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On this topic, what is the deal with turning a dissertation into a book proposal? It seems to me no one does this, or talks about doing this. But I know a faculty member who *did* turn a dissertation into a book upon finishing a PhD in the early 80s. So is the dissertation-to-book route just something that no one does anymore? Why? Writing a dissertation in which all the chapters are potential individual articles is a popular strategy right now, so why not try to publish a monograph? Is it just too ambitious/ difficult for early career philosophers to do this? I would love the 411 on this.

Peter Furlong

I do know of a few people who have done this (and others who are in the process of trying to do so), but in each case, the dissertations went through significant changes before being submitted. I think there are two reasons that dissertations are generally not good candidates for immediate publication by a press. First, many dissertations are already available in one way or another, and I have heard that university librarians know this, and avoid buying books that are also dissertations. The second thing I have heard is that dissertations often don't read like books. I know some people who say that this is because they play different functions and so ought to read differently. This might be so, but I also suspect it is because graduate students tend to write a bit differently than professors. I think this is changing quite a bit as more and more grad students publish more and more work. For what it is worth, Peter Momchiloff, editor at OUP, mentions "sounds more like a dissertation than a book" as one of the top reasons a proposal will be rejected. See http://dailynous.com/2015/05/28/answers-from-academic-publishers/

Marcus Arvan

Flaming: Peter is right. It is rare to publish dissertations as books because, by and large, presses are not interested in publishing material that is already available. This is really important to understand, as I’ve known a few people try (and fail) to secure a book contract for a revised version of their dissertation due to ignorance of this. Presses are interested in selling books. For a book to sell, generally speaking, it has to consist of material that is not already out in the public domain. This is why book contracts standardly state that (e.g.) no more than 10% of a book’s material can be previously published. It’s vital to understand, on that note, that dissertations are considered publications (typically through your PhD-granting university or whatever repository it uses to publish dissertations).

To be clear, people do *occasionally* publish dissertations. But my sense is that this primarily tends to happen in two types of cases: (1) poorly regarded presses that are on the lookout to publish basically anything, and (2) the case of really “buzz-y” authors coming out of top programs. For example, David Chalmers’ “The Conscious Mind” seems to have been modeled on his dissertation - but Dave had a *lot* of buzz coming out of grad school, indicating the book would sell (which of course it did). Long story short, unless you’re a person with significant buzz or name recognition—or unless you’re willing to publish with a less-well-regraded press, then trying to publish your dissertation as a book is probably a bad bet.

Of course, I could be wrong about this—but this is what I’ve gathered from my own experience in the book publishing process and from talking to various people.

Peter Furlong

Hi Marcus,

You threw out, even if only as an example, 10% as a possible limit of previously published material. My own sense is that this is substantially on the low side. I have heard publishers throw around limits before, but they were quite a bit higher (anywhere from 20%-40%). Obviously a lot will depend upon the prestige of the author and the specific policies of the publisher. Nevertheless, I wondered whether you have often encountered limits as low as 10%, or if that was just an example.


Someone I went to grad school with published his dissertation as a book, let me just say with a very top press. I have no idea how the pre-publishing thing played into that. I know several others that are trying to do this, and the pre-published thing never came up in conversations.

Re Peter's question: I got a book contract without a full draft, based on my previous published work and discussions with an editor.

Peter Furlong

Hi Amanda,

Was it very important to you to have the contract without a full draft? If so, was it for assurance, to save time later in the process, or for some other reason?


Amanda: How much did you have written when you received the contract? Just a proposal? Proposal plus chapter, or more?


FYI when I talked to a Palgrave Macmillan editor (yes I know not a university press) about 5 years ago he said there policy was not to extend a contract offer without about 80% of the manuscript already completed.

As for the no more than 10% previously published, I have also heard different numbers throw around, but don't have hard data from editors.

Marcus Arvan

Paul: I mentioned the 10% figure because that’s what’s in my contract. But yeah, good point, I’ve seen books with substantially more than that.

On that note, one thing that hasn’t been touched on is that I think some of this stuff may depend on what kind of institution one is at. I’ve heard Amanda say she’s at an R1 before—and from what I’ve heard from friends at R1’s, it seems like good presses may operate a bit differently with authors from those kinds of places. For instance, I have heard some people from good R1’s say they were able to get a contract without a full book written, which doesn’t seem to be the case with the non-R1 people I’ve known who have done books (including me). If you think about it, this sort of makes sense: giving a contract to someone at R1 is probably less of a risk for the publisher—and a good investment of the person is at a good place—than offering a contract to someone with lesser institutional cache (given that books by people at more prestigious institutions may be more likely to be read, engaged with, and purchased).


"To be clear, people do *occasionally* publish dissertations. But my sense is that this primarily tends to happen in two types of cases: (1) poorly regarded presses that are on the lookout to publish basically anything, and (2) the case of really “buzz-y” authors coming out of top programs."

Outside the US, especially in various European countries, it is _standard_ to publish one's dissertation whether or not you are "buzz-y" and not with "presses that are on the lookout to publish basically anything". It would be good if people contributing to philosophy blogs, especially advice-based one's like this, made generalizations with the rest of the world in mind.

Sorry to single you out, Marcus. But it's irritating that philosophy is so US centric on the internet.

Marcus Arvan

Hi E: no worries at all - I appreciate you pointing that out, and I’ll try to be more cognizant of that!


Hi Peter:

To be honest, I didn't really go through the process of thinking about whether to write a full draft or not. I was sort of musing about whether or not I should write a book, or rather focus on articles. And then I happened to get an email from an editor, he meet with me on campus and we discussed philosophy and my previous publications, and he asked for a proposal. So I sent a proposal; it was reviewed positively by three anonymous referees, and then I got a contract. (for the person who asked I just had a proposal. But it isn't a very long book, I am aiming for maybe 120 pages.)

If I had never meet the editor, I tend to think I wouldn't have written a full draft without a contract. But my reasons are situation specific. First, I was already hesitant about writing a book this early in my career before I am as established as I would like to be. And second, because I am at an R1, I in some sense, "should" be able to get a contract without a full draft. If I couldn't, then that would be a sign to me that the ideas weren't there yet. (To be clear, the "should" is only because I have an institutional advantage, and nothing about my intrinsic talent as a philosopher!)

As long as I'm posting this I want to note that grad students, especially, but others too, should be vary wary of emails from supposed editors. There are a lot of scams out there. They typically approach people cold at research universities, someone established in an area, or if you are a student of somebody well regarded by the editor, etc.

elisa freschi

Peter, I am sort of surprised by the question, insofar as I would rather consider the topic as follows: Are you excited about something you think you can contribute? Then you start researching and writing about it. Often, you think that an article will be enough, then after, say, 80pp. you realise that the topic is way more complex than you had envisioned and keep on researching, reading, writing and end up with a book-draft. This is somehow a life-changing experience insofar as it implies having the stamina to keep on working for a sustained amount of time without being able to publish your work, go through the uncertainties of a project which could fail etc. etc. Vice versa, if you start with the project, you must be able to trace the whole journey since its beginnings, which means that it is likely to be less amibitious and risky.

Sure, you can be approached by a publisher, as Amanda says, but that's another thing and usually no publisher will be asking you to write your dream book.


In this thread there have been a few mentions of press rankings - well regarded, less well regarded, potentially a scam, etc.

I myself have much less of a sense of this than I do for journal rankings - would anyone be willing to share a rough list, in the sense of, "This wouldn't be a bad place to publish a book"?

A book author

Look at your own book collection in philosophy, and look at the most common presses. Those are the ones you should aim to publish with.
look at the books you referred to in your dissertation, and look who published them. Do a count. Aim to publish with the two or three most common cited publishers.

Marcus Arvan

Anon: Good question. I'll do a thread on this. Naturally, I disagree with 'A book author' and others who think there are only two or three presses worth publishing with. People in the publishing game should keep the "long game" in mind. Even if your first book isn't published with a top press, your second one might--and that can happen by slowly building a research program over more than one book and set of articles. I've seen this happen with a number of authors--people who "work their way up" to publishing in top presses.

In my view, many people are too myopic, thinking that unless you can publish with a top press *right now*, you shouldn't publish a book at all. I think this is wrong. There's a range of presses. The top-5, obviously, are ideal--but there are other presses outside of the top 5 that publish good work - work that gets cited and engaged with, even if not as much as work in the top presses.


I think it also depends on your area. In my area, the top 5 seem to be ideal, but I suspect in some other areas it might be different. And press is far from everything. I know people who have published in top presses and their book hardly gets read, while people who have published in much lower ranked presses can have a book that becomes an important part of the literature.

Peter Furlong

Amanda: Thanks for the reply. That is interesting, and your reasons for preferring a contract in the event that you didn't receive the early interest from the editor makes sense.

Elisa: I saw on DN that you accepting an offer from Toronto; Congratulations! In any case, I found your reply both interesting and surprising. The process for both my first book and my current book project are quite different from what you mention. For both of my projects, I began with interest in a particular area and wrote up a few articles. From the start, these articles were meant to be free-standing, both from each other and from any future projects. The more I read, wrote, and thought about these topics, the more I realized that I had things to say about a cluster of issues that naturally would lend themselves to a book. After having published the first few articles, I decided to work up an outline for the book in rough strokes. After that, I just got to work running through the chapters.

What is especially noteworthy is that on neither project did I ever think "this whole thing might work as a long article." Instead, articles and ideas for articles simply became article-sized chapters.

I am not sure what you mean when you say that "if you start with the project, you must be able to trace the whole journey since its beginnings, which means that it is likely to be less amibitious and risky." Do you mean that this will happen if you are locked into an outline before you have written the full draft by a publisher, or that this will happen simply by having the manuscript planned as a book from the beginning, rather than emerging more naturally from an ever-growing manuscript?

elisa freschi

Hi Peter and thanks!

Yes, what I am afraid of is that if you are able to draft a complete book proposal before having written it you risk putting yourself in a straightjacket and lose part of the explorative freedom of an open horizon. For instance, suppose you write down in your proposal that you will "solve the centuries-old controversy about free will and God's omniscience". What would happen if you then realised that this is not really happening (but that you discovered other interesting things meanwhile)? Would you not be inclined to "keep your promises" even if you should rather be doing something else?

As for articles and books, I don't think we disagree much, given that you also write that you "began with interest in a particular area and wrote up a few articles" about it.

Peter Furlong

Hi Elisa,

That makes sense! I suppose, then, we have another reason not to seek contracts ahead of time.

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