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Five Tips for Turning Your PhD Thesis Into a Book

Five Tips for Turning Your PhD Thesis Into a Book

  • Education
  • Student Tips
Joanna HughesDec 17, 2018

PhD students spend years working on their theses. And while doing so is a labor of love, there's nothing wrong with maximizing your efforts by turning your dissertation into a book. Here’s a closer look at five tips to keep in mind when moving through the thesis publishing process.

1. Remember: your thesis is NOT a book

Many PhD students mistakenly believe that their PhD theses are essentially ready-to-go books. This couldn’t be further from the truth, according to Cornell University Press series editor Dominic Boyer.

“A book is what happens later, once you’ve grown past the dissertation. When one argument rises out of the analytics and becomes something on which you can build an intellectual agenda. Books are driven by arguments, not by constellations of analytics. But the only way to get to a good argument is to experiment and fail a lot in the dissertation and post-dissertation process,” Boyer told ChronicleVitae.

In other words, your thesis is just a starting point -- albeit a very good one. Your book moves beyond discovery to set forth a cohesive and structured argument. As such, it may be relatively unrecognizable as your thesis upon its completion.

Additionally, while discovery for discovery’s sake may have driven your PhD, book publishing requires something else: the almighty dollar. Shorter books cost less and are therefore more lucrative; brevity is almost always better.

2. Consider your audience -- and how to reach them.

An audience is not optional when it comes to publishing a book. If publishing is your endgame, you will need to identify yours.

“You need to jailbreak your research from the library and make it accessible to the largest potential audience. [...] First, ask yourself who this wider audience is and why they would be interested in your research. They might be industry leaders, managers, researchers, students, university professors, or self-learners. To make your research accessible to them, you might need to reconfigure the main theme of your thesis,” suggests The Scholarpreneur.

Once you’ve determined your audience and the book angle that serves it, your next step is to find a publishing house that caters to these readers.

3. You will need a book proposal.

Think you are done with the whole writing part? Think again. Your book isn’t going to sell itself, after all. For that, you’ll need a book prospectus. The good news? Writing a book prospectus isn’t difficult.

The blog, Get a Life, PhD, explains, “Briefly, it contains: 1) a summary of your book that outlines the main argument; 2) a one-paragraph summary of each chapter; 3) a timeline for completion of the book manuscript; 4) a brief description of the target audience and potential classes for course adoption; and 5) the competing literature. Usually these are short documents.”

4. Be wary of publishing mills.

If you are lucky, you had a great support team working with you throughout your PhD. Unfortunately, not all publishers are going to have your best interests at heart. For starters, a legit publisher will require the aforementioned book proposal.

The Thesis Whisperer argues, “Anyone who promises to publish your PhD without changes is highly suspect.” In addition to doing your due diligence to find legitimate academic publishers, position yourself to have them find you. While some publisher do use institution repositories to find potential books, why wait for them to find you when you can nudge the process along by engaging people at conferences or starting a blog?

5. Don’t expect to get rich.

We can’t all be J.K. Rowling. PhD Life says, “The ultimate prize is a contract with royalties, but unless your first book is a trade book that will have a huge impact, do not expect much.”

Rob Tempio of Princeton University Press spells this out in greater detail for Daily Nous. He explains, “A typical book contract specifies a royalty rate ranging from 5% to 10% of the net price of the book (it could be more or less depending on a number of factors). But let’s assume 10%. So if your book is $50 and the publisher sells that book to booksellers at roughly $35, you get $3.50 per book. If you sell 500 copies of that book, you will get $1,750. You can do the math from there and I suspect many authors earn much less than that. And some, such as textbook authors and authors of books which break out to a more general lay readership can make a lot more, but those are relatively rare.”

Depending on the publisher, you may also need to pay a publishing subsidy and/or assume responsibility for tasks such as proofing and marketing.


While you should not expect to become a millionaire off the back of your first book, or even close it, turning your PhD Thesis into a book is very possible and it can prove to be a great career -- and life -- decision!

Did you successfully turn your PhD thesis into a book, and if so do you have any wisdom to share? If so, please add them to the comments section below.

Joanna Hughes

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.