Reworking your thesis for book publication

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Before you start

You've dedicated three to five years of your life to your thesis and you've finally been awarded your doctorate. Your examiners' comments are encouraging and you start turning your mind to getting the work published. But where do you start?

This guide has been developed by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) to assist post-graduate students with reworking their thesis for book publication. It includes advice about how to approach the task of reworking, including tips and activities, as well as general information about the publishing process at Aboriginal Studies Press (ASP).

Before you begin you should be aware of the amount of work that’s required to turn a thesis into a book. It will require a solid commitment of time and possibly some substantial rewriting. Here are a couple of things you should consider before you start.

A snapshot of the book industry

In 2016, over 4000 publishers released 22,144 books in Australia (Bookseller and Publisher, 2017). Whilst the book industry has shown marginal growth in the past couple of years (.6 per cent increase in 2016 totalling A$968m), in an age when there is so much information available online, publishers and booksellers have to work harder to compete for consumer attention. This means making careful decisions about what they publish and sell.

The four main university presses — Melbourne University Press, University of New South Wales Press (NewSouth Books), University of Queensland Press and University of Western Australia Press — publish between them around 150 new titles each year. Most university presses publish cross-over titles (academic–trade) and trade, and often have a scholarly imprint for monographs. Some university-based presses such as the Australian National University publish under an open access model with a POD (print-on-demand) option with a short print run for commercial distribution. The average print run of a scholarly monograph is around 150–300 copies and university presses typically require a publishing subsidy from the author (Mrva-Montoya, 2016).

Questions to ask yourself

Should I turn my thesis into a book?

Although some examiners comment that a particular thesis should be published, they're usually noting that the ideas in the thesis should reach a wider audience. These days theses are deposited into open access institutional repositories so if your goal is to share your ideas with peers then this approach may be sufficient.

Another option might be to look at reworking some chapters for publication as journal articles. There are a number of sources that provide advice about how to rework for journal articles and some of these are listed in the further reading.

Who is the audience?

There are many differences between a thesis and a book and some of these are listed below. The main consideration is the readership: most of the other issues flow from that. Ultimately you will need to ask yourself, would the topic be of interest to a broader audience outside the discipline from which the thesis derives?

The audience for a thesis is a group of examiners. Examiners are a group of informed readers with specialist knowledge and a certain level of assumed knowledge. Their task is to examine the merit of the content of the thesis, and writers are obliged to reveal anything and everything about their subject. In contrast, if you rewrite your thesis for a more general audience, those readers won't have the same depth or breadth of knowledge.

To write to a general audience usually means completely rewriting a thesis. At its core: hold onto the ideas and start again.

The questions publishers will ask

  • Who is the audience?
  • Where does it fit in the discipline?
  • How does it fit with the publisher's list?
  • Has the work been published before? The manuscript you submit should be a substantial reworking of your thesis therefore it is unlikely that depositing it in an institutional repository will impact its chances of being considered for publication
    by ASP.
  • Have you submitted the work to another publisher?
  • Does it present a new or interesting perspective? How is it different to what else is out there? Are there competing titles and if so what are the points of difference?
  • Is the writing engaging?
  • Is there the potential for an overseas market and/or use in tertiary courses?

Note that publishers will prepare a full costing and market analysis to inform their decision making.

Last reviewed: 3 Jul 2020