From thesis to book in 10 steps
Let’s get this over and done with early, the harsh truth is – revised theses by yet to be known authors rarely sell enough copies to cover the cost of production for publishers.
A thesis is written purely to showcase the knowledge of the student at doctoral level so it takes no imagination to appreciate how difficult this will be to read for anyone outside of your PhD committee and why booksellers and librarians avoid them.
Therefore, before you do anything, you need to make the transition from you as student not yet empowered to speak with authority and gravitas, to you as author with an authorial voice and accompanying writing style.
Here’s how to do it.
1. The further effort
This brand-new project builds on rather than is converted from your thesis research. This is an important point so it is useful to keep this in mind throughout.
As your book project has a different focus and purpose, you need to be prepared to do more work to satisfy the demands of your new audience.
Note: As always, targeting your reader is key. See our blog about creating your own readatar (https://www.howgatepublishing.com/single-post/2016/04/01/creating-your-own-reader-avatar).
This may include restructuring, rewriting, adding more case studies and examples and for sure some degree of updating to ensure that the book is as up-to-date as possible.
Neither publisher nor reader will treat a first book as a practice exercise. If you are not yet in this space, then we strongly suggest that you take a break and come back to it at a later date or consider one or two shorter project journal articles instead.
2. The commitment
If you have made the decision to publish a book, then stand by that decision. This is not the time to try and publish the full text plus a journal article from every chapter and here’s why:
Note: It is important to remember that whichever contract you sign first, they become the 'publishing' copyright holder. Concealing other publisher arrangements that you have for the publication of chapters in journals or edited volumes could potentially put you in breach of copyright. Copyright can be a grey and often misinterpreted area, so we intend to cover copyright in more detail in a future blog.
This is also not the time to send your thesis with a short covering letter to every publisher in the hope that one of them will be interested and here’s why:
Note: The scatter gun approach to finding a publisher is never the right approach. It is important to research potential publishers in terms of their subject area specialization, their market focus and their author services. A book that is suitable for a military audience will do far better with a publisher specialising in that area than one that more generally covers international relations. As a new author, a smaller publisher will give you more guidance through the publishing process than a larger publisher where some degree of previous publishing experience is needed.
3. The structure
It is important to work out the structure of the book as this is likely to be different from the thesis structure. A good starting point is simplifying your table of contents so as to articulate the material in a logical and accessible fashion. Take into consideration any comments that you have received from your PhD committee, publisher and reviewers.
Note: Rather than edit the thesis itself, take parts of the thesis and rewrite them into this new structure.
Revisit your chapter titles and make sure that they are clear what the chapter is about. Long chapter titles with many subsections are no longer needed for your book and witty chapter titles are great in theory but can put readers off who are eager to know quickly what is in each chapter.
Note: Chapter titles are also increasingly used as a key part of the metadata for your book.
4. The painful first cut
Books are normally much shorter than PhD theses. You should aim for no more than 80,000 words including all references and the index. Having spent months (years) writing, understandably you will be reluctant to take out large parts, but this you must do. After all, the thesis will always endure in its pure form.
Here are two areas that can be cut early:
You will need to cut the part where you thank your PhD committee. You can still acknowledge them, but as individual scholars rather than as part of your committee.
2. Review of Literature and Methodology
Separate chapters about the review of literature and research methodologies may be vital in a thesis, but not in a book, as readers and experts in your field are likely to be familiar already with both. Usually, you can integrate the methodology into the introduction or remove it altogether.
5. The introduction (3000 words)
In essence, the first chapter needs to set out the argument and set out for the reader some detail on how the information and evidence was collected.
Note: Start by identifying your unique selling points (USPs) and build your introduction around them so as to highlight what is really original about your research, its contribution to the field and what makes the book ‘stand out from the crowd’.
This chapter should be more fluid in setting out the key ideas about the conceptual and empirical fields the book covers and author positionality. It should provide readers with a concise ‘preview’ of the various chapters. This chapter could also include material on the definitions of terms – this is useful. Also useful are the caveats around the unit of study, available time, etc. Make self-confident, fluid and clear statements. Avoid explaining or apologising for what the research is not about.
Note: This will be a useful sample chapter to send along with your book proposal.
6. The main text body (10 chapters at 7000 words inc. references)
With a maximum of 7000 words per chapter, you must cite examples and use quotes as economically as possible. Select illustrations/tables/diagrams that further the argument of the text and ones that you actually refer to ahead of their insertion. All others should be removed. Quantitative analysis, whilst necessary for the thesis, is less appealing for a more general reader and should be summarised. Put detailed references and names of authors into the footnotes rather than the main body of text. Although do keep footnotes and references to a minimum. What is not pertinent to advancing your own arguments can be cut out.
Chapters need to have a logical flow from one to the next as you advance your argument and they should all be of the same length. Book chapters should only deal with one big idea at a time and therefore should make one major point.
Note: It is worth keeping in mind that individual book chapters are often used for teaching and that readers will want to know within chapters why this topic is relevant to your overall argument.
Thesis chapters often have ‘signposting’ at the beginning (referring back to the overall argument set out in the introduction) and at the end (to give an indication of where the text is going next). This is not needed for book chapters which should instead make connection to the overall theme of the book.
Frequent references to previous chapters and footnotes can make it difficult (at times almost impossible) to make connections from one chapter to another. Often this is done for emphasis, but it can make for a good deal of repetition which should be avoided. There is no need to reiterate earlier points for your book reader like you did for your examiner.
Be mindful of copyright/clearance when it comes to including quotes from interviews, third-party illustrations, epigraphs, material you published previously or material you have under contract. If you are Military/government – you must check with the appropriate governing body as to whether you need to seek permission to publish.
When you are making a point, go for 'first-person-indicative' statements (I have shown) and do not hide yourself behind 'neutral-third-person-conditional' periphrasis (It would appear).
Obvious but often overlooked, avoid mentioning phrases like ‘this PhD’ or ‘this thesis’ and instead refer to ‘this chapter’ and ‘this study’.
7. The conclusion (3000 words)
The conclusion should summarize your key findings and identify avenues for further research. This is not the place to introduce new material.
8. The bibliography
The bibliography for the thesis may be too long and/or not correctly cited so reduce the book version and remove references that are obvious/not necessary.
Note: A really useful tip is to pick out a book that you find really engaging and follow its style.
9. The influencers
As a yet to be known author, your text will benefit greatly with ‘help from influencers’ in your field. Like an endorsement, securing such key individuals that have credibility and influence in your field to write a ‘foreword’ for your book will highlight to potential readers that you are credible as an author. This should not be someone who was part of your thesis and/or who appears on your acknowledgements page as this can often be treated a little like ‘insider trading’.
Note: Approach influencers once you have finished the text. At proposal stage, an indication to the publisher as to who you might approach is all that is needed.
A decent size foreword is usually 500 words.
10. The first impression
Why is it so important to publish a book and not a revised thesis? You have spent time and effort successfully completing your PhD and the book is an important visual illustration of this achievement. It is likely to be read by your peers, colleagues, family and friends plus booksellers, librarians and reviewers. Time and effort on this last stage could very well influence your career path and since you only get one chance to make a first impression, make your first book count.
Main take away from this blog is to always keep firmly in mind, when pitching to prospective publishers, that you have completed the field research as part of your PhD but now you intend to write the book based on that research. Publishers won’t expect you to have finished the book before you approach them, but they will expect you to have a well thought out 10 page proposal (howgatepublishing.com/preparingaproposal) and at least one, but two is better, finished sample chapters.