Publishing your Dissertation

March, 2011 · By Justin Bengry

A few weeks ago the University of Saskatchewan Department of History held a “Publishing your Dissertation” workshop. Organized by the graduate students, the workshop was an important opportunity to treat grad students not just as students but as junior historians, as future professionals. And the benefit was not limited just to them, the postdocs were avid participants as well. None of us are writing dissertations and manuscripts purely to earn a credential, but rather as a first step in a professional trajectory that will include publication and dissemination of our research.

The most important and inspiring statement of the day was a comment made by our department Chair, Valerie Korinek. She concluded by assuring the audience that they had already made the first step to publishing their manuscripts simply by participating in the workshop. By attending, by engaging, we had taken ourselves and our work seriously on a professional level, and this was truly the first step to publishing our work as professional historians.

I was inspired by Prof. Korinek’s comments more than I expected.

The workshop included a variety of speakers, and should be a model for similar events at other universities. One postdoc spoke of the experience of revising his dissertation into a manuscript and the process of seeking a publisher. A junior professor who was currently involved in press negotiations described her more advanced relationship with a publisher. And finally our department chair spoke from the perspective of a published author and also as a senior historian. She described her successes, what she’d do differently, and what we needed to do to position ourselves as professional historians. We also heard from executive editors from the University of Manitoba Press who relayed to us their guidelines and what they looked for in a publishable manuscript.

I’ve been sitting on my dissertation for a year or so now. Partly because I was devoted to looking for employment, and partly because I needed a rest, I just haven’t returned to it till recently. But in the last six months I’ve made some small revisions, done a bit of extra research, and asked scholars outside my dissertation committee to read it and offer feedback. So, I’ve been thinking about the next step, but until the workshop I was unable to make the leap. Anxiety, fear of rejection, uncertainty about my own skills maybe, all of these fears kept me from moving forward until now.

But I already knew which press was the best fit for my project. Even though the Manitoba editors were helpful, I knew that my project and priorities fit better with a large US university press. I researched the press’s online presence, so I also knew the other titles in its series, the editorial contact, and the submission requirements. I didn’t know what goes into a book proposal, but I learned that at the workshop. The UBC Press even gives examples of successful book proposals. (Read them, they are invaluable guides.)

So, using these as a model, I wrote my own book proposal, asked a former professor for a letter of introduction to the executive editor, and threw caution to the wind. Now, the press is interested in my work, I have a schedule for draft submission, and a goal. I also feel more and more like a professional historian with something interesting and important to say.

Perhaps I flatter myself, but I hope some of you will read this post, check out the UBC Press submission examples, and then write up your own book proposal. Maybe you’ll send it off to a publisher. And maybe you’ll get a positive response too. Good luck!

This blog was originally published at History Compass Exchanges on
17 March 2011.