From Phd thesis to monograph…?

From Phd thesis to monograph…? July 21, 2009

So, even just a day later I am eager to fit this thesis for publishing.  My examiners were happy to pass my thesis as is for the phd, but they tacitly made it known that it needed work for publication.  I am OK with that, but the question is always – how much do I do?  How significant should the changes be to strengthen the thesis?  Adding some clarifying footnotes?  Completely re-writing sections?

I would like to know from you readers who have published your phd thesis, did you change much before sending it to a publisher?  Did the publisher ask for major changes?

Just curious.  I mean, I could do some important changes and I wouldn’t quite know if I have successfuly covered the issues.  I guess it comes down to try-and-try-again, right?

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  • Hello! I’m not a PhD grad but I am an editor and publisher who works with academics and PhDs.

    It really depends, is the answer. It depends on your target audience, it depends on what you hope to achieve, it depends on how big your thesis is. Typically, monographs are quite short, and thereby would require you to distill the essence of the thesis down somewhat.

    If, however, you were planning to try for publication for your research peers, then you’d want far more detail.

    Then there’s always the question of whether self-publishing is entirely out of the question. My last doctoral editing job ended with the candidate and her supervisor talking about self-publishing a publicly-accessible version as an e-book.

    Regardless of what you opt for, I would suggest that you’d need to re-think the document in terms of its new purpose and new audience, and then start to find a new framework. It may not require significant rewrites, but often moving from a dissertation to a published text does require ‘re-framing’ to some extent. Whatever that frame is will largely depend on the end-user – as with any publication.

    I hope I haven’t confused you even more! Love to hear how it goes.

    Best wishes

  • I’d imagine your best bet would be to ask your supervisor and examiners how they would reshape your thesis (assuming they haven’t already told you). Also, I don’t know which publishers you’re thinking of contacting, but I’m guessing that some might have a review panel in place that might tell you what revisions they expect. (My thesis is due to be published in the Paternoster Theological Monographs series any time now, and part of the feedback in the review process advised me to extend my conclusion.)

    Congratulations on passing your viva, by the way. I’m new to your blog, so I don’t really know anything about what you’ve done – but passing a viva is always a good thing!

  • Hi Nijay. It’s worth bearing that when a proposal is based on a PhD thesis, the publisher will often get in touch with your examiners as a first port of call. So if they say in their reports that the thesis needs work for publication, you can bet that they will say that to the publisher too. Therefore, I would be inclined to do some work on the manuscript first, and as soon as possible, to address the examiners’ concerns. As soon as that is underway, you could then approach publishers and indicate that the manuscript is being revised. Here at the Library of New Testament Studies, we are always happy to discuss things informally with authors too. Note too that we have an 80,000 word limit at LNTS, and other series are similar, and that word limit often gives some kind of help in focusing the mind about the revisions. Feel free to get in touch with me by email if you are interested in chatting specifically about the possibilities of publishing with LNTS. Of course other series are available too 🙂

  • Let me begin by saying (since another commenter mentioned this) that you definitely don’t want to self-publish your thesis. I’m obviously not opposed to self-publishing, having done so myself, but when it comes to academic publications, expected to be taken into consideration for matters of employment, tenure and so on, what matters is not publication per se but peer review. At some point, it will be possible to publish in print-on-demand form and also undergo peer review – indeed, the person who makes that option available will provide a great service to academia, since dissertations are often on minutiae that do not appeal to publishers precisely because there is little potential for sales. And so in an ideal world (one that is drawing nearer, I expect), one will be able to have one’s work undergo peer review, pay a relatively small fee for self-publishing to a print-on-demand service, and then hope that one will sell enough copies to recover the expense of publishing in that format.

    As for your initial question, if your aim is to not do a complete rewrite of your thesis to make it more accessible to a general readership, then the best procedure is probably to make changes recommended/required by the examiners, and any other changes or additions you yourself feel worth making, and then submit it to monograph series which specialize in publishing precisely books that are based on doctoral dissertations. I’m sure you know all the major ones: SBL, SNTS, WUNT, etc.

    It is the norm to be able to submit a book proposal to multiple publishers simultaneously, but it is not appropriate to have one’s whole manuscript undergoing the peer review process with multiple publishers. The best thing to do (since you obviously don’t want to get in a publisher’s bad books this early in your career!) is to ask what a given publisher’s policy is. If you do that, you’re unlikely to go wrong.

    Congratulations once again – and I look forward to reading your book!

  • Nijay,

    I can speak to this from two perspectives: an author who published his dissertation, and an editor who works for a company that publishes many dissertations.

    Some general comments first:
    Leticia is right. You must decide to whom you want this book to be directed. It is the rare dissertation that finds its way to a large and general audience (Daniel Kirk’s Unlocking Romans might be a good example of this). It is a possible anomaly but will require a good deal of work to shape the “academic” tome into an accessible book. And, often the book must first have a life as a monograph (I think Kavin Rowe’s Early Narrative Christology is an example of this).

    As an author:
    My dissertation was published in 2007 with T & T Clark. I was pleased with the process. It was smooth and relatively fast. I had to make only a few minor changes (mostly removing “dissertation” language) and create an index. The downsides have to do with money. The book is priced out of most people’s budget and the royalty percentage is on the low end. Since it was a monograph, I think, the publisher decided to run what they call a “library print run,” which is about the smallest print run available. This makes the cost per unit high and therefore the cost to the potential reader is high. Most sales are to libraries, I would imagine, and hence the name.

    As an editor:
    Publishers are all different. Some have a very specific sort of book they publish; others have a wide variety of books in their line; and others, like Wipf & Stock, have several imprints, each with their distinctive traits. Most publishers do offset printing and therefore want to have a book that warrants large print runs, which will keep the per unit costs reasonable. If the book does not warrant a large print run, the publisher will either price the book high (as in my case) or charge the author a subvention. I’ve had friends who have been faced with both: high prices and subventions. I’ll not go into the details of W&S’s publishing model, but I will say that we do things a little differently. For most monographs, we are able to price the books reasonably, but we ask the author to share some of the publication costs by charging a typesetting fee, which is invoiced at the end of the publishing process (not the beginning like subventions) and is almost always a fraction of a typical subvention. In the end, you will need to add other questions to your list. In addition to asking about who your audience is, you will need to ask if you want your book to be affordable and if you are willing to contribute money to the cause. These things work in concert sometimes. As with my experience, I had no subventions or fees, but I can’t afford to hand the book out to friends and family even with my author discount. Sometimes fees or subventions will help get the cost down; sometimes not.

    I’ve gone on long enough. There are several other sets of questions you may want to add, but I will not discuss here (e.g., peer review, series prestige, etc.). If you are interested in talking more to me in my role as author and/or editor, please feel free to contact me. 541-344-1528 or

    By the way, we recommend the following books to authors looking to publish their dissertations:
    Harman, Eleanor, et al., editors. The Thesis and the Book: A Guide for First-time Academic Authors. 2nd ed. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003.
    Luey, Beth. Handbook for Academic Authors. 4th ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
    ———, editor. Revising Your Dissertation: Advice from Leading Editors. Updated ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.

  • One last thing, since James brought up peer review. It ain’t cheap. Peer review adds both cost and time to the publishing process. It is one of the reasons the series that are peer reviewed are often the series with the most expensive volumes and/or the highest subventions. Or, they are university presses that have the costs underwritten by the university. Of course, there are exceptions to everything I’ve mentioned, but these are all things to keep in mind.

  • Rob Barrett

    A huge congratulations, Nijay! I’ll add my experience to the pile. It was helpful for me to set my goals, which were two: (1) relatively little change in style from the dissertation, and (2) a good series that would lead to reviews being generated and availability in good libraries. My target audience is specialists. So I wasn’t too concerned about cost of the monograph and avoiding the standard review opening of “this book is an edited version of the author’s doctoral thesis….”

    After my viva, I did my required corrections and then made some small adjustments to clarify things that had been misunderstood by my examiners, removed needless problematic issues, etc. based on the viva. Then I sent it to the publisher after perhaps two days of work. I received two detailed reviews from the publisher that had considerable overlap with my impressions from the viva. So reworking things from all of that feedback was straightforward. Vague but important comments like “generally less convincing towards the end than at the beginning” were the hardest to deal with, but a month of work and reflection helped me see better what was needed.

    By the way, I’ve had friends convert their dissertations into two books — one more detailed and scholarly and another more popular. That certainly has its attractions, but I’m not ready to present my thoughts to regular people yet — perhaps after another decade of thought! But something worth thinking about.

  • Nijay,
    IMO, a few things to keep in mind are:

    1. Whoa nelly! You’ve just passed your Ph.D, gonna move back to USA, you have young baby too. So get your Ph.D graduated and just chill for a bit. Then after a couple of months have re-read of it with fresh eyes and think about the criticisms of your examiners.

    2. Next decide where you want to send it (I can vouch that LNTS is very good as it’s a top tier editing and a great series itself). But there are other options, WUNT, SNTS, BZNW, etc. They all have different style guides and different word lenghts.

    3. Remember, this is your first book. It is just your ticket to get a seat at the table of biblical scholarship. So it’s not necessarily gonna be your greatest contribution or the last thing you’ll ever say.

    4. Remember, a Ph.D thesis is a different genre from a monograph, so (depending on the publisher), be prepared to make changes.

  • Nijay, the common thread of all these answers is, of course, that nobody wants to read a dissertation (my deduction: nobody should have to write one, then!).

    I concur with the goodly folk here: decide an audience first. Listen to your reviewers second. Taking a few months off to get fresh eyes is good–but… you also don’t have a permanent job yet, and there’s tremendous value in getting this off your desk, onto the CV as a published book, and onto your next project. That might be a more pressing professional reality than peer review.

  • Oh–and CONGRATULATIONS! Passing your viva is great news!

  • Pingback: Thoughts on Publishing a Dissertation « kata ta biblia()

  • I think the above advice are good and worth considering.

    Here is my experience.
    Although my thesis does contribute further knowledge, I was well aware it was not all that ground shattering. So I quickly took my examiners suggestions and tried to make some adjustments accordingly, though I avoided any major structural changes, and tried to publish it. My supervisor did not really agree that one should make major changes to a “passed” dissertation by two examiners for publication. I understand the value of letting the thesis sit for a while before trying to publish it, but I decided to publish ASAP to improve my chances in the job market (even though it has not yet landed me a full-time job!).

    I chose to publish my book in a monograph series. So I was deciding between SNTSMS, WUNT, BZNW. A friend had his accepted for SNTSMS but it took a while for it to go through the approval process of CUP. I decided, then, to go with WUNT. I have been happy with that choice, esp. because the turn around time was amazing! The editor of the series gave me feedback but I did not have to change anything, except shorten my main title. My dissertation was at 100,000 words so I did not want to condense it to fit the word limit of other publishers (e.g. LNTS, SNTSMS).

    Mohr Siebeck and other publishers require you to produce your own camera-ready copy of the ms — so that will take some time and energy, especially if you are not too savvy with word processors. I wrote my thesis in Mellel (for Mac) and I typed using styles. With Mellel (though Word and others have styles too), it was easy to adjust the styles to their formatting guidelines. This also means that you have to do all of your own proof reading and editing, and indexing. The editors basically will make sure the formatting will be correct, although my editor at Mohr Siebeck did correct some of my mis-spellings of German sources in the bibliography. Because you do all the formatting, this reduces the cost of production — so they will not charge you. With Mohr Siebeck you do not receive royalties (I’m not expecting many individuals to buy it anyways) but you do receive 20 free offprints (that’s almost $2000). I believe SNTSMS, gives some kind of signing bonus but they do not give many free offprints. And I don’t think you receive royalties with them. However, CUP does all the formatting and you have editors working with you and reading through the ms. Also, CUP does a real good job with marketing academic books.

    Concerning the price, if the thesis will be published in a monograph series like WUNT chances are the publisher will not print that many copies (as someone noted above) and it will be expensive. But once they sell out, some publishers will let you republish it as a paperback with another more mainstream publisher. Many have been able to do this.

  • kenschenck

    With such a distinguished cast of characters above, I doubt I can add anything but my story. Dunn urged me to get mine published soon after passing. But I was unsatisfied and I think my examiners (Frances Young and Loren) were too. Admittedly, I took way too long. But I became a better writer, mulled it over, added a chapter, and finally published it with Cambridge 10 years later.

    I feel confident you are already a better writer and are further along in your mulling. If you already know what to fix, fix it. It is hard to get back into it if you wait… but, a year or two of reflection might make it a lot better too. No set formula.

  • I have no publishing experience, but it would seem to me that examiners have three characteristics that are different to a significant proportion of the likely readership of a proposed monograph. They have been selected for:

    1. Their particular expertise in your field – so you don’t necessarily have to dot ‘i’s, cross ‘t’s or draw connections as clearly as you do for a less expert audience
    2. The likelihood that they will be sympathetic to your line of reasoning. They are not going to take the opportunity to rip your work to shreds if it has the potential to be controversial and at odds with their own.
    3. They are being paid (albeit perhaps not much) to examine your work, so they are less likely to give up reading if the style of prose is turgid and uninviting.

    In other words, examiners are just plain *nicer* than monograph readers and a published book needs to take this into consideration.

  • Dan Gurtner

    That’s a great question. I was fortunate enough to have very little to do in terms of revisions. My reader for the SNTS series was Don Hagner, who happened to introduce himself as such while we were both at Tyndale House. He sat me down and suggested a few things to rewrite the introduction in a more user-friendly way. For what it’s worth, there is merit in making revisions your readers suggested first, then let the readers for the series to which you are submitting have their say.

    Blessings on your labors,


  • Nijay, congratulations on finishing. I recently finished and I am going through the same process. Here is what I am currently experiencing. First, cutting down 100,000 to 80,000 was easy, I cut out footnotes and that just about did it, however, it didn’t ‘feel’ right, so back to the drawing board – i.e. it wasn’t so easy. Second, kept the examiners remarks in front of me (as well as my supervisors), that has helped me in re-framing and sharping my argument. Third, I keep saying, ‘I don’t want the rejection letter from ______ [its one of those who replied already], that motivation keeps driving me back to more revisions. Fourth, I don’t want to have to tell some of the others that replied to your question, I received the same rejection letter [that’s another good motivator to keep revising]. Next, when I get too discouraged with regard to revising, I just tell myself, not too many probably read it anyway. Finally, you know your work and its weaknesses more than others so you’ll be surprised how others actually view what you’ve done.

  • Igal

    Hello Dr. Nijay,

    My name is Igal, and I’m a PhD Candidate in OT at the University of Toronto. Your blog is very informative and helpful, thanks a lot! Would you be mind to elaborate a bit on the process of publishing your doctoral thesis. What are the general guidelines? and some other (basic) questiones: How does it work? should the author pay for the book’s publication? does the author being paid for the written book? What are the academic publishing houses for OT books? Thanks a lot for answering these questiones!

    Cheers, Igal

    N.B: Did you happen to know a similar academic blog or website for OT scholars?

  • Pingback: Gupta’s Interviews on Publishing a Ph.D. Thesis as a Monograph « kata ta biblia()

  • Manthan

    @Terry, I’m just curious though I don’t wanna subscribe to this group. Do you need to make your supervisor a co-author in the book?

  • Sandy Steyger

    My PhD thesis benefited from recommendations made by my examiners which tightened and highlighted important themes and helped point up ideas and insight that contributed to the strength of my arguments. I also had to correct what was thought to be a too enthusiastic interest in eventual publication. This came as a surprise to myself and my supervisor as we had not considered publication. My supervisor’s response was ‘they are making you alter and remove parts of your work I like and consider very important. Nevertheless there you have it and I was awarded my doctorate. This took place in 2002 but after re-reading my thesis recently I realize most of my work remains relevant and up to date. My question is, where do you think I should start work on getting it, if possible, into publishable form. My subject area lends itself to a monologue form or a form easily accessible to a wider readership. I’m rather rusty after all these years but ready to put in the work necessary to have a go at getting published in one form or another.

  • Inam

    Hi there,
    thanks for sharing your thoughts. Regardless of all the pros and cons of revising a thesis or not I believe it still is a matter of what you wish to acchieve with your publication. Are you longing for an academic career, achieve a good reputation in your field of studies or simply need to fulfill a certain number of publications just to register for a scholarship e.g. – the latter I had in mind. So I decided for an easy, fast and free way to get my work published and I found it at GRIN (, a German publisher – who where really helpful, especially in terms of the timeframe I had to fulfill – Back in those days I really was pressed for time and couldn’t find a single publisher who was able to realize my publishing project in less than a week. GRIN did and I’m still happy to opted for them. Cheers, Inam

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