While I transit back from Lucknow to Bielefeld and the printing presses at SAGE spit out the first copies of my first book, I am going to publish a series of posts on - publishing, especially book publishing to be precise. Book publishing before you got your PhD (though a lot will be relevant for any first monograph). I will reflect on my own experiences in transforming what once was a study abroad project, turned into a dissertation and further into a refereed monograph published by an international press. I will try not to repeat too much advice found elsewhere1 while writing about the following over the coming weeks:

Fundamentals: Some uncomfortable questions before you write any book
Proposal: Landing a book contract with little (yet) to offer
Review: Your book's first honest readers are its reviewers
Letting go: From author to published author
Technicalities: You thought you were done? Your book post submission
Marketing: How to find and engage readers for your book

To start this series I will pose three fairly uncomfortable but indispensable questions, and encourage you to seek answers not just from your own aspiring and/or fearful mind, but from people who know better (i.e. published authors):

Should you publish in the first place? Do you have something worthwhile to say, and who told you so? Some projects are just fine as a graduation requirement, but are not worth wasting your time on getting them published. It is perfectly reasonable to find another project and move on: better no publication than one which isn't thought through, even in today's alleged "publish or perish" culture. This particularly means: don't bother to reply to vanity presses offering to "publish" your work quickly as an e-book or so (a menace particularly entrenched in Germany since German PhDs need to be published by default): either you have something that is worth the attention of an international press or reputed journal (both of which will subject your work to external peer review to check that this is indeed the case) or you have nothing worth to say. Sounds hard, but I strongly feel its true, despite all flaws of peer review. So be honest here and ask others to be honest with you.

Should you publish a string of articles or a monograph? This depends a lot on your project and the discipline. Mine (anthropology by now) loves books, other fields might not so much. On the other hand, the Gujarat project was indeed only tenable as a book - I could not have broken the typology which lies at its heart into separate pieces; at most I could cut out a methodology paper (which I did, but more on that later). But this need not be true for everything: my current research in Lucknow for instance might probably lend itself more to the "string of articles" approach - let's see. Again, have honest mentors to talk to - preferably ones who successfully published in both formats.

Finally: should you rewrite from scratch or edit to death? Part of this is a personality thing - I for instance hate first drafts and am much better at editing. But part of it is also about the history of your project. Mine had, in retrospect, already been through too many permutations (from study abroad project to dissertation to book manuscript to eventually book), each of which had changed my perspective. So I should have rewritten it from scratch, even though I thought I would be faster when editing. If only I had known...

Some other questions to consider are extent (my dissertation was around 40.000 words, so I needed additional material to bring it to the minimum of 60.000 for a tenable monograph) and timeframe (it took me a year to reflect, another year to rewrite and edit, and a final year until the book hit the store shelves - you will likely need at least two of those. Do you have them, now?).

For me, the key to answer all three fundamental questions was to get good advice. Ask your supervisors and other professional mentors (as long as they have a track record of producing published work). There sure are good books and blogs out there (feel free to suggest your favorites in the comments below) - but nothing helps more than honest feedback from somebody you can truly trust in these matters. If you go for an academic monograph, you are going to invest significant time, and probably money, both of which you could spend otherwise. This is especially true if the monograph you are contemplating will be your first one and will likely define your public profile as an academic right up till you receive tenure - even if you are not going in as many loops as I did. So be sure it is worth it before you start. This will not least help you convince others that it is worth it, especially your preferred press - the topic of next week...

  • 1. One resource I can particularly recommend for its sound and concise advice is the following book by Gerald Jackson and the accompanying blog: Jackson, G, Lenstrup, M. (2009). Getting published. Copenhagen: NIAS.