To make a difference, research needs to be published. However, it is worth thinking strategically about how to disseminate it most effectively: this may, or may not, be in monograph form. Here are ten things to think about when planning publication.
1. What is the most effective way to disseminate your research?
While it might be assumed that a thesis should get turned into a book, there can be good reasons for dividing it into a series of major articles. Publication may often be faster, and reach as wide a (or a wider) variety of audiences. Part of your thesis may form the core of a book, but one which will take time to fully research, while other parts can be published separately. There is no single ‘correct’ format in which to publish a thesis; what you need to do is to be able to explain the strategic thinking behind your choice to appointment panels and publishers.
2. Having decided on the format, where is the best outlet for your work?
You need to think about the audiences for your research in multiple ways: ‘horizontally’ (those working on the same period), ‘vertically’ (researchers working on similar themes in different periods), in disciplinary terms (scholars in cognate fields), and geographically (where will most readers be located?). Think about the journals and book series which you read most often. Which are available online? Which might be auto-purchased by libraries? Often there is a trade-off between specialist journals in your sub-field and general ones with a broader remit and, probably, higher submission rates and a longer lead-time pre-publication; a similar one exists between book series with horizontal and those with geographical reach. A well-established series should offer a core academic team of experienced editors who can advise you. Publishing in an edited collection may get you support and advice from a good editor, but bear in mind that such collections can only proceed at the pace of the slowest contributor.
3. Having decided on a book publisher, how should you approach them?
First impressions count. Be precise and direct, while polite. An initial approach to ascertain interest might include a brief summary of your proposed work. You must be absolutely clear that such a summary is not intended as a formal proposal. Explain what you are seeking, your rough timetable, and check what is needed for a formal proposal (often this information is on publishers’ websites).
It is academic etiquette to send a proposal to only one publisher at a time.
When writing the proposal, check the publisher’s website for what is needed. It is likely to include:
- A working title
- A summary of your argument
- A description of previous work in the field (cite specific examples) and what you are adding
- Why your book is particularly suited to this publisher and series
- Likely purchasers; evidence of previous interest in your work (papers, article downloads)
- A contents page and synopsis of each chapter (you may need to submit sample chapters)
- A list of maps, tables, charts, graphs, images, and any other items requiring specialist formatting
- Length (usually set by publishers’ financial constraints: circa 120k is normal)
- A precise timetable for completion which is realistic
It is useful to format the proposal with clear section headings and numbered paragraphs, to aid discussion by referees and responses to them.
Your proposal will then be sent to the series editors and / or external readers for comment.
4. Remember that a good thesis and a good book or article are two different things.
Having just got the thesis to the point of submission, it can seem hard to be told to completely restructure the research, or to jettison some sections and introduce new ones. Nevertheless these can be vital ways to make a good thesis into a good book. A thesis is written for a far narrower audience, and books have to speak to a wider group of people. Good editors will have an understanding of what their audience will need to know. If you do, on reflection, reject some suggestions made when you submit your typescript, explain why.
5. Read the contract.
The contract is legally binding, although much of it is generic and may not apply to your publication. Check carefully for elements such as option clauses (giving the publisher first refusal on your next publication) and costs: who is responsible for funding images (often the author); check open access publications which may require the author to subsidize upfront costs.
6. Submit a typescript in good order.
Sloppy presentation creates a bad impression. Typos, badly edited (or even incomplete) notes, inconsistencies in presentation, and poor grammar will exasperate readers and annoy some to the point of blanket rejection on the grounds that the author is clearly submitting work too soon. Moreover, you cannot rely on a copy-editor (the publisher’s employee who formats the typescript) to correct everything. The cleaner your typescript, the more they will be able to concentrate on the difficult issues.
Ensure you have secured permissions to publish images – and investigate funding for these.
7. Take the marketing questionnaire seriously, but don’t expect a storm of publicity.
Academic publishers only invest so much in marketing (often very little). You can help by flagging up where to send review copies and conferences at which to publicize your book.
8. Check the proofs carefully.
Checking proofs is a laborious task, but a vital one as unexpected glitches can occur in processing. Do check everything: running heads, contents page, the dustjacket, as well as the main text and notes. Spot check some of the index entries as well. But don’t be tempted to alter the content unless it is absolutely imperative: unnecessary changes will be ignored or incur a charge.
9. Keep in contact with your academic or commissioning editor.
Life happens – there may be reasons why you cannot realistically meet your original timetable. Be upfront about this if it happens; the worst response is to disappear and not respond to contact.
Remember that publishing has its own pace: some journals will publish rapidly, others may take two to three years; a couple of years before a REF census date there will be a boom in submissions. Acceptance and a contract are worth putting on a CV, and work in press can be credited in job applications – however to count for REF the piece has to be in the public domain.
10. Be proud of your book, but don’t expect to retire on the proceeds.
Publication of articles and books is a real achievement. But it is rarely a lucrative one. After a couple of years, if you are lucky, your royalties might amount to enough to buy one or two of those peskily expensive academic monographs.