As some of you may have noticed I didn't contribute much to BlogCampaigning lately (Editor's note: Yeah, I noticed). Not only was I busy working in my new job but I also prepared for my last Ph.D. exam: the oral disputation of my thesis.
Once my supervisors completed their written reports on my thesis, I was a given a date to orally defend it. I had 15 minutes to introduce my thesis to a panel made up of my supervisors, an observer for the protocol, lecturers and other students (it was a "public" event, i.e. any student of the school could attend the disputation). After the 15 minutes were over, my supervisors and the observer asked me questions regarding different aspects of – and issues with – my work.
Overall, the whole procedure lasted a bit longer than an hour. Once everything was over, I was awarded a "magna cum laude".
However, officially I can't call myself "Herr Dr. Schröder" yet, the reason being that I didn't yet publish my thesis. This is a usual procedure at German universities, you are only awarded the doctorate once you can proof that your work is available to the public. There are different ways to meet my university's requirement in this regard; however, the most common way is to publish the thesis as a traditional book. Dead trees it is!
The problem is not so much finding a publisher, but rather a publisher with a good reputation – and reasonable prices. The thing is, you have to pay them. There's a constant and huge supply of dissertations, and let's face it, most academic books won't sell like hotcakes. So you basically have to buy yourself into a (reputable) publisher.
So far I have been offered contracts ranging from 0 to 4,000 Euros. If you don't really care about your future renown in the academic world, you might as well go with the lowest offer. However, given that these publishers and their print-on-demand model will spam the market with pretty much everything – including course papers – don't expect much credit for you work. I heard of a uni that won't hire lecturers if they published their work with one of those vanity press companies.
As you can imagine, if the publisher is somewhat renowned, this is also reflected by their prices. These (ideally!) also reflect their services and the advertising measures they plan to undertake. Will they, for example, send out review copies? Which measures do they undertake to announce the publication of your work? Do they offer help in regard to proofreading or formatting your thesis? Can you reach your publisher by phone? (Apparently some publishers regard personal contact as obstructive to their work flow!) Which other marketing issues are planned and do they make sense?
I came across a publisher that was offering to advertise new academic releases on hip postcards. Somehow I doubt that this will help to increase sales. As much as I think that I wrote a good thesis that – for an academic work – is of comparatively broad appeal, I don't think that that this measure will encourage the public to spontaneously buy a 173,000 word book. Basically, it seemed like a good excuse to squeeze out some more money from their authors.
(Considering that my thesis was completely in English, publishers from the English speaking world also seem like an option. The problem is that some of them ask you to change parts of your work to give it more mass appeal [the ones I talked to anyway.] Unfortunately that is not an option as my uni's Ph.D. regulations state that you have to publish exactly the same text you handed in.)
The publisher I'm likely to go with seems fulfills most of the important criteria: Their author's support is good (personal phone calls!), they have several (sensible) marketing mechanisms in place, their prices – while high – are still comparatively reasonable, and they would also make my work available as an e-book; something I attach great importance too considering that my thesis is also of appeal to the Australian market.
There's also some light at the end of the financial tunnel. Some of the money you have to pay to get your work published is offset by the amount you get when you register with the VG Wort, a collecting society for authors. Since your work will get photocopied etc. you get reimbursed via a one-off payment – currently this would cover about two thirds of my costs. However, you only get this money the year after your book is released.
Of course I would also like to make my work available on the net but this is a bit of an issue – most academic institutions still highly value the cultural capital attached to traditionally published books and don't appreciate them being available for free. I will, however, try and find out if I can publish parts here on Blogcampaigning. After all, I want as many people as possible to read my work.
PS If you want to know more about writing a doctoral thesis make sure to check out the illustrated guide to a Ph.D.