How to publish your PhD: review

I met Sarah Caro at Profile Book’s summer party. For a number of reasons I was interested to hear about her book, How to publish your PhD: a practical guide for the humanities and social sciences: as an academic publisher, I welcome resources that help authors to be more professional in their approach; as a mentor and trainer of early career researchers, I like to be able to recommend useful resources; and, as the author of Writing Successful Academic Books (CUP, 2010), I am naturally curious about the competition! So I requested a review copy.

I’m glad I did, because it’s a good book. In the preface Caro describes its aim as providing ‘a basic guide to some of the key questions you will need to address if you are currently undertaking, or have recently completed, a PhD in humanities or social sciences and are keen to get published’.

She adds that ‘by reading this you will be forced to think with some degree of rigor and objectivity about the issues you are likely to come up against when deciding whether to try to get published’.

In my view, the book achieves its aim. That it does so in short space (144 small-format pages) will be welcomed by its target readership. 

How to publish your PhD begins by introducing the world of academic publishing. It then discusses the relationship between  books and journal articles. Subsequent chapters lead the reader through the business of revising the PhD, choosing a publisher, preparing a proposal, responding to peer review, negotiating a contract, and helping to promote the book. 

The book benefits from some mini-case studies of experienced academics’ experiences. These provide a useful alternative perspective. That said, the most valuable parts of the book are those where Caro writes most clearly as a publishing industry insider. I particularly like the passages on style and genre and the review process in action. Her section on cover letters makes me wonder whether I have underrated their importance.

There is very little I would disagree with. Caro is sceptical about approaching more than one publisher simultaneously: I would be more so, at least where monographs are concerned. The passage on proposals needed, in my view, more explicit attention to the question of why people would buy the book being proposed – what need to does it fulfil? What benefits does it provide?

The book was published in 2009. It was at that time reasonably up to date – indeed, it has sensible things to say about digital publishing. Things have moved on since then, so it is inevitably a little out of date now. In particular, it does not consider cloud publishing, self-publishing, or the importance of establishing a social media platform. But the book is far from antiquated: for classical publishing, much of the advice remains sound.

This is one of a number of excellent resources on book publishing for early career researchers. They include: William Germano, From dissertation to book; Elinor Harman et al, From thesis to book; and Beth Luey (ed.), Revising your dissertation. If any researchers out there feel uninformed about book publishers, it’s not for lack of available resources.

It’s a shame that Caro’s own ‘further reading’ section is rather light – but the book is a genuinely helpful resource nonetheless. I will be adding it to my training course reading lists.

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