http://iprh.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/on-not-publishing-dissertations/, Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities:
Matheson is Editor-in-Chief of the University of Illinois Press. She
holds a doctorate in music from the University of Illinois, and has
worked in various capacities at the Press since 1996.
Her acquisitions list includes the subjects of History, Appalachian Studies, Labor Studies, Music, Folklore.
Last July, the American Historical Association issued a statement
suggesting that doctoral students be given the option to withhold
dissertations from online public access for up to six years.
circulation of such work in databases like Proquest’s,
it claimed, limits the ability of young scholars to secure publishing
contracts for their dissertations in revised form. The AHA’s approach
was criticized as running counter to the scholarly mission of sharing research.
But what do university presses think of the embargoes? Laurie Matheson, Editor-in-Chief of the University of Illinois Press, shares her perspective - bM
Does the rise of ProQuest and similar online databases make it more
difficult for scholars to publish books based on their dissertations?
Our library colleagues tell us that library acquisitions staff
actively screen for telltale signs of the dissertation origins when
considering purchasing a book: mention of the words “dissertation” or
“thesis adviser” in the acknowledgments; same title as the dissertation;
same table of contents and approximate length as the dissertation; same
chronological span as the dissertation; and so on.
library resources become scarcer, librarians want to make sure they’re
not purchasing material that duplicates what they already have in their
collections, whether in the form of a dissertation on ProQuest
or an article in a journal or an edited collection (which is one reason
that most edited collections sell so poorly that many publishers have
ceased to publish them).
And it’s not only librarians who want to conserve their resources.
Scholars doing research and finding a dissertation online are not likely
to pursue purchase of a book that seems from its parameters to be very
similar to the dissertation they can already access.
Even if the dissertation is embargoed for a period, as some authors
are doing, libraries and scholars assume they will eventually have
access to it, and/or to articles that may duplicate or greatly overlap
with the eventual book.
these reasons, publishers prefer that a book contain little to no
previously published material.
We try to counsel authors to publish the
articles they need for their portfolios by developing pieces that won’t
be in the book, perhaps pulling out a self-standing chapter of the
dissertation that’s an outlier to the book’s focus.
It’s also wise to
avoid publishing a “nutshell” version of the book as an article that a
scholar can access on JSTOR instead of buying the book.
Even without the new complications introduced by ProQuest and its
ilk, books that begin as dissertations are more of a risk for publishers
to take on than second books or even first books that do not begin as
It’s no longer sufficient (though it is necessary) for the revised
dissertation to make a scholarly contribution.
It must also make a
contribution that is of interest to individuals a publisher can identify
who might conceivably buy the book, rather than only to libraries who
are buying fewer books every year (though we continue to rely on
libraries for a critical core of book sales).
ProQuest or no ProQuest, embargo or no embargo, the fact always has
been and remains that a dissertation is not a book.
serves a specific purpose and a very narrow audience, and it invariably
bears the traces of its construction: the compiling and processing of
data and theory; chapters that progress through the evidence and
eventually arrive at conclusions, rather than structuring the evidence
around an argument.
How much does a dissertation need to be revised? From a publishing point of view, the more the better.
Virtually every dissertation - I think I would be safe in saying
every dissertation - benefits at the very least from basic (but not
cosmetic or superficial) revisions.
These usually include: developing
the author’s voice, foregrounding the argument, creating a narrative arc
or backbone for the book, writing an introduction and conclusion
appropriate to a book, developing ideas systematically within paragraphs
and across chapters, pruning and customizing detail to advance the
argument, making selective rather than exhaustive use of examples,
pruning the notes, pruning long block quotes, and broadening the
context. And, of course, choosing a title different from that of the
addition to carrying out these and other “basic” revisions, an author
approaching a potential publisher is at a great advantage if he or she
can say that the book is or will be different from the dissertation in
some substantial ways.
Perhaps the dissertation was very long; the book will be a more
publishable length, which necessitates cutting, revising, reshaping,
Perhaps the author will embark on some new
research to expand the geographical and/or chronological scope of the
work, or to bring in additional primary sources.
But even “basic” revisions will remake the dissertation into
something much more like a book, more attractive to publishers, more
likely to find a relatively painless path through peer review, and more
likely to be published successfully.