Publisher offers advice on turning dissertations into books

Kathleen McDermott of Harvard University Press offered advice to help graduates publish dissertations as books on Nov. 4.

In the lecture, titled “Academic Publishing Demystified,” McDermott said that if the dissertation is produced in a format similar to a book, it will save time, aggravation and angst.

Students should also remember that presses must act as a business, meaning that at the end of the day, more money must come in than out.

“The crisis in academic publishing has caused real problems,” she said. “There were a few bad years recently, partly due to the Iraq War and 9/11…Also, superstores have caused problems because they would return 50 percent of the books we sold them.”

U history professors Liz Borgwardt and Bruce Dain have both published with McDermott’s press.

Borgwardt said she wished she had heard the presentation before she published her book.

“I was smiling and laughing to myself during Kathleen’s excellent presentation because I made every single mistake that she just outlined, such as apparatus, notes and epigraphs,” she said.

McDermott said the first book is always the hardest to publish, but simultaneously it is the most important for authors.

“The way the publishing industry is makes it hard to promote a first-time author. It is usually necessary to publish single copies,” she said.

McDermott also said that prospective academic authors should look at their text as a book page and keep their epigraphs short and contained. The table of contents needs to pull a reader in, but it isn’t necessary to set your whole argument.

“Table of contents need to be short, interesting and intriguing,” she explained.

She also said it is important for writers to pay close attention to the length of your book: “Keep it short.”

Alan Morrell, a graduate student in history, said he’s killing two birds with one stone by starting his first book and dissertation on a Utah topic.

The lecture was helpful, he said.

“I am working on a Mormon topic for my first book, and I hope to sell a few copies,” he said.

McDermott has experience editing books on history, international relations and Asian studies.

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