’t be bandying around terms like ontological and epistemological, mainly because I’ve never really understood what they mean. This book is all about the practical business of getting a publisher and managing a large writing project.
I’m imagining you’re:
- Approaching the end of your PhD and considering your next steps.
- Recently liberated from your PhD and keen to get cracking with a book.
- Suddenly realising you finished your PhD a couple of years ago and really ought to have done something with it by now.
You’re probably a first-time author, although even those of you with some publishing experience might benefit from a deeper understanding of the options available.
This book is aimed at people writing in English, within the Western academic tradition. Although this tradition could certainly do with some major disruption, doing so is likely to limit your chances of getting published. If you want to push the boundaries, then smaller presses or self-publishing are usually better options. We’ll explore those options in Chapter Three.
My focus is also on the UK. Most publishing books focus on North America, so I’m addressing a gap. Most of my examples, therefore, refer exclusively to the UK Higher Education system and publishing landscape. While the advice here might be more broadly applicable, you should always investigate the conventions in your part of the world, or the country where you’re seeking to get published.
Throughout this book, I’ll be referring to your thesis — the term generally used in the UK for the written element of the PhD. In the US, it’s usually known as the dissertation. The Americans are right on this one. The argument based on your research is the thesis, and the dissertation is the written document in which you explain it. Given I’m based in the UK, I’m going with ‘thesis’. Otherwise, I’ll just forget and end up being inconsistent. I called the book How to Publish Your PhD to avoid the more cumbersome How to Publish Your Thesis or Dissertation. And my focus here is on writing a monograph, by which I mean a scholarly study of a single topic. I use British spelling because anything else just feels odd.
Although this book is focused on your turning your thesis into a monograph, hopefully you’ll also learn a range of techniques to help you with future projects. Even if you don’t become an academic, you’re likely to pursue a career that demands the ability to communicate clearly and meet deadlines. Like any other big challenge, writing a book is all about breaking it down into more manageable chunks, setting realistic targets, and establishing your most effective processes.
I’m here to guide you through every stage so you can make informed decisions that are right for you. It’s a lot of work, but with a realistic and comprehensive plan, you’ll do it much faster and to a higher standard. You’ll learn from my experiences (and mistakes) and those of writers I’ve coached over the last few years. Sometimes I’m a good example, often a terrible warning. Both are instructive.
You can either read this book from cover to cover or simply jump into the chapter that’s most relevant for you. I’ve kept it concise to ensure you don’t waste time that could be spent working on your book. Each chapter concludes with a summary of what we’ve covered, along with action points and a troubleshooting guide.
The path you take through this book depends both on you and on your publisher. At the proposal stage, some publishers will expect a couple of sample chapters, others just an outline. You might have a major writing project to complete even before you start putting together a proposal. As I explain in Chapter Four, it’s a good idea to have written a large chunk of your book, even if the publisher doesn’t need to see it yet. Here are some suggested paths:
- You’re completely new to all of this and are unsure about what you want to do — start at the beginning, as the first three chapters will help clarify your aims and assess their feasibility.
- You’ve already identified the publisher you want to approach, and they require two sample chapters or a full manuscript — begin with Chapter Two to create a plan, then proceed to Chapter Five to start writing.
- You’ve already had your proposal accepted and now have to write the book — start with Chapter Five to create your writing process. If you don’t have a clear sense of what you’re doing, go back to the planning stage in Chapter Two.
You’ll notice that only half the book is dedicated to actually writing your monograph. That’s because preparation is key. You need to both work on your book and in your book and develop the ability to pivot between the two. Working on your book means managing the overall project: establishing aims, defining the scope, and measuring progress. Working in your book is the writing phase. With a tight plan in place, this writing phase will be much easier. There’s a lot of foundational work that must be done before you can see any visible evidence of your book.
Although I’m here to help you publish your thesis, there’s only so much I can do. In this book, I’m focusing on the fundamentals — the processes you need to create, deploy, and refine. The next layer is the conventions in your discipline. This is where you’ll need to talk to your supervisors, friends, and colleagues to find out how this information applies in your particular context. It will vary enormously according to the type of research you’re pursuing. And then finally, the very top layer is the specifics for your project. Your monograph is completely unique. This means you’ll have to adapt what you’ve learned from me and other people to come up with a solution that’s right for you. Nobody else can tell you precisely what you should do with your book.
This book is arranged in seven chapters, each focused on a specific area of publishing your PhD:
In Chapter One, we’ll start with why. By understanding your motivation for publishing your PhD, it’ll help you decide whether this is a good use of your time. A sense of obligation probably won’t be enough to propel you through the next couple of years. With a clear purpose, you can decide on the right format for your publication. Although we’re focusing on monographs here, we’ll consider alternatives, including journal articles and edited collections. I’ll explain the main differences between a thesis and a monograph, also giving you an idea of how much work is involved. It’s probably more than you think.
It might seem odd to plan your book before you’ve even written your proposal. However, this is essential for determining whether your book project is viable. In Chapter Two, I’ll guide you through auditing your thesis, defining your scope, and mapping your book. I’ll also explain the anatomy of a monograph so you understand exactly what you need to produce and how long it’s likely to take you. We’ll break your project down into 12-week sprints to help you stay on track.
The academic publishing world can be opaque to outsiders. In Chapter Three, I’ll give you an overview of how publishing works in the 21st century, including the rapidly emerging force of Open Access. Depending on your career plans, this might be a route you need to pursue. You’ll also discover how much you’re likely to earn from your book (spoiler alert: not very much) and how much you need to pay to get published. Yes, there are costs involved, even with big publishers. And I’ll guide you through the murky territory of contracts and copyright. I’m sure that’s not making you quiver with anticipation, but a grasp of these areas means you’ll avoid costly mistakes.
In Chapter Four, we’ll investigate how to identify a suitable publisher. By doing your research, you’ll greatly improve your chances of getting published. I’ll share a process of assessing potential publishers and explain how you can make an informal approach. Then we’ll get into the mechanics of writing a successful book proposal. Although a huge amount of work in itself, this document can save you time and result in a much better book. I’ll also outline the typical publishing timeline and describe the various stages between submission and publication.
Once you have a contract, you’ll need to get wiggling with your writing. Like everything else these days, publishing is moving at a faster pace and you might have only twelve months to produce a full manuscript. In Chapter Five, I’ll help you establish the right mindset, build a writing fortress, and stay on track. We’ll dismantle the writing process so you can identify and overcome blocks to remove friction and boost your productivity.
With that elusive full draft complete, in Chapter Six, I’ll provide clear guidance on getting it ready for submission. We’ll work through my five-step editing programme to produce the best possible manuscript for your publisher. Although editing is an immense job, it’s much easier (and more effective) with a plan to follow. I’ll also help you understand how much support you’re likely to get with editing and proofreading, and whether it’s worth hiring a professional.
There’s still a lot of work left to do, even after you’ve submitted your manuscript. In Chapter Seven, I’ll explain how to interpret and implement reader’s reports. Their feedback can be overwhelming at the end of a long and tiring project. I’ll help you come up with a strategy for deciding how much extra work you want to do at this stage. I’ll also clarify additional activities, such as checking proofs and compiling an index. Finally, we’ll look at how to promote your book. Even if you’re traditionally published, you’ll be expected to do most of the marketing yourself.
None of the advice here is prescriptive. Please adopt (and adapt) anything that works for you and ignore what’s not right for you or your project. Sometimes we just want someone to tell us exactly what to do. Although that feels like the easier path, it’s often a less satisfying one. By considering all the options, you’ll make a better long-term decision.
In whatever format you decide to publish your PhD, it’s going to involve a big commitment in terms of time and energy. There are no quick wins. As we’ll see, it often takes years for a book to go to press. It’s important, then, to establish your motivation, which is what we’ll do in the next chapter.
Are you ready? Let’s get started.
How to Buy
How to Publish Your PhD is available in paperback and ebook editions. You can order through your favourite online retailer or independent bookstore. The ebook edition is available through Amazon, Apple, Kobo, and all the other major channels. If you’d like to buy in bulk for your institution (20+ copies), please contact me for discounts or any other queries.