But what if publishing dissertation excerpts in a journal actually reduces the viability of a young scholar’s book manuscript? Digital technology is changing the world of information from day to day, and it’s altering the relationship between journals and books—and perhaps more important, the stability of that relationship. Journals are now essentially free to most of their readers, who can access university library databases and read them at home. Books, on the other hand, circulate much less easily, at least until university libraries start loaning out e-books.
Do the new digital dynamics change the rules for graduate students (and junior faculty members) seeking to publish their first book? Some scholarly-press editors think so.
Don’t overexpose yourself. Editors may disagree about precisely how much to publish from your manuscript, but they all agree there is a ceiling on the number of articles you should excerpt from a book in progress—and it’s ordinarily no more than two.
Be very, very careful about publishing an article that encapsulates the argument of your book. If Louis Menand is right that many scholarly books are “just journal articles on steroids,” then writers would also do well to avoid the inverse formulation: Don’t put your book on a crash diet to turn it into an article. As Mitchner puts it, “if the core argument is in your article, then no one will want to read your book.” That doesn’t mean that you should keep your argument a secret, but it does mean that you should not offer up a blueprint of the book to come.
Don’t make your dissertation available online. Book editors seem unanimous on that point for obvious reasons. Many university libraries routinely add dissertations to their electronic holdings. If yours does, then opt out. If your thesis is already online, then have it taken down. Information may want to be free, as the earliest hacker generation first avowed, but if it’s free, then you can’t expect a publisher to pay for it, even in a later version.
Make sure that your book and dissertation do not share the same title. If you have a great title picked out for your dissertation, save it for your book.