Convert your thesis into a book
This how to guide takes you through everything you need to know to convert your thesis into a book.
You can read all the information you need below, or watch this video from Books Commissioning Editor, Katy Mathers.
Consider the level of conversion
Your first consideration when thinking about book publishing options for your thesis should be the level of conversion. You could consider the following options.
A full conversion – from thesis to book
This is a good option should your thesis be on a topic that would have wide appeal to an academic audience. A key consideration here is that the structure of a thesis is massively different to a book. Rather than starting with a hypothesis, a book should showcase a considered argument and its narrative should communicate that argument to peers in the field – demonstrating how the research has evolved into this viewpoint, and what impact it can have.
Partial conversion – using parts of your thesis in a book
Using parts of your thesis in a book usually means that you are conducting further research that might be ongoing, and might involve colleagues that might be a co-author on the project.
Partial conversion – a chapter in an edited collection
Perhaps your thesis doesn’t quite have the broad appeal for a full book conversion. In this case you might consider a chapter in an edited collection under a broader theme – this means you’re broadening the scope of your PhD research to a wider audience by collaborating with a team of contributors on an edited book. Look out for calls for chapters on relevant themes.
What are publishers looking for?
Broad (global) scholarly appeal
- Remember your thesis is written for a handful of examiners and experts in your field and is partly there to demonstrate the expertise you have gained from your research. A book should have a much wider audience than that, and should be engaging and interesting enough to appeal to a broad section of researchers across your field (and potentially other disciplines as appropriate), and should particularly be accessible enough to engage any researcher interested in your topic of study.
- Single-country case studies won’t always translate well into a book given their focused scope, however, they would work as part of an edited collection with a broader global scope.
- A good book manuscript should focus on a coherent argument/narrative, rather than a step-by-step checklist of things you need to demonstrate in a thesis.
- You don’t need to include big sections or whole chapters on literature review or methodology, these can be weaved into the book as and when appropriate.
- An original thesis should be regarded as the basis for an entirely new work, written with a new audience in mind.
Talking about your research and the process of working it into a book is one of the best ways to ensuring success.
Try reaching out to your immediate colleagues, and co-authors on published papers, your PhD supervisor, peers you might meet at conferences, with a publishing contact, or even online. Try asking for advice on twitter, or any professional network sites.
It is advisable to start a conversation with supervisors and other colleagues shortly after the completion of a PhD.
Once you’ve started to get a good idea of what you want to do, it’s also a great time to reach out to a commissioning editor at a publisher. They can advise on further considerations for turning your thesis into a book with a broad scholarly appeal, as well as how to fill in a book proposal form.
Following this, the next natural step is to submit a book proposal which will be considered by the publisher, often involving a peer review process.
Consider the audience
The single most important thing to remember when converting your thesis is the audience. Your thesis is written for a select amount of examiners with specific expertise in your field and showcases your nuanced and rich expertise, which you have gleaned from your research in your particular area.
In contrast, a book should have a much wider audience and should be engaging and interesting enough to appeal to a broad section of researchers across your field, and potentially even other disciplines as appropriate.
As a book, your research should be accessible enough to engage any researcher interested in your topic of study.
- Realise which parts of your thesis are useful only to examiners. Any sections such as literature review, or extended methodology discussion should be cut or heavily amended/digested. These sections can weave in and out of your overall narrative rather than be structured separately.
- Writing style is less important for examiners, but essential for book readers. PhD examiners will read your thesis regardless of the writing style, but the writing style for book readers is essential for ensuring your research is accessible and engaging. You must be prepared to extensively re-write your thesis to retain and engage readers. This should be seen as essential rather than optional.
- Keep the big picture in mind. It’s important to take a step back while putting together a proposal, or during the manuscript writing process. Set reminders at intervals to focus on the overall narrative of the book. Is there a logical development of an argument? Does it make sense to a reader’s point of view? If not , be prepared to rethink the structure – it can be freeing to step away from a traditional thesis structure.
- Write concisely. It’s important to bear in mind the importance of the reader’s time. At all stages of the writing process you should focus on streamlining where possible and keep in mind the agreed length of the book. Books are often much shorter than theses, which by their nature contain much repetition. If you’re finding it hard to meet the agreed word limit, your writing style is likely not quite right yet for a book audience.
- Emphasise context. If your research is specialist and nuanced, with a narrow scope, try boosting its contextual implications by adding an international or inter-disciplinary context. It’s particularly useful to do this within the introductory and concluding chapters. Rounding off your book with opening and closing contextual chapters can really emphasise the place of the research within the field and showcase how it’s adding to the literature or breaking fresh ground.
- Get a third party proof-reader. Consider getting someone within your field, perhaps without the specialist knowledge relating to your PhD knowledge, and see what they think of your writing style. If they can follow your argument and find value in the work you’re presenting for the wider field, then the book has good potential. If they’re struggling, you might need to re-think the project.
Top tips for converting your thesis
- The main title of the book should position it clearly without reference to other bibliographic information, and should be as short as possible.
- Chapter titles are something people often forget, and chapter titles can sometimes be a real giveaway in a proposal that a book is based on a thesis and maybe hasn’t been revised appropriately. It’s often a comment reviewers make, and a clear sign to them that the proposal is a thesis conversion. Chapter titles can be way more dynamic in a book than in a thesis, and there’s no need to have chapters called 'methodology' or 'results'. Freeing yourself from these structured ways of thinking can be liberating, and is a good way of diverting yourself from writing in a thesis style.
- Remember that readers of the book are most interested in what your findings/argument are. Think about leading your book with the 'end' of your thesis, i.e. the results/answer to the question you were researching, rather than starting by explaining how you got there.
- You don’t need to include big sections or whole chapters on literature review or methodology, these can be weaved in to the book as and when appropriate (particularly if your research employed an innovative methodology, for example).
- A book manuscript should typically be shorter than your thesis. If you’re struggling to bring the word count down, you might need to get help with your writing style, or evaluate if you’ve cut enough “thesis-heavy” content from your work.
- Use introductory and concluding chapters to contextualise your research. This is super helpful for placing your work within the field.
Be prepared to re-write: Having sketched out a new structure and focus, you now have to start writing all over again to create a completely new work. You should accept this as a must for success, and enjoy the creative process that comes with it.
Remove academic structuring: Ordinary readers want you to get straight to the point, Anything that sounds like "In this chapter I will argue . . ." or "In this chapter I have shown . . ." should be deleted immediately.
Audience is the most important consideration. Re-organise your writing around your new audience – remember that concise, narrative-led writing is essential.
Re-focus on the storytelling. Any background material (such as surveys of previous literature, historical background, discussions of earlier and current theories, arguments, methodology, etc.) if retained at all, should be moved from the beginning to the end of the book, or incorporated in a condensed form into the relevant sections of the main text. From start to finish, you should begin with an answer rather than a question, and your argument should be maintained throughout.